Thursday, December 27, 2007

What are you doing New Year's Eve?

I love that song. It's just so wistful and hopeful at the same time. Our friend Thank Heaven For Little Girls is hosting this year and in a fit of creativity, I suggested doing a tasting menu. The centerpiece of the tasting menu is a set of soups served in cheesy shot glasses. I've collected a few from Dollywood, Disneyworld, and New York and I thought it would be hilarious to have an elegant soup in a shot glass that says "Maryland - We're not angry, just crabby."

My contributions to the tasting menu will be:

Tom Kha soup with shitake mushrooms and crab (in a shot glass)
Vietnamese spring rolls
Crab dumplings in a Chinese soup spoon with a sauce of black vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil
Fake log o' meat dumplings with the same sauce (served in a soup spoon as well)

By the way, J and I went to Central Market to get fixin's for my Hawaiian inspired meal I made for J's mother for Mother's day. For anyone outside of Texas, Central Market is like Whole Foods on steroids. It's got a whole sauce bar that has onion dip, a zillion kinds of salsa, and even mole. It's pretty incredible. It ranks right up there with Wegman's. So at Central Market we just had to get Meyer lemons because they have such a delicate fragrance and flavor. They are availabel like one month a year and even then aren't really at supermarkets. Any suggestions for using them? We were thinking a Meyer lemon panna cotta. What do you all think?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tales from Christmas 2007 - the Croquembouche

Sorry for the radio silence. We're out in the great state of Texas with J's family. I have been reading J's mother's scrapbooks like they were the rosetta stone. I love reading personal history (perhaps that's why I read so many blogs).

As with any other family, food is a big part of Christmas with te J family. Because J's sister had to have an early dinner with her in-laws, the J family Christmas celebration was an early brunch, complete with two spirited boys in football uniforms.

It always amazes me how organized J's mother is about making big meals. The night before, the table was set, all of the food was prepared and in the freezer The only thing to do was to reheat. One the menu was:

Sunday brunch egg casserole (complete with Jimmy Dean sausage)
Cheese grits
Citrus salad
Little smokies (made because J's nephew recently had pigs in blanket and only ate the pig)
Sausage balls (sausage mixed with bisquick)
Mini blueberry muffins
Cheese pennies
Cream puffs rolled in powdered sugar
Pumpkin brean with chocolate chips
Cranberry danishes (I made)
A HUUUUUUGE assortment of cookies and candy

And finally, a croquembouche. J's brother recently has gotten into cooking and is pretty ambitious about what he'd like to make. A croquembouche really intrigued J's brother and J is as adventurous a cook as he is an eater. So Christmas Eve, we made the vanilla pastry cream (quite delicious) and the cream puffs (or choux). The pastry cream went without a hitch but hell's bells the cream puffs bedeviled us. You see, choux paste is a very old recipe with very easy proportions. The basic recipe (which I got from Mastering the Art of French Cooking) goes like this:

1 stick of butter
1 cup of water
1 cup of flour
4 eggs
1 teaspoon of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt

You melt the butter in the water, bring to a vigorous simmer and dump the flour in all at once. Stir until the paste gathers together and is hard to stir. I like to stir in on low heat to make sure the flour incorporates. Many recipes say t take it off the heat once you add the flour. Once the paste is made, add the four eggs either big stirring even more vigorously (and building your forearms) or dumping the paste into a food processor and incorporating the eggs that way. Once done, quickly dump tablespoonfuls of the paste into an old ratty cookie sheet that is completely uninsulated. A pastry bag would be helpful here to pipe the dough and made sure the surface is smooth. Bake for around 20 minutes until the choux are puffed and golden.

That's how it SHOULD have worked but for some reason, the first batch of dough we ended up with turned into a batter. I grilled J over and over about our measurements and decided the dump the whole thing and start over. Luckily, the next batch was a sucuess. That night we filled the choux with the pastry cream and set them in the freezer.

In the morning we made the caramel sauce and the melted sugar to bind the whole shebang together. The melt sugar consisted of sugar, water and corn syrup heated to 320 degrees. on there we dipped one side of the choux in the sugar and stuck it onto another cream puff. Once we had a nicering of choux, we pour the caramel sauce on top. We had enough pastry to make a very nice castle wall with cream puff turrets. A little less than the big tower of cream puffs, but I pointed out, we only had 11 people for brunch. The best part though was dipping a few forks in the melted sugar and making spun sugar that glistened around the castle wall. it was nice collaboration between J, j's brother and me. And while I won't kid anyone about it being a pain in the ass to make, we all had a good time making it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's All Nigella All the Time

That's because I used a Barnes and Noble gift certificate to buy How to Be a Domestic Goddess, Nigella's baking book. Like every other Nigella book, it's an out and out great read. I've been salivating to make something from the book and I decided to go all out and making something really complicated - Danish. This would be a complicated recipe what with all of the butter and the rollng, but while there were many steps involving many hours of rising, no one step was all too complicated. It turned out wonderfully - buttery, flaky, and absolutely delicious. There isn't too much sugar in the dough itself so you could just as easily put in a savory filling like ham and cheese or spinach and feta. I used two types of fillings - cranberry jam (from the same book) and raspberries and blackberries. I found the berries were too wet and a bit too tart. The danish needed something more sugary.

Here's the recipe:

1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup milk at room temperature
1 large egg at room temperature
2 1/4 cups of all purpose or bread flour
1 package of yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup of butter cold, and cut into thin slices.

Pur the water and milk into a measuring cup and add the egg, beating with a fork to mix. Put to one side in a warm place. Put the flour yeast, salt, and sugar in the processor, and give one quick whizz to mix. Add the cold slices of butter and process briefly until the butter is cut up to visible chunks around 1/2 to 1/4 of an inch. Empty the contents of of the food processor into a large bowl and quickly add the contents of the cup of liquid. Use your hands or a rubber spatula to fold the ingredients together, but don't overdo it: expect to have a gooey mess with some butter lumps pebbling it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator at least overnight or up to 4 days.

After having it sit overnight, take the dough out of the fridge and let it got to room temperature and roll out to a 20 inch square. Fold the dough into thirds like a business letter, turning it afterward so that the closed fold is on your left, like the spine of a book. Roll out again to a 20 inch square and releat the steps above 3 times. Cut the dough in half and fold up each half to a manageable size and wrap both pieces in plastic wrap. Let sit in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes and up to 4 days. To make the Danish, cut each dough into eight squares.

To make specialized danishes, Nigella offers two recipes, one with a homemade almond paste and a cheese one with ricotta. I decided to use the cranberry jam and the mixed fruit. Jam or a thick fruit compote is ideal. There are two ways to put together the danish. One is to put the filling in the middle diagonally and then fold two edges towards the middle. The other way is to plop a heaping spoonful of the filling directly into the middle of the square and fold all the corners towards the middle to keep the square shape. Either way, let the Danishes rise in a warm place for an hour and a half. Brush with an egg wash made from a beaten egg and 2 tablespoons of milk. Then bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes until golden. Let cool and drizzle a glaze made with 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1-2 tablespoons of warm water.

One final thing. Is anyone watching Battle of the Choirs? It's twelve kinds of awesome. And the superstar of the show is Nick Lachey and his choir. As someone who sang in a choir for eight years, I love that he actually wants the choir to sing as a choir and not just a singer with some backup singers. But boo Blake Shelton whose choir kind of blows.

Monday, December 17, 2007

In Defense of Milk Chocolate

Ok. It seems as if chocolate is the new cheese which was the new wine. It's all about the percentages of cocoa nibs and all artisinal and crap. even more so it's all about the dark. Good chocolate has to be dark, dark, dark or it's just some plebian slab of sugar. To that I say phooey. I have a deep and abiding love of milk chocolate and want to defend the milk chocolate and mellow flavors in general.

You know I do love bitterness (hee!). I love bitter greens. I love sharp flavors like lime, mustard, and vinegar. Anyone whose been with me to an Asian restaurant know I can bring the spicy like noone's business. But does that mean they should push out lovely soft mellow flavors? For all of the oohing and aahing about dark chocolate with high cocoa content, you've just got to love the balance of sweet, sharp and creamy in a bar of milk chocolate. Milk chocolate certainly adds a lot to bake goods, enhancing the sweetness instead of competing with it. While dark chocolate may be a better vehicle for flavors like coffee, flavors like hazelnut really sing in a matrix of milk chocolate. Finally, while everyone is all purist about their truffles, I've found milk chocolate makes a smoother and more stable truffle.

I hope someone out there starts making some artisinal milk chocolates so it doesn't get relegated to the Halloween candy aisle for good. While dark chocolate may be about sophistication, milk is about comfort.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Nigella's Christmas Kitchen - Salzburg!

Oh MY GOD! We're in Salzburg, land of Mozart and the Von Trapps. The Salzburg Christmas market looks like a postcard and winter really agrees with Nigella as she's in a comfy white trenchcoat and is happily declaring her love of Christmas and its twinkling lights. OH! The Nigella Christmas Kitchen lights! Oh how I love them! Cut to yet another market shot, this time with candied apples. And then linzer cookies! Next Nigella's on a balcony overlooking the market talking about the aroma of mulled wine. This episode she will make Christmas cake (fruitcake), ham, and spiced hard cider.

Dear god I want to hop a plane right now to do to Salzburg. It's so quaint and pretty. (And it really is that way). Nigella comes home with her suitcase and waxes on about the aromas of Christmas at home. Her first dish is mulled hard cider. To show I'm a lightweight, I spent my year in England drinking pints and pints of hard cider as I still couldn't appreciate a good lager (I still can't). Nigella points out she's doing cider instead of wine because wine can get a cough syrup thing going on. I completely agree. One time J and I bought this bottle of organic cherry juice form Trader Joe's and it was like drinking cough syrup. BLECH! Anyway, into the pot goes cinnamon sticks, cardamom (Scandinavian and Middle Eastern at the same time), brown sugar, clementines with cloves stuck into them, bay leaves (?), and ginger and apple tea and finally a splosh of rum. She lets the mixture simmer for 10 minutes and ladles a cup for herself. I love that she admits she cracks cardamom with her teeth. Oooh! Bumper with the Christmas lights!

Bumper back to the show, we get Nigella slicing a ham and then a happy scene of people eating around a Christmas tree. At the kitchen, Nigella says that until recently she's cooked her hams the way her mother does, which is to say immersing them in simmering water to leech out the saltiness. Nigella says that the new hams aren't as salty so that method isn't relevant. In the bottom of her couscous steamer, Nigella puts the ham (snugly!) and red wine. Nigella wins me over even more by expressing her disdain fr highfalutin wine writers that talk about blackberry scents and new car smells (hee!). She does, however, appreciate the aromatic flavor of wine. Into the pot goes fennel, an onion, garlic, fennel seeds, peppercorns, and star anise. She then adds enough water to over the ham. The ham will cook for three hours to infuse with the winy juices. Oh more Salzburg!

After Salzburg, Nigella makes a glaze with red currant jelly, smoked paprika, cinnamon, and red wine vinegar. While the jelly melts, Nigella takes the rind and a little of the fat off the ham and cuts a diamond pattern into the remaining fat and inserts cloves into the diamond pattern. She puts the glazed ham in a hot oven to cook the outside for 15 minutes. A typical entertaining Nigella meal scene. Lots of conversation around the giant Dr. Seussian ham.

I feel a kinship to Nigella because she's telling us how she prefers winter holidays in the snow to tropical vacations. As someone who honeymooned in Toronto in January, I heartily agree. She does this in front of a gorgeous ski slope. At home, Nigella makes cookies with her kids. This time they actually cook with her, measuring the flour, butter, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon and black pepper (to keep the children from eating them all). To the mixture she adds an egg, beaten with honey. What I love is that the ids are doing the cooking. I can't wait to see her daughter Cosima all grown up because right now she has those interesting, slightly awkward features that say "supermodel in five years." The kids roll out the cookies and bake (making sure to cut out a hole to turn them into ornaments). To decorate they use white icing and silver dragees.

Nigela then narrates the cookie decorating from the ski slopes. Her kids genuinely look like they are having fun decorating. Nigella's last dish is a fruitcake! Yay! I love fruitcake. It was something my grandmother loved and it just brings back Proustian memories. If only they would leave out those bizarre green things. Anyway into a pot, Nigella throws raisins, currants, and chopped prunes (which she describes as wrinkled up teddy bear noses). As she chops, she talks about the horror of bad fruitcake but says fruitcake is necessary. Her version is to put everything into a saucepan. Into the fruit she throws in Tia Maria coffee liquer, butter, pumpkin spices, dark brown sugar, and honey. To the thick mond of liquid she puts in the zest and juice of an orange. Finally she adds a few tablespoons to chocolate to give a ghost of chocolate flavor. She lines the cake time with a crown of reusable baking parchment. Into the fruit and stuff, she adds the cake ingredients of eggs, flour, and baking soda. The cake goes into a low oven for two hours.

When the cake comes out she decorates it with chocolate covered espresso beans and edible glitter (to choirs of angels singing) along with edible gold stars and another round of silver dragees. What is up with her thing with dragees? Is she trying to break a tooth? Ah another Nigella entertaining scene with kids decorating the tree and people eating fruitcake. We end with Nigella diving into a huge piece of fruitcake as a late night snack and having a nip of Tia Maria.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Late night inspiration

Ok. It sounds like the Nigella Christmas specials are happening all December! Wheee! I loved the last one (which I will be recapping) mainly because it has scenes set in Salzburg, land of Mozart and the Von Trapps. And if anyone doubts that I didn't hit the Sound of Music Tour while I was in Salzburg and I didn't force my friend to do the Sixteen Going on Seventeen Dance at the the gazebo, you obviously don't know me at all.

Anywhoo, I was in bed reading Feasts when I got to the chapter on cranberries where the easiest jam recipe ever appears. As most of who've made cranberry sauce know, cranberries have a LOT of pectin. That's why the cranberry sauce sets up so well. Therefore, the only ingredients you really need for cranberry jam are cranberries and sugar. So at 11:15pm, I raced out of bed, got the bags of cranberries that were lingering in our freezer form Thanksgiving and made the jam. It's 2 minutes of prep, 7 minutes of cooking, and 15 minutes of cooling. That's it.

Here's the recipe as I did it.

4 cups of fresh cranberries
1 3/4 cups of sugar
I added the zest and the juice of one orange and the juice of one lime (they were hanging around!)

Put a little dessert plate in the freezer. In a large saucepan, toss all the ingredients together and simmer until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar dissolves, turn the heat up to a boil and let the jam heat vigorously for 7 minutes. Test the jam by putting a half a teaspoon of jam onto the frozen dessert plate. if you run your finger trough the drop of jam and the track your finger made is still there (because hopefully the liquid is thick enough not to ooze back), then the jam is ready. As you all know I can't be bothered sterilize jars so I put enough jam for a week in a jar that goes in the fridge and the rest of the jam goes in tupperware in the freezer.

I highly recommend this recipe. It is very forgiving and open to add-ins (ginger!). I just had some this morning on a brioche roll and it was heaven on a bun!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Nigella's Christmas Kitchen

My deep and abiding love for Nigella Lawson knows no bounds. However, I really wish the Food Network would just run her shows without doing a hatchet job on them. With the Nigella Bites series they would cut whole scenes out to the point of leaving out the preparation of whole dishes. If anyone could run the Style Network's airing of Nigella Bites versus the Food Network, you'll see what a horrible job the Food Network does airing Nigella's shows. Sadly it's the same story with her second Christmas special. But happily Nigella is Nigella and the show (apart from Food Network's cutting and pasting) is wonderfully produced.

Open with Nigella's Christmas party in full swing. A turkey is laid out and Christmas lights are everywhere. Already I am wondering if the music from the special is on an iTunes playlist because its funny jazzy Christmas music. Nigella slips away to talk to the tv audience and say that while Christmas dinners can be sources of great joy but they can also be fear inducing and fraught. She embraces the meal that includes a panaloply of dishes by making a careful plan of action. She is evangelical about it. We then go to the bumper to commercials with a string of lights that spells out Nigella's Christmas Kitchen. Do they sell that on ebay?

The cooking actually starts in Nigella's new kitchen (the one that is in the house she shares with husband Charles Saatchi) where she fills a big red tub with water to start a brine for the turkey. She extols the virtues of brining the tueky to ensure moistness. Having had scotte's brined turkey I heartily concur. Her's has cloves, caraway, star anise, mustard seeds, allspice berries and cinnamon. She revels in throwing everything in with abandon. To help the flavors infuse, she throws in both massive amounts of salt, sugar, and maple syrup. She then cuts up an onion and plops it in as well saying that onions are always the basis of savory flavor (how true!)She assures people that the turkey will not somehow taste like all of the spices but just has a fuller depth of flavor. Wow, and then goes in ginger, an orange and parsley. Making a baby with bathwater analogy, she throws the turkey into the brine. With more confidence in the weather staying cold than I, she shoves the whole bucket o'brine in her backyard. Good luck on that one. Cut to a scene of all of the post-it notes with her to-dos.

Beside her tree, Nigella writes her plan of attack. First up is making a gravy and then making roast potatoes, maple roast parsnips, and brussel sprouts cooked with chestnuts and pancetta. Actually she first makes her redder than red cranberry sauce that's fairly standard with the addition of cherry brandy. It's a simple matter of simmering the cranberries until they pop and throwing them into a bowl. Oh the happy bumper of Nigella lights and an awesome jazzy Christmas song!

After commercial Nigella a red robe as if she's just woke up (in full makeup!). She releases they turkey from its briny bath with a pair of leopardskin gloves. She leaves the turkey to sit at room temperature and makes the beginnings of an allspice gravy. It looks like she's making stock (carrots, celery, bay leaves) with the addition of allspice and cinnamon. In a bit of evil Food Network editing, Nigella also puts in a clementine that she says she used the zest to make gingerbread stuffing. However, nowhere in the episode do we get to see the gingerbread stuffing being made. To make it taste like turkey she puts in the turkey neck and then simmers the whole mess covered. I think Ella Fitzgerald is singing Winter Wonderland in the background as Nigella's kids are playing. I will have to say that Winter Wonderland is my favorite holiday song. My brother and I would sing it as a duet in on long winter car rides. He would sing "sleigh bells ring..." and I would respond "are you listening?" And thus I evaproate any bit of street cred my brother my made. Sorry B.

Nigella then peels potatoes and parsnips as her kids play connect four. She waxes on and on about the joys of repetitive activity like peel vegetables and Brussels sprout. I call bullshit because I firmly believe she would have conscripted her kids to do that work. In a time saving bit, she extols the virtues of roasting things in foil pans to alleviate the cleanup.

Cutting the sprouts, Nigella cuts Xes in her Brussels sprouts and then parboils them as well as parboiling her potatoes, cutting them into big chunks. To help the turkey skin crisp, Nigella makes a "bronzing liquid" with butter and maple syrup to brush over the turkey. And more fun jazzy music!

Back from commercial Nigella takes out the potatoes and dredges them in semolina (a family tradition) and then plops them in a foil roasting pan with hot goosefat. The potatoes sizzle as they are dropped into the goosefat which she mentions is high in omega fatty acids (which makes them health food). She salivates over the sizzling potatoes. Okay her dining room is gorgeous and full of candles and strings of lights. She then goes over the virtues of buying a Christmas pudding and making her own rum butter (which we never see! - BOOO!) She put the pudding into the steamer and then pours maple syrup over the parsnips in a roasting pan (foil of course).

One unique thing about Nigella's shows are the completely believable party scenes. She's filling everyone's glasses with champagne and people are talking. And not the fake talk where everyone is complimenting her cooking. More jazzy bluesy Christmas music. Nigella is serious about her Brussels sprouts. She dumps the boiled sprouts into a colander and then sautees pancetta and chestnuts in butter. She adds a splosh of marsala and then the sprouts. A sprout that is lousy and waterlogged is vile so she only cooks hers for five minutes and then sautees. She covers the pan with a lid and let it steam with the heat off.

When return from commercial (and those disturbing CGI-claymation versions of Food Network stars - let Giada-bot close her mouth!), Nigella's daughter is pour her friends sparkling cranberry juice. Nigella takes out of the turkey and then makes the gravy with the pan juices and the allspice stock. She then puts in a vast platter with roast potatoes and parsnips. The turkey and sides come out and along with the phantom stuffing is also phantom mashed potatoes. At dinner people are pulling apart Christmas crackers (as in firecrackers) as Nigella carves. More believable conversation.

The final scene is the spectacular steam Christmas pudding with the flaming alcohol poured on top. Now this is the rightful moment where people should be oohing and aahing over the food. Nigella recommends using vodka for Christmas pudding because it will burn with a blue flame all night long. It looks like a fun party. But you know what was a fun party? Thanksgiiving at Scotte's where Stef, Jason, Joyous and I were wondering if Giada's boobs could possibly get any bigger now that she's pregnant. They might need their own walker at that point. Good times people. If only Food Network would keep their grubby hands off of Nigella's shows and show them in their entirety.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

I realize that i really don't have a Thanksgiving routine. Sometimes I fly out to California to spend time with family. Sometimes I stay in DC and J and I host. This year, J was visiting a friend in Asheville and I was lucky enough to be invited to Scotte's. What did we eat? Take a look here.

I had a great time. It was kind of a blogger Thanksgiving with three other bloggers at Scott and Jason's. Like Scott and Jason, their friends are really delightful. Scott put together little cards for everyone asking them an interesting question to provoke conversation. I, however, am the conversation killer where I got the "what's one restaurant you want to go to before you die?" And I responded, "French Laundry. Period." In between courses we watched Ratatouille and Sordid Lives, a totally hilarious indie movie about over the top personalities in a small Texas town.

The tasting menu consisted of a warm lentil salad (which I came too late for), a sage and onion tart, and a butternut squash and apple soup. I absolutely adored the sage and onion tart. Usually I avoid sage as I think it just has a musty flavor but here it complimented the onion and balsamic vinegar. The actual meal was traditional and best in class, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and the light for me, collard greens. They were made with smoked turkey wings and tasted absolutely wonderful. There was a good balance of the smoke and salt in the collards.

I am immensely impressed by how completely organized Scott and Jason are in their cooking. The kitchen was spotless and the food came out piping hot. They managed to have enough refrigerator space to brine their turkey and seemed to clean up and get plates out without a dishwasher! They were a well-oiled machine! Contrary to what Scott thinks, he did carve the turkey expertly.

Thanks to the two of you for a delightful Thanksgiving. I am thankful for bloggers!

Finally, the week before Thanksgiving marks the 8th year that J and I have been together. EIGHT YEARS! Wooo!!!!! Thanks J. It's been the best eight years of my life.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Love, life, family, friends, spirit, senses, humor, expression,
Experience, perspective, reflection, flexibility, education,
Motion, narrative, story, history, truth, knowledge,
Light, color, shape, texture.

Performers, teachers, chefs, artists, writers, thinkers,
Farmers, workers, activists, organizers,
Volunteers, immigrants.

Appreciation evolved beyond tolerance,
simplicity with knowledge of complexity,
self-preservation with love for community,
consciousness married to critical thinking,
creativity without shame.

A swirling kitchen
A house full
A host

Outsider perspective
Feminist thought

The wild mind in whirl
Speaking with voice
Striving gently
Healthy silence



p.s. And for today. Those who grew or raised the food we eat. Those who cooked it. Those who engaged and made warmth with one another at the table and those who had not found much to do who got up before anyone else and got going on the dishes.

Monday, November 19, 2007

What's next? Fashion Week? Feng Shui Classes at Zengo

I think we've graduated from the blogging farm team to the blogging minor leagues. We went to a press event for Zengo restaurant in Chinatown where the press (that's us - HAH!) participated in a cooking Feng Shui class.

I was hoping we'd rearrange some furniture and put in a koi pond, but it was a class to talk about feng shui in cooking and drinking. The feng shui press event was to introduce their monthly cooking and mixology classes. Starting January, Zengo will be having classes the last Monday of every month.

We figure we were asked because Zengo was on our list of places to try. Not really sure why, but we decided to give it a shot. We've been asked to promote a few places in the past several months and might have done so if we had been to the place, but we've tried to have the blog be a bit more about our experiences and how we've enjoyed food here, there, and everywhere.

So we had never been to Zengo. From the outside it looked like a bar but once we got inside it was a sleek, sexy, hip eatery. If the food matched the decor, that was in reds and rusts, then this would be a place wed come back and pay for a meal. We've never been to a press event for anything sexy before. We've been to press events for the introduction or passage of a bill or the opening of a community center. But at a hip restaurant?

We came fairly late and sat at the table with the representatives from the Herradura Tequila U.S. distributors. Herradura Silver is a top shelf tequila (bring a ladder) that J was familiar with before the event. (Texas will do that to you).

Part of the class would be margarita making, using Herradura tequila. While T is more of a rum person, good liquor is good liquor. And you know, we really enjoyed it.

We came to the table and there were lobster potstickers and edamame waiting for us. The potstickers were divine, although T did think the sweetness of the lobster wasn't allowed to shine in this dish. What did make the dish was the wasabi plum sauce. One would think that the sweetness of the plum sauce would fight with the sharp salty flavor of the wasabi but they really worked together. The wasabi gave what would be a syrupy sweet sauce a nice tang and heat.

Next up, we met Ms. Claudia, the totally awesome beverage director for the restaurant group that Zengo is a part of. Think a warm Celine Dion crossed with an Almodavarian party hostess. She beckoned us to order a drink. With such yummy tequila on hand we had to start with margaritas. And OH MY GOD. They were mindblowing. The margarita was smooth. Really smooth.

As described by our tablemates, traditional margaritas in Mexico are tequila and lime juice. Period. Sometimes with a bit more of this and that, but often not. With a really great tequila I can see how this would be possible. We had more fun with Claudia as she talked to us about her role as beverage director, developing beverages for each of the restaurants in the Modern Mexican Restaurant Group.

Before the actual class starts, we order another round of drinks, a margarita for J and a mango mojito for T. And once again. OH MY GOD. If there was ever a drink for T, this was it. It was sweet and sharp. The mango worked organically with the flavors of the lime as opposed to being a kitschy add-in. Someone's been feng shui-ing their drinks.

We were then given Kobe Beef gyoza dumplings before starting the actual learning. These were truly exceptional. The beef was tender and flavorful and the black vinegar soy sauce cut through the rich and savory flavor of the beef. Well done.

We learned from Claudia, now our favorite gregarious, badass, amazon mixologist, that she wouldn't really advise making a big pitcher of margaritas to lay around unless the goal is to just get drunk. You make it fresh -- as we were about to do. The most important part is that you don't leave the ice laying around. It needs to be separate and mixed in at the last minute. We learned how silver tequila won't fight with the juice, that cocktail measurements can be as vital as baking measurements, and more. We got to use jiggers and shakers (a great name for a girly bar) and while J made his perfectly and got a stamp of approval from Claudia, T was not so lucky, but then again T is a rum man.

After the drink class, which continued for J as he was making the drinks for some of our new friends, we were joined by a few pro journalists. An editor at DC magazine and a travel writer for USA Today. In a entry rife with exclamation points, this is taking the cake. We were hitting with the big boys and girls. Not some of the big foodie names, the marketing people told us that reviewers didn't go to these things. We also learned that we were the only bloggers at the event. Surreal considering how much we love to read some of our more popular DC foodie blogs. We may have been the only ones to say yes?

But really, whoever thought that we would be at a press event with real journalists? It was surreal. It's not really what we have been going for and probably not where we are headed, but it was very fun to step into another world for a while.

OK, back to the food: Before the sushi-making part of the class we tried Zengo's raw hamachi with cucumber and shiso on a Chinese soup spoon. It had a bright, clean flavor. Delicious.

But this was overshadowed by the Arepas Vegetariano, cornmeal cakes with shitake mushrooms cooked in what tasted like hoisin with avocado and crema. These were just divine and gave the Asian influenced meal a nice heartiness. Like the margaritas, we really wanted more. We will definitely look for these when we go back to Zengo.

The sushi making class affirmed why you leave that stuff up to the professionals. The chef de cusine deftly prepared a huge slab of sushi-grade ahi tuna for the sushi demonstration. In about ten minutes he made a perfect tuna roll garnished with a sesame-chipotle rouille. The chipotle was a nice addition to the sushi, adding a wasabi-like spice with a nice amount of smokiness.

T had to wait a while to try my hand at the sushi making since only one station was set up at first. The excellent Zengo staff noticed that there was a like of guests waiting to make sushi and set up three more stations. Unfortunately, the chef de cuisine could only focus on one person at a time. T was able to get my sushi to look like a nicely shaped log but completely fell apart when Y tried cutting the log into bite-sized pieces. A little more instruction would have helped but there were quite a few people at the sushi-making station. Luckily, however messy his sushi looked, it tasted absolutely wonderful.

While we would have liked to try our hand at some more mixology, T had to leave for Cleveland the next day so we ended our evening with the warm goodbyes from the Zengo staff. As an added bonus we got a bag of swag which included a nice cocktail shaker. To those of you who are real food writers, is it always like this? While neither of us are writing this blog to be online celebrities, it's fun to have an evening where we're treated like rockstars.

Fried Pies!

Ok. I just had a moment of inspiration. The Thanksgiving meal that I am going to is probably going to be utterly mindblowing and elegant. Seriously, it has a TASTING menu. No event I have ever thrown has had a tasting menu.

Along with my pear tart tatin, I will be making.... FRIED PIES!

This is straight out of the Paula Deen playbook (or should I say cook book). I am rolling out canned biscuit dough with a premade (by me!) apple pie filling. With fried pies, because the cooking time is so fast, you need to precook the filling. When I've done it in the past, I've made a half recipe of pie filling (four apples, 1/4 cup of cranberries) and sauteed the mixture in a shallow pan for about 5 minutes until the apples have soften and the flour in the mixture has thickened the juices. After that, put about two tablespoons of the mixture in a biscuit that's been rolled to 1/4 inch thick; fold the dough over the filling and crimp with a fork. Fry in 2 inches of regular vegetable oil until golden brown on both sides. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Looking for a Thanksgiving side dish and dessert?

yes I have scored an invite to an awesome Thanksgiving meal from an awesome fellow blogger. I think I will make a small turkey the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to have a turkey to pick on for the rest of the weekend. As written in the invite, what the host would appreciate is desserts and wine. I do have a lovely Riesling from my Virginia winery trip earlier this fall so I have that covered. But I also need to MAKE something. I am thinking of doing two desserts - my old standby, the ever beloved apple crostada with a creme anglaise and a pear tart glazed with a cardamom syrup and a nice sliced og Gorgonzola on the side. You see last Thanksgiving when J and I hosted, he made baklava and I made a griddle cakes with pears and Gorgonzola. In a Reese's Peanut butter Cup moment, we dipped the extra pear in the cardamom syrup from the baklava and topped it with Gorgonzola and a little slice of heaven was made. So I have to try my hand at recreate those flavors as a dessert. I was thinking of using the pear tart tatin recipe and tossing the pears in cardamom. What do you all think?

This Monday, J and I made the perfect fall meal. A tatsoi salad with homemade pickled onions (sugar, salt, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar), a quinoa pilaf that was cooked with shitake and porcini mushrooms, and a fall vegetable mash. The pilaf was good but needed a boost of flavor. Call me a philistine but I don't get the hoo hah over procini mushrooms. The soaking liquid made a good broth base but the mushrooms themselves were bland. The mash on the other hand was spectacular. We had cauliflower, turnips, and yukon gold potatoes from the farm so I boiled them all in salted water, put the cauliflower and turnips in the food processor and then mashed the potatoes by hand. I put stirred them together with more salt, olive oil and butter. And surprisingly, no milk or cream. Unlike regular mashed potatoes, the cauliflower and turnips makes it easy to reheat on the stovetop.

I am eagerly anticipating Thanksgiving, given that I don't have to clean!

Monday, November 12, 2007


Have I told you all how much I adore Fine Cooking magazine? It's totally expensive at $6.95 an issue but J got me a subscription for my birthday I've been reading it before I go to bed every night. Fine cooking combines the great photography with Cook's Illustrated-style of tips. The layout is really clear and readable with nice food pron shots. They go into ingredients, cuisines and techniques in depth. Throughout the issue there are themes where advice and tips are given.

So in my issue, there's tips on putting together a cheeseboard. Another section has readers write in to give their own tips such as using an ice cream scoop to scoop out the flesh of butternut squash. The highlight of the holiday issue for me was making crispy potato pancakes. The instructions were very clear and they are really good about emphasizing directives that make or break a dish, including using starchy potatoes, grating potatoes in a food processor, and frying only a few in a pan.

So here's the receipe J an I made (a double batch!)

Honey Almond Granola

4 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup of oat bran
2 cups who almonds, coarsely chopped (sliced almonds work great)
1 cup nonfot dry milk powder
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 honey
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp pure almond extract (I used amaretto)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup raisins (or dried cranberries or chopped dates - optional)

Position racks in the upprt and lower thirds of theo ven and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray two rimmed baking sheets with cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix the oats, oat bran, and almonds. In a smaller bowl whisk the dry milk powder, oil, honey, vanilla, almond flavoring, and salt. Pour the mixture (it will be gloppy) over the oats and stir.

Divide the mixture between two oiled baking sheets and spread in an even layer. Bake for 15 minutes, stir granola, and switch the positions of the pans. Bake until oats are golden brown and the almonds look well toasted, another 10 to 20 minutes, don't overcook. The oats may feel soft but will crisp as they cool. Let cool completely in the pans. When completely cool, stir in raisins, if using.

REALLY useful tips

* Spread the granola in a single layer on the baking sheet for even toasting

* Don't bake granola in a hot oven until completely crisp or it will tasted burned. It should come out a little soft and wilm firm as it cools.

*For added crispness in the granola, turn off oven, leave the door ajar, and let the granola cool in the oven.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Celebrating 100,000 Visits: DC Food Blogging Nominations

How cool is that. When we started this little blog, it was really just a way to track recipes and restaurants. I think it's also ended up as a semi-focused chronicle of other parts of our lives, but we've stayed mostly engaged with food, cooking, and dining. Since we started, we've enjoyed learning more about local restaurants and cooking from nearby farms, enjoyed being part of the DC food blogging community, and made some new friends along the way.

We've also enjoyed savoring the experience of cooking and dining in a more deliberate way.

It's also exposed us to some talented and interesting food writers and food writing. We've both enjoyed the Holly Hughes collections of the Best Food Writing, all of Ruth Reichl's books, and our local favorites: Tom Sietsema, Don Rockwell, Todd Kliman and all those amateur and semi-pro blogging and message board folks who take the time to consider their meals.

All that said, we're happy to announce our first annual poll of our readers. Please email us your nominations in the following categories:

Favorite Food Blog (any area)
Favorite Food Blog (DC area)
Best Recipe Blog
Best Food Photo on a DC Blog
Best Food Story in the DC Press
Best Restaurant Website
You Name it Category: Best _____________________

We'll take entries up until November 25th. After that, we'll pull some results together and share. One lucky person who sends a nomination will receive a prize as will the winner of the Favorite Food Blog (DC area)

Send your nominations via email to, not in the comments (though comments are welcome. We'll compile and release the nominations by December 1.

The basic rules: We're not so fancy here so rules seem kind of limiting. You can nominate in just one category or all. Thanks to those we've heard from so far. And yes, you can totally nominate yourself, your friend's blog or photo, etc. No nominations for us (thanks).

Friday, November 09, 2007

Off Topic - The Mushu Alarm Clock

I've had this story in me for ages. Well, since 1997, when it, you know, happened to me. It's a story of love, loss and Kelly Taylor-ish "I choose me."

So ten years ago I was unceremoniously dumped by my boyfriend of 2 years, The Red. The last three months of this long-distance relationship were seriously beating a dead horse even though I didn't want to admit it. I was doing so much reassuring to The Red that he was a good boyfriend that I forgot about myself. When I tried to articulate my needs, it came out in crazy ways because, at age 25, I didn't have a handle on who I was and what I wanted. It was quite the rollercoaster being accommodating and demanding at the same time. I certainly didn't have my emotional act together. The crazy (at least on my side) came to a head at his high school reunion where, faced with a situation that was in no way, shape or form about me, I turned into a churlish ball of resentment. This resulted in a 5 hour fight before the reunion. Then AT the reunion, I gathered all the other resentful significant others and herded them to the hotel bar where we all refused to leave said bar and actually be part of the reunion. Which goes to show that I am a natural born community organizer.

In the end it was a classic situation of the more he pulled away, the tighter I held on. I wanted to fight for all the things that were good about us and it hurt the bejeezus out of me that the person on the other end wasn't willing to fight for something that was so precious. I didn't realize how much I was apologizing for myself, apologizing for WANTING to be with him, like it was some crazy ass burden that he had to carry. So he ended it. Looking back, that was the right think to do. We were both bringing the crazy by the bucketload and didn't know how to stop.

That shook me to my core. It made me question my worth. Whether I was worth fighting for and whether I could EVER be in a relationship if I couldn't make that one work. (Thank god that didn't come to fruition - Thanks J!!!)

I had a friend Tom, who I had lunch with weekly to dish over our love lives. We had this fear that only one of us could be in a functional relationship at a time and we monitored our love lives in great detail during these lunches. So about two weeks after the breakup, I had my weekly lunch with Tom and he hands over a box. In the box was an alarm clock in the shape of Mushu the dragon from Mulan. It was my favorite movie and I watched in four or five times that summer. Tom saved ten box cereal box tops to get me the dragon alarm clock.

And then I got it. I got it that I was worth having someone think of me enough to send ten box tops to General Mills to be redeemed for a plastic alarm clock. This is what friends do. They see you and they know you and they think of you. The silly inconsequential things that mean a lot to you are also important to your friends. To Tom, I was worthy of being cared for, considered, and respected. That alarm clock was the first huge step in healing from the breakup. It was a tangible reminder about my own worth as a person.

Here's the thing folks, don't settle for less than your friends. We all deserve a significant other who wants to be with us. Who celebrates all of the weird and goofy things about us. We deserve someone who makes a place for us in their lives and knows that place is a cherished gift we give each other and not an obligation.

In short, we deserve someone who will save ten box tops to get us a plastic dragon alarm clock.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Restaurants we want to try, and some to remember

In high school, we were allowed to leave campus for lunch. The goal was to get out and to the restaurant as quickly as possible. Have your books for your next class with you. No locker stops. No bathroom stops. No last minute grabbing of too many more people. Just git!

Inevitably, we'd get in the car and start the dance about where to go. Where could we go for $5? $7? Subs n' Stuff? The Chinese buffet our friend's Japanese parents owned? The burger joint our Chinese friend's parents owned? Pizza Buffet? A daring trek to the Olive Garden or all the way across town to the sandwich shop frequented almost exclusively by fro-yo loving real estate ladies and the mom's of kids who went to the rival high school?

And there was often a lot of back and forth. And I always wanted a list. Well, I wanted two lists. One for places we hadn't tried and one for places we went to but really liked and were workable for lunch.

Now I find myself in a similar situation. After a long day at work, when we're not really wanting to cook, sometimes we are too brain-dead or addled to come up with workable ideas of where to go for dinner. We tend to fall back on favorites, and that's fine, but I think keeping a list around to jog our thoughts is a good idea.

This list is not about my favorite restaurants, or the most practical for dinner. Not so many high end places on here either and there is a greater representation of places we don't mind driving to and parking at. And of course, some places simply closer to work or home.

I was most surprised writing the list of places I haven't been. We have some work to do.

My Restaurant Reminder List

2 Amy’s
Addis Ababa
Afghan Grill
Alamo Restaurant
Ban Cuon Saigon Restaurant
Bistro Italiano
Busboys and Poets (VA)
Dairy Godmother
El Tapatio
Han Sung Oak
Hollywood East Café on the Boulevard
Huong Viet
Lebanese Taverna
Los Tios
Majestic Café
Mark’s Kitchen
Mr. Henry’s
Myoung Dong (“Oriental Noodles”)
Pacific Cafe
Parkway Deli
Pasta Plus
Pete’s Diner
Pho Hiep Hoa
Pho VN One
Plato’s Diner
Saravana Palace
Sorak Garden
Taqueria Tres Reyes
The Old Siam
The Ugly Mug
Viet Bistro
Whole Foods

50 Places I Need to Visit for the First Time

Bangkok 54
Bebo Trattoria
Bob’s Noodle 66
Colorado Kitchen
Costa Alegre
Cuba de Ayer
Del Merei Grill
Dixie Bones
Eat First
El Charrito Caminante
Pollo Campero
Faidley’s (Baltimore)
Farrah Olivia
Hank’s Oyster Bar
Ill Mee Buffet
Italian Inn
Joe’s Noodle House
La Sirenita
Mark’s Duck House
Mi Rancho
Mitsitam Cafe
Ray’s The Classics
Ruan Thai
Saigon Café
South Street Steaks
Sunflower Vegetarian
Tabard Inn
Taqueria Distrito Federal
Taqueria Nacionale
Thai Square
Thanh Son Tofu

Monday, October 29, 2007

Chicken Stew

The end of our fall Saturday was homemade chicken stew served atop mashed potatoes. Sensing that fall was upon us, I roasted a chicken last week. With the carcass, I made homemade chicken stock. With the leftover chicken meat in the freezer and the chicken stock, I made the perfect fall chicken stew. I served it on top of mashed potatoes but you could just as easily serve it with egg noodles, put chunks of potatoes in the stew, make dumplings for chicken and dumplings or put it some rice.

Fall chicken stew (think of this as a guideline)

3 pounds of chicken meat (already cooked)
- this can be two breasts, a breast, 2 thigh and leg meat or any other combination

The vegetables chopped in large chunks
2 carrots
1 large onion
2 stalks of celery
1 clove of garlic

optional vegetables
three large yukon gold potatoes
1 parsnip
1/2 a rutabaga
1/2 sweet potato
1 cup of frozen peas

The herbs
1 teaspoon of thyme
1 tablespoon parsley

Enough chicken stock and white wine to cover (about 4 cups)

The Thickener
1 tablespoon room temperature butter and 1 tablespoon of flour

Chop the chicken meat into large chunks. Set aside. Saute the onion in a large pot for about ten minutes until softened and a little translucent. Add the rest of the vegetables and saute for another 15 minutes. Add herbs along with salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken stock and simmer for about 20 minutes or until vegetables get soft but not completely mushy. Add the cooked chicken and simmer for another 10 minutes. This step is where you would add uncooked rice or dumplings for chicken and dumplings. If you do add dumplings, avoid the next step. Mush the butter and flour together until you get a smooth paste. Add the paste to the stew and stir vigorously to avoid lumps. Let the stew thicken and serve on top of whatever starch you want.

Ah Fall

The timely and most welcome (and most coveted) invite to a certain food blogger's Thanksgiving tasting menu, just alerted me to the fact the happiest food holiday in all the land is right around the corner. Thanks to this wonderful high pressure system we're deep in the throes of fall. YAY! I get to wear hoodies, and sweaters, and long sleeved shirts! And best of all...SWEATPANTS DELUXE! It's a tradition my friend Evelyn does with her significant other. Sweatpants are clearly the world's most comfortable form of clothing and it's a good night when you can slip on the sweatpants, watch some trashy tv, and snuggle next to your one and only.

More than sweatpants deluxe, I get to use the oven without worrying I will be heating the house to hellish levels. This past weekend, we celebrated the advent of fall by have a food-centered Saturday. First we went to Rabieng, the second Thai restaurant by the people who run Duangrats. While I find Duangrats to be perfectly fine Thai food, I've never found it to be anything to writer home about. Our friend Uncle Tim and Auntie Em have raved about Rabieng's Thai dim sum and small plates fan that I am, I had to go. And it was WELL WORTH IT! Rabieng knows sticky rice like noone's business. Both of their sticky rice dishes, sticky rice with shredded coconut shrimp an sticky rice with taro were exceptional. The sticky rice was redolent of coconut milk and complemented the starchiness of the taro and the saltiness of the shrimp. In the same vein, we had the coconut crab won tons which had a similar crab filling as the shrimp. It had the same sweet nutty flavor as the coconut shrimp. We also had the expertly made scallion cakes which were had a nice crunch on the outside to contract with the soft glutinousness on the inside, served with a sweet soy dipping sauce, it was definitely a standout. Finally, we LOVED the green curry beef with a deep fried rice cake. I normally don't like green curry but this was a small serving that fit well with the pleasing crunch of the deep fried rice cake. Two dishes that I was meh on was the shredded chicken and carrot salad that was like a syrupy version of a Vietnamese Goi salad and the siracha chicken wings that were drowning in a siracha laced barbecue sauce. Overall it's a great food experience. I will say that the waiters are pretty businesslike and ask you to order by number.

Next door to Rabieng is the Duangrats Thai Market. Ever since our great Tom Yum experience, J has wanted to make Tom Yum soup at home. The only thing missing was galangal, a citrusy cousin of ginger. It was a bit of providence to find frozen galangal at the Thai market which we picked up along with a replacement sticky rice steamer basket (that my uncle and his family call "the hat"), and a few Asian condiments.

And then next door to that is the poetically named Aphrodite's Greek and Mediterranean market. This is truly pan Mediterranean with Egyptian busts, Little Greek Statues, and Turkish coffee machines. J and I went crazy here, buying all kinds of baklava, rose water, dolmades, Greek Phyllo pastries, rose water, and orange flower water. The service was attentive to the point where the woman behind the counter told me to put away the spanikopita I was about to buy and directed me to the homemade Greek phyllo pastries.

Going to both the Greek and Thai markets made me think of why New York is so awesome. In New York, these types of markets wouldn't be 15 miles away in a suburban strip mall. They would be in the city near public transportation.

After all of that, we went to the CSA to get our vegetables for the week and made a point to pick a good two pounds of basil for pesto.

The day ended with J and I curled up on the couch with a bowl of chicken stew and mashed potatoes. Recipe to follow.

Monday, October 22, 2007

More TV Commentary - Positivity

Did anyone see the Halloween episode of Barefoot Contessa this past Saturday? I know know why but I found her goofy Halloween attitude to be pretty entertaining. For once, I thought her whimsical "boo" on her cake (which was perfectly laid out) and the disappearing trick at the end to come out of a naturally goofy sense of humor as opposed to being put upon schtick. I liked that the conversation around the meal wasn't to heap tons of praise on the food but a natural delight over a bunch of adults with witches hats. It made sense that some guy would be joking and making the big "mwaaah haha" sound. On top of the the food really did look divine. The pork appeared to be perfectly cooked and tender and the marinade for the pork made a lot of sense - mustard, lots of salt, fennel, rosemary etc. It was a well composed meal with a balance of meat, vegetables and starch, unlike many meals where there a huge heavy main course and Ina throws in one of her repetitive salads with a vinaigrette. My only criticism is the espresso martini which I would find vile, and Ina's compulsion to throw citrus zest into every dessert she makes.

Also on the upswing is the Gourmet Next Door whose second episode is light years better than her first. she still seems to have trouble connecting to the camera and her plating is not so good but the actual recipes themselves looked very appetizing, especially the lemon chicken. I hope her producers reminds her not to go the the roasted potato well too often.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Siri's Chef's Secret: So Right

5810 Greenbelt Rd
Greenbelt, MD 20770
(301) 345-6101

Balancing heat and sweet while offering attractive plates, Siri's is our new go-to for Thai. And I love Thai. I've had some great meals at other Thai restaurants, but I am so consistently impressed with Siri's that I had to share.

Thai has so much happening. From the texture of the chicken in the Pad See Ew to the crisp of the spring rolls, Siri's has paid attention to what comes out on your plate. Herbed grouper comes in a sauce that is sweet and hot and is perfectly cooked. The dusting of peanuts and onions contrasts with the buttery fish and hits the spot.

Pad See EW is earthy and spicy and served in a healthy portion. Not overwhelmed by vegetables, nor sauce, I'll have this again.

Don't miss the soup. I may have had the best cup of Tom Yum soup I've ever had. Siri's version is not unique, but very well-executed. The lime and lemongrass flavors rubbed up against the salt of the broth. The mushroom pieces and chicken bites were delicious.

The Thai sampler is wonderful with the tasty Angel Wings and curries are, like everything we have tried in our four visits, flavorful, balanced, and worth coming back for.

The place is actually dimly lit and sometimes that really hits the spot. It's not too dark, but you do get the sense that you are away from all the hubub your busy email-addled brain carries around all day.

Service has always been laid back and attentive. The managers seem to know all the regulars.

I'll be back. Maybe tonight?

View Larger Map

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Back to business - Negativity

Ok. So I've finished the travelblog that ate our blog. There are a few things I wanted to talk about.

1. Gourmet Next Door. Ok who the hell let that atrocity that is the Gourmet Next Door on the air? Poor Amy Finley who was genuinely likeable on the Next Food Network Star. She was light years better on THAT show than she is on her own show. The recipes kind of blow - the choux paste recipe looked horrible and I live and die by the Julia Child one which is significantly different from Amy's. She almost never looks at the camera. The sequence of cooking is disjointed. Is the food network just throwing Amy away? At least they gave Dan and Steve two seasons.

2. Top Chef. Poor Casey. She had that in the bag if she could have dealt with the altitude. It was so sad because Casey must have been watching the final show and knew form the footage she was not going to be Top Chef. While I think it made sense for Hung to win, I still think Dale is adorable.

3. Eggplant Balls. Speaking of recipes that blow. The recipe for Mario Batali's eggplant balls is probably one of the crappiest I've come across in my entire life. The texture never comes together to actually roll it out into a ball, even with the additional of a ton of breadcrumbs. Even after cooking they are the consistency of mush. And the flavor is just bland bland bland. We had a windfall of eggplant from our CSA and was hoping this would be a good use for the five pounds of eggplant but sadly, no. You know what is a good use of five pounds of eggplant? The Wyatt's cafeteria eggplant casserole my MIL made when she was visiting. She went on and on about it being a Proustian moment for her and how much the eggplant casserole was a part of her childhood. One bite and it became a Proustian moment for me. It was that good. I am trying to get that recipe from her. I know it involved cornbread stuffing mix.

4. That two caterers show on FoodNetwork. Dear god does that blow chunks. It's like someone told the Food Network, let's replicate Ace of Cakes but with a bunch of really annoying surfer dudes. The thing about Ace of Cakes that's entertaining isn't the frat boy antics, it's the wry, dry, witty observations and the obvious care that Duff and the gang put into the cakes. Also you really get a sense of the timing and process for making the cakes. For the caterers show, it's like "heh, let's go to the fish market. heh."

5. Finally, last weekend a bunch of us went winery hopping in Virginia. I highly recommend going to Linden winery before the end of the year. Their wines are truly exceptional, especially their Riesling for those of us who like sweeter wines. Even better, the tastings are FREE! But go before the end of the year because Linden will be a member's only wine club in 2008. I would only recommend going to Three Foxes winery if you want to see the world's prettiest port-o-potties. Seriously, their port-o-potties are clean and decorated in seasonal swag. The wine, not so much.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hawaii - Day Zero

Ok. This was seriously the travelblog that ate our blog. I'm sure this is literallyjavascript:void(0)
Publish Post the blog version of watching someone's vacation slides and given the huge numbers of people aren't coming to the blog, it REALLY was the blog version of watching someone's vacation slides. But you know, 50 years from now, my grandchildren will be reading this and realizing their grampas had a good time in Hawaii.

Anyway, I wake up the Saturday after our Convention ended enjoying a beautiful view of the Ala Moana beach from out hotel balcony. As with every other day, I left J to his own devices to come up with a fabulous food filled day while I packed up. I got to hang with the in-laws in the hotel lobby as Convention attendees came up to me and congratulated me on a great convention. AAAAAW! It's nice to have your in-laws witness you as a competent professional. When J came back from the hotel business center, his hands were full of printouts of fun things to do and eat.

First off was the Farmer's Market at Kapiolani Community College. Like everywhere in Hawaii, this farmer's market had a gorgeous view of the ocean. Where this farmer's market is different is the vast array of prepared foods ready to eat. This is seriously the best eating on the island. The food is fresh, plentiful and filling. the only downside is that the food is expensive. But really, we got what we paid for. First up was fried green tomatoes. These were really a get-what-you-pay-for thing because it was $1 for EACH slice of fried green tomato. But every bite, every crumb was worth it. To go with our fried green tomato we had fresh roasted corn with chili butter. It was sweet, messy and utterly indulgent. It's amazing that in the bright sunshine we kept wanting fried foods. We gathered up the fixings of a meal that included kimchee fried rice (which I loved but J could have done without) and the completely trashy Loco Moco that was made with organic farm-raised beef. It's rice, a beef patty with gravy and a fried egg. Doesn't it look divine?

Finally our [inic lunch was capped off with a huge helping of fresh beignets that were served with a pineapple sauce. Continuing our food tour of Honolulu, we went to the famous Waiola Shaved Ice. Everyone needs to go here. As I said last year when I wrote about Hawaii, the shaved ice is like soft snow. It's truly a mindblowing experience and Waiola is the best. As I did last year, I got the shaved ice surround flan while the in-laws got shaved ice with soft serve ice cream on the bottom. J had his straight up. Everyone was duly impressed.

We then drove through the center of the island with beautiful vistas of the ocean and mountains. Once we got to Kailua, took a gander at the spectacular beach and then looked for food. After trying to find Boots and Kimo and finding it closed, we ended up going to a nearby diner in a strip mall. The in-laws got salad with grilled chicken and a club sandwich. I immediately perked up when I saw poke on the menu. Yes, a strip mall diner serves sushi grade ahi tuna marinated in onions and soy sauce. It looked spectacular and tasted even better. Just look.

After all of that fine eating. Our dinner was a laid back meal of Maui Fish tacos.

Thanks everyone for putting up with the travelblog. I hope you weren't too bored.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hawaii - Day One

Ok. Now I have that whole millennium dilemma thing going on because I counted wrong. This is really our second day of actual vacationing but because we headed out to Kailua the day before I am calling the previous day, Day 0. So like the Gregorian calendar, I am starting with Zero rather than One.

This day was the BIG day of good old fashioned touristy fun. We went around 3/4 of the island of Oahu and even hit the Dole Pineapple plantation. As with every other day, I woke up at 5:30 am and went to the beach to see the sunrise. FIL and I let J and MIL work out a plan for the day. They did a great job with the previous day so we figure they knew what they were doing. They came up with a killer day. It helped that Highway 82 was absolutely spectacular with vistas of the mountains and ocean.

Tropical Farms The Macadamia Nut Outlet
First up was the Macadamia Nut Outlet. This outlet had fresh nuts that are brought from the orchards? nutteries? daily. You definitely can taste the difference. And taste we did because they have free samples galore. Their samples included all variety of macadamia nuts but also Hawaiian coffee. This is a total tourist area but a good tourist center because of great service and tons of free samples.

Polynesian Culture tour
In the back of the Nut Outlet, is a Polynesian Culture Tour. As it turns out, the Nut Outlet land is used a lot for movies and tv. All of these locations were pointed out to us. Be prepared to be flexible because the tour starts when it starts. Another thing to be prepared for - sexual harassment. Our tour guide's schtick was to constantly make sexual innuendos and proposition the women in the tour group. I honestly felt like taking a shower afterwards because it got a little too icky for me. The three swinging bachelorettes from West Virginia ate that schtick up. The multigenerational Korean family was completely bewildered. In an ancient school bus we saw a lot of local crops including tea trees, taro, and coconut trees. We went to a little amphitheater where we saw our lusty tour guide crack open a coconut, start a fire without flint or matches, and make coconut milk. We then went on a tour of the lagoon where some submarine on Lost was sunk and the lagoon scenes from Giligan's Island were filmed.

We then went back to the bus where there was a fake cantina where 50 First Dates and ER's African scenes were filmed.

As a shout out to my Brother in Law, Stef, and Jason, more scenes from Lost.

After the movie tour, we met up with the lascivious tour guide and happily he dropped the dirty talk and just gave us a damn tour. Actually, he gave us the most awesome tour EVER! We heard about his own background growing up in Samoa and what he's done to develop a tourist trade in him home island. We heard about his education and background in being a firestarter and twirler. We also heard how he's developed the tour we were on. The best part, going to the fruit orchards where we saw the efforts to preserve native fruits. Well, that was part of the best part. The best part of the best part was actually EATING said native fruit. Right off the tree. It was a foodgasm of infinite proportions. We got fresh starfruit, pineapple, and guava. He just stopped the bus and chopped fruit for us. It's was one of the best food experiences of my life.

Giovanni's Shrimp Truck
all of that fresh fruit just made us even hungrier so we zoomed down Kamehameha Highway to go to the part of Oahu with all the shrimp trucks. In the North Shore of Oahu, there are shrimp farms with taco truck style eateries that serve shrimp. All of the guides recommended Giovanni's as the go to shrimp truck.

This is the best shrimp you will ever have bar none. I recommend getting the scampi style which is shrimp sauteed with a ton of garlic. The shrimp was tender and flavorful and just melted in your mouth. I put liberal amounts of Giovanni's hot sauce on the shrimp and it was heaven. I would say that the rice is comes with is a big gloppy mess but you get such as generous helping of shrimp you don't need the rice.

Dole Pineapple Plantation

Finally we decided to go around the North shore tip of the island past the Polynesian Cultural Center (owned by the Mormon church!) to the leeward side of the island. It was raining so we stay in the car and just enjoyed the drive. To get back to Kailua, we decided to go towards the center of the island and take the H2 to the windward side. The benefit of this route was a stop at the Dole Pineapple Plantation where we all got a Dole Whip. For any of you who grew up in SoCal, Disneyland's Adventureland has Dole Pineapple Whip. It's seriously the best reason for going to Disneyland. It's essentially pineapply frozen yogurt that is surprisingly dairy free. I learned from that the Dole Whip was 100% pineapple that was just pulverzied and run through an ice cream maker. But this was ideal for J who is lactose intolerant. Does it look divine?

We has such a good day of food we just stayed home and ate sandwiches and quesadillas while J got fish tacos from Maui Fish tacos.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Hawaii - Day Two

Yay! The main activity of day 2 is snorkeling with the in-laws. No pictures in this one because I forgot to bring and camera and was way too cheap to buy an underwater one. On Day Two, I went to the deservedly famous Hanauma Bay with the in-laws for some spectacular snorkeling. As the guidebooks say, this is not a hidden gem or an undiscovered treasure. It is packed with people. We decided to take th guidebook's advice and head over there at 7:00 am. Good decision as by the time we left at 11:30 am, the line for tickets was at least 300 feet long. We took the scenic drive on highway 72 and promised that we would take J on the drive the next day. Here's the thing about Hanauma Bay, apart from the incredible snorkeling, the view of this crater is breathtaking. That makes up for having to stand and watch the very lame safety and conservation video.

Once we got down to the beach, I made sure that the in-laws were thoroughly slathered with sunscreen. In fact, I made sure to get FIL to get out of the water every 20 minutes to reapply. The process worked because four hours later none of use were sunburned! I could not believe the huge variety of sea life in the Bay. Along with a ton of fish, I was a few feet away from both a sea turtle and a moray eel! It was like swimming in an aquarium because everywhere we looked there was something beautiful to see. The big challenge was to avoid touching the coral. We were at low tide and it took a lot of maneuvering to avoid the coral.

Lunch was sandwiches and quesadillas at the condo. Everyone relaxed at the condo in the afternoon except for me. I decided to swim out to the little island that is a bird sanctuary in Kailua bay. the thing is, after the 3/4 mile swim. The last thing I wanted to do was walk around a damn scrubby little island to watch bird. I sat in the sand and had to catch my breath. And then I had to to swim 3/4 of a mile back!

For dinner, the in-laws stayed at home and I and I went to Buzz's for dinner. I had the opah and J had the swordfish both prepared chef's style seared with ginger and garlic and served with mashed potatoes and napa cabbage slaw. As with the Day Three, the fish was perfectly prepared and exactly what we wanted from our fish experience. Be forewarned that Buzz's only accepts cash.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hawaii Day 3

It’s funny how each day does end up having a theme or at least a big outing. As is our usual routine for the day, we did some big touristy thing in the morning and decided to spend the afternoon lazing around the condo and the beach. We wanted to take J to the view of Hanauma Bay but the Bay is closed on Tuesdays. Luckily we got to drive on the rocky and desolate windward side of Oahu. The ocean and beaches are spectacularly beautiful here. See?

This day was our rainforest day where we went on a hike to Manoa falls. I am kind of amazed that Manoa falls trail isn’t necessarily surrounded by a national park with a big visitor’s center. The infrastructure is some guy with a folding table and a parking lot. One major plus about the guy with the folding table was the free use of bug spray which made our hike infinitely more enjoyable. The hike itself was spectacular - exactly what you want your rainforest hike to be. It started off being cool and relatively dry and the closer you got to the falls, the warmer and more humid it got. One word of caution, our guidebook called this trail a moderate to easy hike. If that’s moderate to easy, I hate to see what difficult-expert looks like. There was a progressively steeper incline and the trail got increasingly muddy. Being a “moderate to easy” trail, it was full of hikers and tour groups. But the payoff was incredible. The falls were beautiful and the trail itself was lush and verdilicious.

After the trail we all needed to have some food so we hit a MacDonald’s whose drive thru was another little kiosk connected to the main restaurant via a conveyor belt. We watched with rapt fascination the bags of food sliding down the conveyor belt. After a stop at the condo to clean up. We went to the much anticipated Boots and Kimo’s pancake restaurant. Boots and Kimo is an unpretentious, football themed restaurant with a particular focus on the Denver Broncos (go figure). Whatever you do GET THE PANCAKES WITH MACADAMIA NUT SAUCE. This rises to the level of plate-licking good. J and I split a stack of pancakes and an order of short ribs. J didn’t like the short ribs as much as I did. They were simply grilled with a generous coating of salt and pepper. They were a little chewy for J but the flavor of the meat was really savory and yummy. But really, the star of that show is the macadamia nut sauce.

After lunch we settled into the afternoon routine of napping/reading/swimming at the beach. This does not ever get old.

For dinner we went to Buzz’s Steakhouse which was conveniently right next door to the condo. Actually it was at the end of the driveway of our condo. With a décor that was wasting away in margaritaville, Buzz’s was that Hawaiian fish experience we were dreaming of. They serve other stuff but the star here was the many many kinds of fish served in several different preparations. J and I had been eyeing Buzz’s the whole trip and had actually went there the night before but this night we had to take MIL as well. FIL was feeling tired and we promised to take him some carry out. So MIL and I had the Ono (one the continent it’s known as wahoo), a mild moist fish while J had the Opah (moonfish) which was also a mild white fish with a bit more texture. J and I had our fish with the Asian preparation, steamed with ginger, garlic and scallions and then seared on a hot pan. MIL had hers grilled with lemon. While the salad bar has had complaints for some reviewers, that night, the ingredients, while not extensive were really high quality. I loved their pickled maui onions. We took home for FIL a rich and tender steak with béarnaise sauce. FIL was happy.

J and his mother kicked our asses in canasta for the second night running.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hawaii - Day Four

Before I get to the Hawaii vacation recap, let me rant for two seconds about the whole Britney MTV movie awards flap. Can we stop calling her fat? There are many many many reasons to stop that crap (i.e. "fat" Britney is like a size 4), but I'll just say that line of mocking is just boring. Seriously, the whole thing was a major trainwreck from start to finish (including her wearing an unflattering costume and having the rattiest weave this side of America's Next Top Model). So why of all things to focus on, do you choose her weight? She performs stoned/drunk/crazy, she DRESSES like a mess, her hair's nasty, and she lumbering around the stage like a polar bear, she is molesting herself and her dancers, and the funny part is her weight? It's like the Daily Show doing a riff on Bush's press conference and making fun of his tie.

AAAAANYWAY. Day four of the Hawaii vacation was major relaxation time. After driving all over the island of Oahu, we decided to actually take advantage of the fact that we were one block away from what is arguably the most beautiful beach on Oahu (Yay Kailua!!!). It was a leisurely morning hanging out at the condo. As with every day of our vacation, I woke up at 5:30 am and walked to the beach to see the sunrise.

Here it is:

We decided to have lunch at Zia's Italian restaurant in Kailua. In keeping with our no-fuss day, we all decided to order familiar food. J had a fish sandwich. MIL had the risotto soup and a chicken sandwich and FIL had a sandwich of his own. I had the pesto and olive pasta that was surprisingly bland. It was a nice serviceable meal.

But the kicker was going to Agnes' Portuguese Bake Shop for malasadas, Portuguese doughnuts that are the best bites of fried dough this side of Doughnut Plant. At Agnes' we waited for a batch that came fresh from the oven. They were crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. Normally malasadas are filled with custard of some sort but these were plain and all the better for it. You could really appreciate the cinnamon sugar coating.

Aren't they adorable?

After lunch we settled in for a lazy afternoon on the beach. How much better could it get? The only downside was that FIL didn't put on the sunscreen early enough and got fried. He ended his afternoon lobster red and multiple coats of aloe were applied.

For dinner with chose the cheesy Pinky's Pupu Bar and Grill. The decor was middle of the road seafood restaurant with a view of the waterfront (or in this case a view of the canal where we saw outrigger teams paddling). Please don't let the tacky name fool you. The food is great. Like the rest of Hawaii, Pinky's was abundant with fresh, sushi grade ahi tuna. J and I split the ahi tuna plate with the ahi served three ways, sashimi style with soy and wasabi and pickled ginger, the traditional poke which is chunks of raw ahi marinated it a little soy and onions, and seared sesame tuna. The ahi tuna plate in the cheesy Pupu bar suprasses any piece of fish you will get in DC. The tuna was fresh, not fishy, and completely soft and yielding without being mushy. I love that sushi grade ahi is diner food. I cannot sing the praises of the ahi enough. In addition to the taste, the price of ahi is dirt cheap. In addition to our ahi, J and I also split a mountain of Kahlua pork which is shredded pork cooked underground. It was good but salty and an interesting contrast to the clean fresh flavor of the ahi. Seriously people, I am not touching tuna from the continent again! MIL decided to get the wonderful coconut shrimp. FIL's fish and chips was the only disappointment of the meal.

We went back to the condo where we played another round of canasta where FIL and I finally won a game off of J and MIL.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Working Backwards - Hawaii

So this is what we had to leave. Waaaah!!!!! I've said it before but the thing about Hawaii is that you always have access to beauty - whether that be the beach or the mountains. I'm doing the Hawaii recap from the end of the trip to the beginning since the food fun didn't really start when I was there. So our last day was Thursday and we were all leaving at the end of the day (in my case at the VERRRRY end of the day). We decided to go to the Halekulani Hotel in Waikiki for their reasonably priced elegant breakfast with one of the best views of Waikiki beach. On the way we decided to take route 72 that goes along the tip of Oahu past Hanauma Bay. It's spectacularly scenic with rough barren rocky terrain that makes you feel like you're on another planet.

We ate a very leisurely breakfast at Orchids, the hotel's upscale dining place that was right on the beach. This was where J and his parents ate their first morning in Hawaii and it could not have been better. The service was friendly and warm, the views were spectacular, and the ambiance was bright, clean, and elegant. My parents would have gone nuts over the vast array of exotic orchids. My father-in-law and I ordered the haupia French toast with the coconut syrup. This was regular French toast with the traditional Hawaiian coconut custard in the middle. J ordered the blueberry pancakes and his mother ordered the three-egg omelette. We also order popovers for the table. Here's mine.

Food porny enough?

What I loved about my French toast was that the custard and the syrup with light. You weren't going into sugar shock after the meal. After breakfast we left FIL reading the paper on the hotel's lanai while the rest of us did some last-minute gift shopping at the zillions of souvenir shops in Waikiki. This left us plenty of time to get to the airport... where the shit hit the fan. As it turns out, I misread my flight information and I totally missed my flight that left WEDNESDAY and flew in to DC THURSDAY. This led to some begging and pleading with ATA airlines to let me fly to which they lied through their teeth and said it was overbooked and I would be flying out that night.

J is totally my hero because he found a wireless hotspot, broke out of the laptop and booked THE VERY SAME FLIGHT via the Southwest website (Southwest and ATA are partners). Unfortunately, I was still sweating bullets (literally!) because we hadn't confirmed a seat. With my loving partner saying he wasn't going to leave Hawaii without having me confirmed on a flight, he and my FIL got Southwest to talk to ATA and give me a confirmed seat. Nevertheless, I waited five hours with my book and laptop to make sure I was the first in line when the ticket counter opened at 6:45 pm. After that, everything went fine.

I lounged around the gate getting some work done and reading until my flight left at 10:45 pm. I did have to buy a new t-shirt and one of those neck things for the long flight. But I just felt lucky I had a spouse who could keep it together while I was completely losing it. As we work backwards there will be more food content.

Monday, September 10, 2007

In Memoriam - Madeleine L'Engle

I read the appreciation today in the Post about Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time. I didn't know she died last Thursday. She is the only person I've actually wrote a fan letter to (bloggers not included) and I got a very nice form letter with a nice note from the author.

The Wrinkle in Time series was mindblowing. Reading about someone who was socially awkward and intelligent was like reading my own experience on the page. Meg Murry was my id because she was sullen, impatient, bitchy, and short tempered. All of those emotions roiled inside me as a child and I rarely had a chance to express them. In Wrinkle, not only are Meg's faults acceptable, they're valuable.

A New Yorker article came out a few years back on Madeleine L'Engle and her penchant for turning the truth of her life into fiction and fictionalizing the the truth of her life. It was hard to hear that she how much of her life she used for her craft and how much of her autobiography was fictionalized. But it made an icon human, which is part of growing up.

Her later works were difficult as her adult women seemed to have all of their rough edges smoothed out but I still read every single L'Engle book because I loved her gentle and loving take on humanity.

I read that she was working on a book that would show more of Meg Murry as an adult and give us a chance to see Meg's inner life. I'm sad I won't know how Meg turned out.

Kinda Like Creme Brulee

Hey Stef, here's a dessert for you!

Ok, every since Nigella did it with pineapple, I kind of have an unabashed love for grilled fruit. Since then, Giada did it and then Ina did it so now I have to do it. Last night, I grilled peaches and nectarines on the grill pan and the result was heaven on a plate. Not only that, it was the fruity approximation of creme brulee because I smashed the halves in sugar before I stuck them on the grill pan. The sugar hardened to a nice brulee.

Here the guidelines.

Heat a grill pan to low (until water dances on the grill pan). Take 2 peaches or 2 nectarines or a combination thereof. Cut both in half lengthwise. Pour about a tablespoon of sugar on a small dessert plate (vanilla sugar is divine for this). Dip of the cut-side of the fruit into the sugar. Put on the grill pan and let grill for about 10 minutes. turn the heat to medium and grill 5 minutes more. If the fruit is still a little hard, stick in the oven (preferably the toaster oven so as not to heat the entire house) for another 10 minutes until the fruit is soft. Bash some hard amaretti cookies on top. Add some thickened Greek yoghurt if you are into such things (as I am). Enjoy guilt free.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Pink and girly Bridal Shower

So before we launch into the blog post that ate our blog aka Hawaii 2007, I wanted to report on the pink and girly bridal shower we threw for our friend RootBeer. Rootbeer's been a dear friend for ages (coming up on a DECADE) and helped plan our wedding. Because the actual Bridesmaids were all out-of-towners, we volunteered (read: insisted) on throwing Rootbeer a DC bridal shower. This took a month of planning and the help of Auntie Em and Writergirl. J actually planned 99% of the activities that went over like a bang.

The Decorations
Ok. I have this thing for those paper accordion wedding bells. They are totally cheesy but I insist on them at every wedding event I get to plan. J got those and went to town with wedding theme streamers and a daisy and ladybug theme. The true kicker was having professionally arranged floral arrangements all over our house courtesy of Auntie Em and Writergirl. The shower was on the Sunday of Labor day weekend so Auntie Em, Writergirl and J and I went to our CSA to get our fill of flowers. We went to town getting armfuls of sunflowers, Indian Summers, cosmos, zinnias, bright red Mexican Sunflowers, and flowers from chive plants, basil, and garlic chives. This ended up making six arrangements artfully placed throughout the house.

The Food
Luckily I made a lot of the food ahead of time. It was girly finger food with a bit o'Southern flair. So on the menu were:

Thai chicken meatballs and Thai vegetarian meatballs with satay dipping sauce

Pesto and goat cheese mini-quiches

Roasted pepper mini quiches

Tomato and feta mini-tartlets

Lemon bars

Mac 'n cheese (baked southern style)

Deviled eggs

Sugar cookies

ANNNNND .... The Steel Magnolia Style Grey-Icing Armadillo cake complete with sliced almond scales. Rootbeer made one for our wedding shower and we had to return the favor. The red velvet cake came from a box and we used the same football cake pan for the body of the armadillo. For the feet we used two small aluminum loaf pans that I expertly cut in half widthwise and cut toes out of (HIRE ME Charm City Cakes!). I did make my own frosting (basic buttercream with tons of vanilla).

Drinks included lemonade, iced tea made with Good Earth tea (the best in the world!!!), and a champagne punch that included champagne, ginger ale, and frozen strawberries and raspberries. The future mother in law let me know it tasted good but packed a punch (no pun intended).

The Favors

J is from the south and therefore he gives out favors at parties. As the favors he made a marshmallows with cherry puree, turning them a pale mauve and a hot pink set with lots of vanilla. He cut them into little squares are put them in adorable silver bags.

The Fun

J did most of the work on this side. My one contribution was to set up a station in our basement for people to put handprints on tablecloth we would give to Rootbeer as a present. They turned out great.

But J made a DVD with photos from all of Rootbeer's friends. An uproariously funny mad-lib that ended up reflecting the groom's Jewish heritage (place - JERUSALEM, holiday - PURIM!). And a stick the ladybug on the daisy (kind of like pin the tail on the donkey), complete with prizes.

It was a great afternoon to celebrate our dear friend's impending nuptials. An interesting thing is that many of the gifts were cooking related, which meant we'll all be enjoying the gifts for years to come.