Archive for October, 2011

Veal to the Rescue

For the past week Kirios and I have both been battling colds. His throat started hurting first, so naturally I blame him this time. But for all intensive purposes, we’ve both had the same symptoms – congestion and phlegm, mostly in the mornings and evenings. Nothing too debilitating, but especially with a long weekend trip toWisconsincoming up on Thursday, we both realized that we needed to take time to rest.

Last week I spent every evening at home, except Friday, which I spent watching movies at Kirios’ house. This is very uncharacteristic of me, as I tend to get stir-crazy, especially since I moved into a one bedroom at the end of the summer, sans roommate camaraderie and a cable subscription. During the daytime, I generally felt decent enough to get along fine at work. So on Friday when I worked from home, I was up for running some errands. During my lunch break, I went to the kosher store to pick up a frozen duckling. Kirios and I agreed to celebrate our second “semiversary” (a.k.a. eighteen months of dating) by cooking a kosher duck together, since duck is a very special treat for me. Our semiversary is on November 8th, so we plan to cook it the following weekend. But since it will take time to defrost and prep, and we’ll be away this Friday/weekend, I thought it was best to pick it up now and be safe. Plus I had a groupon for the kosher store which was expiring anyway!

While at the kosher store, I couldn’t help but browse. My freezer has a good supply of frozen chicken legs from Costco and some ground beef from my local Giant, so I wasn’t planning to make any purchases aside from the duck. But when I saw that veal cutlets were a daily special, with a package large enough for two priced at $6.29, I couldn’t resist. Veal is a real treat for me, and I had only cooked it myself once before, while studying in Rome.

Saturday was especially cold and gross out, with the Nor’eastern storm passing through, so I spent the whole day at home, mostly in front of the TV trying to rest up. I was super excited when Kirios decided he was feeling well enough to come over for dinner and provide me with a little company for a couple of hours. I threw some potatoes and sweet potatoes with rosemary and olive oil into the oven so they would get nice and crispy. When Kirios arrived, we made veal schnitzel – coating the veal with egg and then a combination of bread crumbs and spices before frying it in hot oil. Kirios did the frying, since the oil scares me a bit, and I must say, he did a superb job. The veal was cooked to perfection. We prefaced the veal and potatoes with some butternut squash soup. While it wasn’t homemade, it was nonetheless appreciated by two under the weather individuals on an unseasonably cold day. It’s safe to say that it was one of our favorite meals we’ve cooked together in a while, and it saved an otherwise crummy day!

Running off to Europe

Yesterday morning my boss and I sat down together to compile a manuscript for our publishers in preparation of releasing revisions to our purchasing policies – exciting, right? We looked out the window, it was a beautiful sunny day, and our conversation began to wander. Art exhibits opening around town, the best exhibits we’ve been to, and naturally, before we knew it we were discussing places to go inEurope. My boss spent several years living abroad with his family as a teenager, and since learning of my time studying art history in Rome, we frequently discuss our time there. He told stories of watching the sun rise on train rides, bull fights in Spain, and art and food in Paris. “The time to go off and explore Europei s while you’re in your 20s,” he said. And he assured me that if I wanted to spend a few weeks away he would help make sure my leave was approved.

My heart ached. It was only 9:30am and I already felt like I was wasting my life by being at work. I wanted to travel, eat, breathe, and appreciate the art and culture of Europe. When I got back to my desk, I couldn’t help but look up air fares and travel times. How much would it cost to fly to Paris for Valentine’s Day and stay through my birthday? How long would it take to get from the French Riviera to Northern Italy? I could visit Brussels and Amsterdam, or Switzerland and Austria. I’m young, I’ll have enough vacation time, and I do have savings. I emailed Kirios – forget taking me some place warm this winter, let’s run away to Europe!

I was so tempted. Conflicted by societal expectations to work a 9-5 job (or in my case, 8-4), and saving up to have kids and buy a house out in the suburbs, and the restlessness of someone who spent four months in Italy and dreamed of returning. If only I were still in college. If only I had a job that required oversees travel. If only I could justify a trip like that right now…

After work last night I signed on to Skype to catch up with one of my best friends from growing up in Pittsburgh. She’s living in Salzburg and studying opera. She travels for singing gigs around Austria and Germany. She’s quite talented and her teachers are convinced that she’ll be able to have a career in opera if she continues to travel and live abroad. Ignoring the part focused on being completely tone-deaf, my jealousy of her bohemian artist lifestyle waned when I considered the trade-off she had made. I may not be super excited and passionate about my job all of the time, and gulping down a Starbucks while running errands certainly doesn’t have the same appeal as sitting outside a café sipping a cappuccino while discussing philosophy with a friend. But I live near my family and friends who I love, I have my own home and belongings to fill it with, and I am able to communicate fully with those around me – allowing me to fully express myself and form relationships. When I considered the sense of stability and other wonderful aspects of my life, my stir-craziness waned a bit too.

Don’t get me wrong – I still want to run off to Europe for an incredible adventure one of these days… But I suppose I’ll make it a shorter trip so I can continue saving up for the kids and the house one day in the future too.

Here ye, Here ye!

Renaissance Festival: Fun for families and Those with Fetishes

This past Sunday Kirios and I made our second annual outing to the Maryland Renaissance Festival. When it comes to things like fairs and festivals, we’re both pretty much big kids. And we always love to travel and sightsee and take pictures, especially since Kirios bought a dSLR last fall. So I donned my medieval princess tiara (purchased at Medieval Times; it was a gift from my childhood friend during our 8th grade class trip to New York) and a purple sweater to match, and we drove out Crownsville, Maryland.

The festival features a great array of fun food, games, shops, and people watching. Last year, Kirios and I enjoyed getting lost in the maze and shooting bows and arrows at the archery booth. Kirios climbed a “castle” wall and tested out his ax throwing skills, and we watched the tail-end of a jousting tournament. We had lots of fair food, including a giant turkey leg for Kirios, mead, and some chocolate covered strawberries at the end of the day. This year, we were already exhausted from last week’s holiday celebrations and multiple birthday festivities the evening before, so we spent more time strolling through the shops, soaking in the atmosphere, and enjoying the beautiful autumn day. And we people watched.

The Renaissance Festival attracts all sorts of people – families come for the day, enthusiasts purchase season passes. College students and sports fans are easily spotted in the crowd. And then there’s the collection of freaks with fetishes – I mean this in the nicest possible way, I think it’s great that the fair has become a gathering place for people with a lot of distinct interests and past times. There are all sorts of people who have invested in expensive Renaissance fare – elaborate, often beautiful costumes and chalices, handcrafted jewelry and accessories. Despite the popular “boob shelf” corset byproduct, of which I am not a fan, these guests’ outfits enhance the experience for festival goers such as me. There are people who just like to dress up in general – Star Wars fans, storm troopers, Darth Maul, and the princess Natalie Portman was in those newer movies; a girl in an inflatable Austin Powers Fat Bastard get up, and young kids starting their Halloween celebrations earl, and young kids starting their Halloween celebrations early. Then there are the people who dress in kilts, some folks sport fairy wings, others wear nymph and satyr horns or bushy fox tails, some wear shackles or carry whips, and there are multiple shops which sell leather masks. Individuals accessorized in this matter usually incorporate more traditional Renaissance garb into their outfits as well– but really, in what other public venue is it socially acceptable for these to be worn and displayed with pride by people of all ages? It definitely makes you wonder what these people are like in every day life. Are they our teachers? Accountants? Bosses?

‘Tis the Season

’Tis the Season

Finally the whirlwind of the Fall Jewish holiday season has come to an end. I love the fall holidays (minus the lack of food on Yom Kippur thing, of course) and look forward to the special foods and traditions each year. But since finishing school, they’ve become a lot more exhausting. Traveling to see family, making time for synagogue, cooking all of your favorite recipes, and entertaining – heck, just being a guest for holiday dinner parties, gets to be a lot events and effort.

Just about everyone has heard of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, so when I take off of work and head home (or to Baltimore to stay with family friends for Yom Kippur, usually) no one is surprised. Friendly coworkers ask me how my holidays were and I can usually even benefit by sleeping in for a couple of extra hours. But after Yom Kippur, we the Chosen People get overloaded with more – Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah. While these holidays are less well known than the “High Holy Days,” they are an integral part of the fall holiday season, and are observed with just as much effort by traditional Jews.

For me, observing Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are non-negotiables, but as I’ve entered the abyss of “adulthood” I’ve had to make some compromises and trade-offs to keep me sane. I decided that taking off from work for multiple days every week for all of Tishrei (the Jewish month) would not be the best way to allocate my annual allotment of vacation time. Instead, I typically spend about half of my vacation days each year celebrating holidays with my friends and family inPittsburgh – usually Rosh HaShana and the first days of Passover in the spring. Even though I go to work, I still try to find ways to acknowledge the special time and celebrate these holidays with friends in the DC area.

This year I had the special privilege of introducing Kirios to Sukkot and Simchat Torah. (Let’s be honest – Shemini Atzeret is quite possibly the most marginal significant Jewish holiday.) Since Kirios was vacationing and visiting family in Cyprus during the holidays last year, he had already learned a lot about them. I had already overcome the hurdle of describing a lulav. (a collection of a palm, willow, and myrtle branches traditionally shaken with an etrog, citron, during the holiday – so you can see, if you haven’t grown up with this tradition, it’s going to sound a bit nuts!)

Since I live in an apartment building, I rely on celebrating vicariously through the meals my parents host in their sukkah at home in Pittsburghand on the kindness of being invited for meals and events by friends who do have sukkahs. This year, I was fortunate enough to visit two sukkahs. The first belongs to my friend from college and his parents, and every year they host a lovely open-sukkah party on Shabbat afternoon. They have an impressive spread of both dairy and parve treats, and it’s always a great time to gather with friends and enjoy the crisp autumn air. Last year I actually had a fever during this event, and was devastated that I missed it. But the beauty of the holidays is that they return the next year. The second sukkah I visited belonged to a friend I first met in USY and her housemates. We shared an intimate dinner together on the Sunday night of Sukkot, chatting about what we’ve been up to like any other night. But the following night I returned (this time with Kirios, who had returned from his trip to New York) for an open event my friend hosted – snacks, music, hookah, and overall chillaxing in her sukkah. It was Kirios’ first time being inside a sukkah, and he even shook the lulav and etrog. I enjoyed the dichotomy – a very laid back evening hanging out with a group of people, and at the same time observing the special, albeit odd, Sukkot traditions.

And then there was Simchat Torah… my very favorite holiday. When my mom was growing up, her synagogue on Long Island would give the children candy apples to mark the occasion. I was always a fan of the singing and dancing on the bimah, and my synagogue would hand out candy and miniature toy Torahs. Because I grew up in Squirrel Hill, which has so many synagogues in walking distance, I began to “shul hop” for the holiday each year starting in 9th grade. My conservative synagogue’s services would end around 8 or 8:30, and a group of us teenagers would start making our rounds to the orthodox and Chabad synagogues where the party (service) was still going on. Usually we’d wander home around midnight, in order to appease or parents. In college, I would first attend services at Hillel, and then join Chabad on the other side of campus where they would close down a traffic circle near the freshman dorms for dancing in the streets before proceeding onward to the Chabad house itself.

Since “becoming a grown-up” Simchat Torah has remained a special treat. This year, I coordinated with several of my go-to Jews, as well as Kirios and a non-Jewish friend/coworker of mine who was interested in participating in the festivities. We met at AdasIsrael, a large Conservative congregation which offers frequent young professionals programming and a $99 membership for those under 35 (not surprisingly, several of my friends and I are members there). Adas offered snacks and free libations for the young professional crowd in a room adjacent to their family services. It was a large who’s who, and I enjoyed catching up with friends and acquaintances – those I had planned to meet up with, folks I knew from college, even a girl from home in Pittsburgh. But I barely had time to mingle before being pulled into the other room for the traditional singing and dancing. When the services concluded, I rallied my troops and we hustled to get to Chinatown, where Sixth & I’s festivities were just ramping up. As we arrived, the crowd had flood outside to a blocked off I Street and circle dancing continued. I ran into more familiar old faces, I carried a Torah, and I even met a recently retired Postal Service employee (who worked in Government Relations with my friend who came along) who was one of the rabbis leading the service.

All in all, Sukkot and Simchat Torah were happy celebrations for me, and having Kirios experience some of the traditions as well made them extra special this year. But honestly, I’m tired. And I’m not disappointed that for the first time in a month there are no holidays to celebrate this week. Although, I suppose Halloween is just around the corner…

Come Together

While middle school is far behind me, I must admit, I have a bit of a clique issue. Many of my greatest friends from college are, well, a bit cliquey. They are all awesome people, which is in fact why I am friends with them. Individually, they are all nice outgoing people who are happy to hang out with a new face. But sometimes something happens when you get a few of us together in the same room. It’s as if they (we?) are so content talking amongst themselves that they see no reason to meet anyone else who may be at the same event.

The cliquey-ness is not a new diagnosis. It was already a well-known subject when we were in school. I had been close friends with a few of them since the very start of freshman year, but it took me about a semester to gain full membership status with everyone when I started hanging with the whole crew junior year.

Since graduating from college, we’ve all dispersed a bit – we have a friend who sails around the world working on a cruise ship, one who moved to Guam, and even a Marine Corps Officer who recently returned from Afghanistan. But there are still a bunch of us in the Greater DC area and when it comes time to throw a party, such as the one Kirios and I hosted for his birthday the other week, they all do their best to show up. And then the party splits in half; there’s them, and who ever else shows up – usually a hodgepodge of folks I’ve met since graduating, a few people I knew from before school that have wound up in the area, a coworker here and there, and now of course the friends I’ve made through Kirios. Some of the hodgepodgers know each other already, but regardless, they usually all meet and mingle.

This past weekend I attended a birthday party for my friend Rachel who I met through Kirios. It was a similar situation – a Sunday afternoon affair with an incredibly long window for people to show up. (There was less of an emphasis on drinks though, since no one had off this past Monday.)  Rachel and Kirios went to high school together and have remained good friends. Since I came into the picture, Rachel and I have become good friends as well, so I didn’t hesitate to attend her party solo with Kirios out of town for the weekend. At the party, other than the birthday hostess, there were a couple people I had met multiple times and even invited to past parties that I had hosted. There were also a bunch of people I had only met once or twice, at other events Rachel threw. One such acquaintance said to me, “How have you been? I haven’t seen you in forever! …It must have been… Rachel’s birthday last year already?!?” Of course, there were also a couple people I had never seen before in my life, but no matter. We all got together for a large game of Apples to Apples and were enjoying each others’ company. When that broke up, I talked to people about their jobs, relationships, and hobbies. (And of course their ever important sports-team alliances – it was a Sunday so I was naturally rocking my Hines Ward jersey.) At one point in the early evening I taught a bunch of people how to play Trivial Pursuit, and by the time I left to meet up with another friend for dinner, every one at the party hugged, waved, and/or wished me goodbye.

When I met up with my other friend for dinner, I told her how nice everyone had been at the party. Being one of my typical “hodgepodger” guests, we couldn’t help but compare with the party for Kirios’ birthday the week before. My friend suggested that I encourage everyone to play a game at a future party in order to promote more interaction, as we had at Rachel’s. In the past, I’ve always enjoyed a good game of Taboo or my Pittsburgh crew’s favorite, Time’s Up! But I typically try to go with the flow when I host parties, lest I overwhelm myself. (which I do quite frequently) So I have to wonder, what’s the secret to throwing a great party? Is it necessary to bring everyone together, or should you let it be – if those who want to meet and mingle are doing so, and old friends are having a nice time catching up amongst themselves, who am I to intervene? And if I do want to encourage people to forge new friendships, are games the best way to do it?

Blood Pressure & Chinese Food

In January 2008 I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, which is a form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Right after I graduated the following winter I had a fairly intense flare-up of my disease symptoms and began taking Remicade, a biological treatment taken intravenously. Every so many weeks I go the doctor’s office and Laure, Physician’s Assistant/superhero puts a line in my arm. While a combination of Remicade and saline drips into my body, I enjoy a wonderful nap. This medication has been a god-send and usually allows me to ignore the fact that I have this chronic disease and eat/drink whatever I want.

In the beginning of the summer I was at the doctor’s office, preparing for my nap – I mean treatment. I stepped on the scale, picked out a polar-fleece blanket and neck pillow, (conveniently provided by drug reps, of course!) and put out my arm for Laure to take my blood pressure. She mentioned it was high. “Have you ever been told you have high blood pressure?” she asked. Before I could answer no, I started remembering several trips to various doctors over the past months. A few had in fact noted high blood pressure reading, and written them off as anomalies. “You walked to the office? I’m sure that’s why it’s a bit high. We’ll check again a little later.”

Being that I am a mostly healthy (ignore the Crohn’s Disease momentarily) 24-year old female, Laure was concerned by the fact that my blood pressure was still high after I fell asleep. She asked me to take my blood pressure every day for a week or so, and send her the results. Kirios’ parents kindly lent me a home blood pressure machine, and I began recording my readings. They were high, and it worried me. Kirios created a GoogleDoc for me to record my results, complete with a graph. I didn’t think my blood pressure graph should have a positive slope. When Laure told me to see a cardiologist, I wasn’t surprised.

It was official – I had high blood pressure. And that’s when it began – my craving for Chinese food. The instant my mother told me to avoid salty foods, I began dreaming about Chinese food. It’s not that Chinese is my favorite cuisine by any means, in fact, if I’m going to have Asian food, I usually prefer the freshness of Vietnamese food or a spicy Thai noodle dish. Chinese food is thick and greasy. It usually makes my stomach hurt, and always makes me feel like I pigged out. And of course, it’s full of sodium.

Despite my ever-present craving, I went months without eating Chinese food. I almost never eat out when I’m alone, and Kirios simply refused to have it with me since the blood pressure diagnosis. “But the cardiologist never really told me I needed to be on a low-sodium diet! He just said avoiding it in excess was a good idea. And that wasn’t until I specifically asked him about it!” I plead in vain. He wouldn’t budge.

Last month I made plans to have dinner with a friend when Kirios was busy. “How about Chinese?” I suggested. He loved the idea of Asian, but took me to his favorite pho joint. Still no Chinese food for me.

Then two weeks ago I went to the cardiologist and received great news – my blood pressure was low enough that I could stop taking medication for it. The doctor told me to continue taking my blood pressure at home, and in another two weeks we’d decide if I could discontinue it indefinitely. I called my mom to tell her the good news. “You should celebrate,” she said. “But don’t go out and have Chinese food or anything crazy like that!” So I continued to resist the temptation.

And then this past Friday I was working from home. It was a rainy morning. Kirios was going out of the town for the weekend, and while I had a busy Saturday and Sunday schedule, my evening was completely open. I thought back to the occasional rainy day in college when my roommates and I would defiantly declare it was too depressing to go out, and instead we ordered Chinese food and watched chick flicks. I knew my day had come.

Later that evening I ordered take-out from a small place a block away from my apartment. They had one of those special menus where you can order vegetarian versions of typical meals with various soy protein replacements, so I selected vegetarian General Tso’s chicken. I put a hearty portion on my paper plate, turned on Netflix, and indulged myself. The Chinese food was thick and greasy. It made my stomach hurt the next day, and it made me feel like I had pigged out. But at least I didn’t have to feel guilty about eating it while having high blood pressure!


Earlier today Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas over five years ago, was reunited with his family in Israel. Rumors of the pending prisoner exchange first emerged a week ago on October 11th. My news feed on Facebook has gone crazy following the story ever since. Gilad’s release is a big deal in the international community and is rightfully receiving a lot of media attention– but I think the story has definitely resonated the most amongst my peers – young American Jewish professionals. Perhaps it’s because in another lifetime we could have been him.

Gilad was 19 when he was captured on June 25, 2006. So was I; Gilad is only six months older than me. While he and his counterparts growing up in Israelwere serving their mandatory time in the Israeli Defense Force, I was interning at the United Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and preparing for my second year of college at the University of Maryland.

In the past five plus years while Gilad was held captive, I studied abroad in Europe, earned a bachelor’s degree, started my first job and became financially independent from my parents. Forget my bat mitzvah, it was these past few years that I became an adult.

In the coming days, people around the world will continue to debate the terms of Gilad’s release. 1,027 jailed Palestinians for one Israeli. Jewish mothers will lament how pale and thin he looks. Today let’s just celebrate Gilad’s freedom and homecoming, the beginning of the rest of his life.

Kirios’ Birthday Dinner

It’s already been a week, but I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to discuss the wonderful dinner Kirios and I had at Zaytinya in Chinatown last week in honor of his birthday. Zaytinya is Kirios’ favorite restaurant, though he had only been twice before. They serve Greek, Turkish, and Lebanese food mezze style (the Mediterranean equivalent of tapas – small plates) which of course features flavors near and dear to his heart since he is Greek. I had never been to Zaytinya before, but have wanted to try it for quite some time. Zaytinya is owned by José Andrés, who is quite the chef and restaurateur. His Think Food Group’s restaurant include the popular Jaleo (with locations in DC, Bethesda, & CrystalCity), and Oyamel – which Kirios and I enjoyed this summer when my New York cousins came to visit.

I was also eager to try Zaytinya because its former executive chef Mike Isabella was a contestant on both Top Chef Season 6 (Las Vegas) and the runner-up during the show’s All-Star season which aired most recently. Top Chef is one of my favorite TV shows, and I have many memories gathering with great friends to watch it in college. Including watching when Mike Isabella got kicked off for a poor vegetarian dish – which embarrassed him terribly because Zaytinya (which he was still the executive chef for at the time) is known for their delicious vegetarian-friendly offerings.

Now, something you should know about me is that I keep kosher – meaning I only eat meat that has been certified kosher via rabbinic supervision. And I don’t eat any pork or shellfish, nor do I mix meat and dairy. While I enjoy and frequently eat meat (beef and lamb) and poultry, I will only order it at a restaurant that is kosher, and most aren’t. So for all intensive purposes, when I eat out, I’m a vegetarian. Kirios is very understanding of this, and frequently orders kosher-friendly meals when we go out to eat so we can share or I can at least taste his food. This is especially the case when we go out to fancier restaurants. That being said, he was raised to appreciate several inherently non-kosher food items and they rank among his most favorite meals. When we go out to eat, I don’t discourage him from ordering the ever popular bacon cheeseburger – after all, I’m sure as hell not going to make him one.

I’ve already mentioned that Zaytinya is Kirios’ favorite restaurant. His favorite dish there is the Garides Me Anitho, sautéed shrimp with dill, shallots, mustard, and lemon juice. He loves this dish so much, he could not imagine going there and not ordering it, and since he likes to order things he can share with me, he had never agreed to take me to Zaytinya before. When it we began planning for his birthday, I insisted. I told him he should order whatever he wanted – after all, it’s his day, and that I would take care of myself and order dishes he could try in large enough quantities to satiate me. He accepted, so I guess that did the trick. 😉

Our meal started freshly baked pita served with an olive oil dip which included pomegranate molasses. The piping hot pitas continued to be replenished throughout the evening. Kirios and I decided to skip drinks that evening and focus on food. So in addition to his shrimp dish, Kirios also ordered Loukaniko Me Aginares, grilled Greek pork sausage with marinated artichokes and roasted peppers; and a special – Lamb Afelia, based off a traditional Cypriot dish usually prepared with work. He enjoyed all of his food, but the shrimp is still his favorite by far.

I ordered the Santorini Fava & Squash Soup, a “puree of yellow split peas and butternut squash, sultans, [and] beech mushrooms.” The Turkish raisins were surprisingly pleasant in the hearty dish.  I also enjoyed Kolokithokeftedes, zucchini and cheese patties served over a caper-yogurt sauce, and Crispy Brussel Afelia – wonderfully crisped brussel sprouts topped with coriander seed, barberries and a rich garlic yogurt. Despite Mario’s amply sized “tastes” of my dishes, I struggled to finish all of the food. The brussel sprouts were my favorite, but garlic yogurt made the dish quite heavier than I expected.

When Kirios and I finished all of our mezze plates, we were surprised that we had only been seated for 45 minutes. In fact, we realized, we were enjoying our food so much we had ceased all conversation that didn’t focus on the food itself. We were already so full when the waiter handed us the dessert menu, but we weren’t willing to throw in the towel just yet. In May, we had the opportunity to taste an apricot pistachio tapioca dessert that Zaytinya was passing out at the Greek Embassy during the EU Open House day and let’s just say it was good enough we got back in-line. So we took advantage of the small-plate approach and shared a mezze portion (read: half portion) of the Turkish chocolate coffee cake. Along with the Turkish coffee Kirios ordered, it was the perfect end to a delicious meal. And as an extra bonus, we finished early enough to stop into the National Portrait Gallery across the street see some great art and take a couple of pictures in its beautiful courtyard before driving home.

Happy Birthday, Kirios!

Sunday Party

Last Sunday we hosted a party in honor of Kirios’ quarter-century birthday. Kirios really wanted a Saturday night party, with hopes that things would get so crazy I’d kick everyone out of my apartment and lead the procession straight to the bar for debauchery and dancing. Unfortunately for him, the Saturday preceding his birthday was Yom Kippur, and I wasn’t exactly up for throwing (or even attending) that sort of shindig after spending the previous 24 hours fasting. Many of our friends spent that day fasting as well, and did I mention I was invited to four break-fasts? We decided that this Saturday (today) night would suffice to throw a party, but then Kirios’ parents announced that they would be taking him to New York to see his yiayia (grandmother) and aunts this weekend. And that left us with a Sunday affair.

Now, Sunday afternoon and evening is a fine time to get together with friends, and the fact that Kirios, myself, and many others were off of work for Columbus Day this past Monday only improved the situation. But hosting the Sunday afternoon/evening party is a whole different beast than a Saturday night rager. First there’s the time frame – when do you invite people to come? We decided that 4pm would be a fine start time – that way we wouldn’t have to rush to get ready in the morning — especially helpful since I was in Baltimore observing the holiday on Saturday, and didn’t have time to prepare at all – but still early enough that anyone who did have to wake up early for work on Monday would still be able to stop by for a while. Still wanting it to feel like a late night party with potential for a bit of craziness, Kirios set the end time at 11:30. He then went back and changed it to 3:00am without telling me. Men!

Then we had to decide what to do about food – right smack in the middle of our party time frame is a little thing I like to call dinner. But we have to make some compromises, it’s just not practical to invite everyone you want, supply drinks, and supply a full meal. So we decided that we’d purchase more substantial snacks, but not a full-out dinner, and hoped for the best. We had the typical chips and dip and assorted sweets, all trumped by the gooey delicious Monkey Bread Kirios’ dad baked in lieu of a traditional birthday cake. We also make a trip out to Costco and purchased frozen spanikopita and mozzarella sticks.

The final important decision in planning Kirios’ party was deciding on a theme. Kirios thought “birthday party” counted as a theme. Booooring! I love throwing a good theme party. It gives people something to get excited about, a chance to think about the party in advance as they plan their outfit, and something to differentiate it from all the other parties they attend. And if you’re just not that into the theme, I’m not going to be turning people away. Party City trips bring me great happiness, and over the years I’ve managed to collect quite a few pieces of flair to pull out depending on the theme du jour. In the end, the choice was simple for Kirios – I love theme parties. He loves me. Thus when we throw a theme party and everybody wins.

My former roommate and her hubby came over for dinner a couple of weeks earlier and came up with the winning theme – plaid, in honor of Kirios’ massive collection of plaid shorts. Kirios spends nine months out of the year wearing plaid shorts, a t-shirt, and brown flip-flops. He even has a plaid bracelet. He gets teased for it frequently, and in time, I’ve come to appreciate it along with his other quirky traits. Funny thing though, I didn’t own a single piece of plaid other than some old pajama pants from high school. So Kirios and I hit up the mall one night before the party. (I wanted to find him a birthday present; he insisted we spend the whole night picking out plaid for me…) Apparently, plaid is quite the fad these days. Hipsters have paired their plaid button-downs with skinny jeans and thick black glasses and made it theirs. Thus, finding plaid was no problem for me or the majority of our guests.

So with all of this planning, how did the party pan out? Our first guests arrived around 4:30, our last guest left at 1am. The number of guests probably peaked around 7 or 8pm. But there was some confusion about when the best time to show up was – in fact, after texting several times to gauge how the party was going, Kirios’ best bud finally made it out around 7:30, when others were already winding down. We decided the window was a bit too big for sustained party strength overall.

The Costco snacks were a real party pleaser – I have never seen a plate empty so quickly as when those mozzarella sticks came out of the oven, and a ridiculous 2 lbs. of guacamole was consumed. But despite our guests’ healthy appetites, we still have half a package (44! mozzarella sticks), sitting in my freezer. And plenty of spanikopita, chips, and other treat as well. Not to mention abundant amounts of beer and liquor. I guess you could say my kitchen has the ultimate bachelor pad stock up these days…. And one thing’s for sure – in order to clear it all out, I’m just going to have to throw another party!

Cheese Please!

Anyone who grew up with me knows that the centerpiece of my typical brown bag lunch throughout school consisted of a slice of 2% Kraft American Singles surrounded by two pieces of bread. My love for Kraft cheese product began when I was a toddler. After my half-day preschool program, my beloved babysitter would make me a warm gooey grilled cheese sandwich with the stuff for lunch, preceding nap time (which conveniently coincided with Oprah). When I was five my parents were house-hunting in preparation for our move to the Steel City, they came across a lovely four-bedroom house with a sunroom and garage on a safe residential block. Then they noticed it came with an extra-wide oven, with a large griddle smack in between the burners on the stove-top. Thinking of their young daughter’s excessive fondness for grilled cheese, they saw it as a sign – their search was over. This was our new home.

Most people didn’t know however, that when it came to real unprocessed cheese, I had a bit of a phobia. I didn’t grow up avoiding cheese all together, after all, what would pizza be without the cheese?!? (Well, that’s a whole different discussion actually, which I’ll save for another day.)  Other than Kraft Singles, (and it was always Kraft – the supermarket brand never tasted as good) I had my share of mozzarella, provolone, and parmigiano mixed in with pizza and pasta dishes, occasionally melted on a sandwich. I ate cheddar flavored goldfish, but would never consider biting into a chunk of it.

Fast forward to my first date with Kirios: We’re touring embassies during Passport DC’s EU Open House Day, and the Cypriot embassy is handing out samples of halloumi cheese. Kirios, whose father is Greek Cypriot, tells me halloumi is his absolute favorite. It’s a first date and I’m not ready to expose all of my crazy, so I swallow two pieces, squirming a bit on the inside, and tell him it’s nice. And it was nice –but I was too nervous and surprised to enjoy it — the main thing I remember was relief that I didn’t hate it, gag, and spit it out.

Months later, Kirios took me to Bistrot Lepic ( in Georgetown for their complimentary Tuesday night wine tasting. Naturally, he wanted to order a cheese platter to enjoy with our wine. I resisted, and finally fessed up about my fear of cheeses. At that time, he confirmed what I had figured during our first date – if I had passed on tasting the halloumi, there wouldn’t have been a second date. Lucky for me, he was already pretty smitten by then!

In light of my confession, Kirios pushed harder to order the cheese platter. He gave me small pieces of each of the four cheeses the waiter presented us with. To my surprise and his delight, I liked two of them enough to have seconds and thirds. A couple months later, we went to Co Co Sala ( in Chinatown for Chef Tiptur’s 5-Course Dessert Experience. I was already intoxicated with chocolate by the time the fourth course, the cheese plate, came out. I was unimpressed with the blue cheese, and distinctively disliked the buttery brie. But I quite enjoyed the harder cheeses, and Kirios saw his window to lead me into the world of real cheeses.

I invited Kirios over to make homemade pizza, and he came bearing gifts – smoked gouda, asiago, halloumi, and something green – which turned out to be my favorite of the four. We grated them all, and the four-cheese pizza was a winner, but when Kirios left, I had what seemed like a lifetime supply of cheese waiting in my fridge. At first I saved it to be enjoyed with crackers and wine when I was with Kirios. But it wasn’t long until I was enjoying it on my own, as a pre-dinner snack after work. Then I sliced it on a bagel with vegetables and brought it to work for lunch. I even made grilled cheese with it, creating my own wonderfully gooey gourmet sandwich.

When that cheese ran out, Kirios took me to Trader Joe’s and together we picked out four more cheeses. I was nervous – there were so many choices, and I was scared, especially of the softer ones. We bought more gouda, fontina, something with truffle oil essence, and one soaked in Syrah. The truffle flavored cheese was a bit disappointing, the fontina was on the bland side, but I was certain of one thing – I was hooked on cheese.

When Living Social recently offered a $10 for $20 Whole Foods voucher, I knew I had to use it when my stash of cheeses inevitably ran out. And that’s exactly what I did today. I was hoping to find a time when Kirios could come with me – picking out cheeses is still a bit scary. I walk a fine line in my quest to expand my pallet and try new things without moving too far out of my comfort zone, and Whole Foods’ selection is much more robust than the regular supermarket. But I was also anxious to replenish my cheese supply, having already gone a few days without my new dietary staple. So this afternoon, on my way home from the doctor, I stopped in at the Whole Foods in Friendship Heights. I picked up some Robusto, a nutty Dutch gouda-type cheese; extremely hard Piave; Aged Reserve Mahon – also pretty hard; Cacio de Roma, a slightly softer almost sweet sheep’s milk cheese; and some Rustico Red Pepper, not too hard ad excitingly spicy. Kirios was proud of me for choosing, but did make me promise to try cheeses next time that don’t “thud” when he drops them on the table. Regardless, with a glass of red wine, my five new cheeses, and some tasty crackers, we were both pleased this evening.