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2012 January : Challahbear

Archive for January, 2012

Princess Ilana

Kirios and I drove up to Pittsburgh for a visit with my parents over Martin Luther King Weekend. I hadn’t been to Pittsburgh since the end of September, for Rosh HaShana, and I was long overdue for a visit. I hadn’t seen my parents and several of my friends since September. Also, Coco, my little white Ford Focus who is domiciled with me in Maryland but has not yet given up her Pennsylvania residency, needed her annual check-up. (Not to mention the unsettling whistling sound she made during our drive up)…

I always love visiting home. I love Pittsburgh and visiting my parents’ house, visiting my favorite restaurants and shops from growing up, seeing what’s changed, and.being treated like a local celebrity when I run into people I haven’t seen in ages. Going home with Kirios is even better because I get to share this special part of my life with him. And because I feel absolutely surrounded by people who love me. Since I don’t get to see my parents every day anymore, they’re excited when I have a chance to visit. From hanging around in the morning and having breakfast together to planning elaborate Shabbat dinner parties, they’re happy to spend time with me. Kirios always dotes on me, so when we’re all together, I feel pretty lucky. I feel like Princess Ilana.

Anyway, as I was saying, I was holding court in Pittsburgh over MLK weekend and had a really lovely time. My parents planned a lovely Shabbat dinner with my two favorite Pittsburgh gals and their significant others, along with some other friends. Mom made Moroccan lamb tagine, her traditional post-Thanksgiving Shabbat dinner, since we weren’t together over Thanksgiving this year. My dad made his famous blueberry tart, since the South American blueberries were peaking. A rare winter treat!

Saturday morning my father and I dropped off Coco before enjoying breakfast with Mom and Kirios. We all went to synagogue, but took our time and arrived on the late side. I was excited to show Kirios the building that I spent so much time in while growing up. And I was glad to see many old family friends as well. Following services, we all headed over to best friend Sara’s apartment to visit boyfriend Jason’s rambunctious English bulldog Waldo. (And Mom wanted to snoop around their apartment as well, of course.)  Afterwards, Dad and I picked up Coco (who apparently needed new break pads). By the time we returned to the house, Kirios and Mom had almost finished preparing a special lunch of sweet crepes, fruit, and Nutella, using my new blue steel crepe pan which we brought up from Maryland with us.

My parents braved the Pittsburgh cold for their traditional Shabbat afternoon walk with friends, while Kirios and I rested for a bit and watched the classic “An American President,”one of my Mom’s favorite DVDs which Kirios had never seen. Then we met up with three other couples, all good friends of mine, to go out for dinner. Following dinner, we grabbed a drink at Sing Sing!, a dueling piano bar I had never visited before. It was quite the entertaining evening, and it was great to spend time with old friends.

Sunday was equally exciting. Kirios and my parents and I all went out for pizza in East Liberty before heading to the Carnegie Science Center. We visited the Robot Hall of Fame, a submarine, the train village, and SportsWorks. It’s been entirely too long since I visited there! Bringing Kirios to Pittsburgh is a great excuse to indulge in tourist activities! 🙂

Sunday night Kirios and I went to dinner at the Silk Elephant in Squirrel Hill with his friend from high school that moved to Pittsburgh and her fiancé. Naturally, her fiancé went to the same high school as me, so between Pittsburgh and Bethesda, we had plenty of fuel to fire our conversation.

Monday morning we packed up the car and had lunch at the Bagel Factory with the parents. Mom actually had a business trip in Maryland Tuesday and Wednesday, so we took her down to Frederick and dropper her off at a Rental Car station. Although Mom stayed with me Tuesday evening before her meeting in Bethesda, the work week blues had already struck me. My princess time had come to an end. But it sure was a lovely weekend!

With all of the long weekends over the holidays, I found myself spending a lot of time relaxing in front of the TV, reading a book, even painting my nails. But when this past weekend rolled around, I wanted to make the most of my two days off – so I filled it with lots of plans.

On Friday, my friends Marnina and Seth joined Kirios and I for Shabbat dinner. Marnina and Seth have a wonderful cooking blog, http://ibeafoodie.wordpress.com, dedicated to making IBD friendly food for people with Crohn’s and Colitis, and all of their recipes are kosher too! Although most of the times I don’t need to restrict my diet, thanks to my wonder-medicine Remicade, Marnina and many other IBD patients do. It can be a struggle to find tasty and healthy recipes when foods that most people consider to be healthy options, like vegetables and whole grains, can cause the most harm.

Anyway, since we’ve been reading about each others’ love for cooking, it seemed like a no-brainer to join forces for an excellent meal. When Marnina showed up with a chocolate chip challah, I nearly died. Kirios has been asking me to make one since just about our first date, and I had yet to oblige. (As you can tell from my blog name, I’m a big challah fan…)  Challah was followed with a Thai sweet potato soup that I made with red curry paste and coconut milk. It was a new recipe for me, and it was so easy and delicious that my parents already made the recipe back inPittsburghfor dinner the other night! For our main course, we had chicken in white wine (chenin blanc) sauce with yellow peppers and mushrooms, a carrot and sweet potato dish prepared with maple syrup, and egg noodles. It was a chore saving room for dessert, but well worth it, since Marnina made carrot-cake with a dairy-free honey cinnamon cream cheese glaze. Mmm.

Saturday morning I put up some dough in my bread machine after breakfast, and stored it in the fridge for when I returned from the theater. I met up with a couple of folks to support our friend Ben in “Parfumerie” at 1st Stage in Tyson’s Corner. As the Washington Examinor stated, “One of the liveliest characters is Arpad, a delivery boy, portrayed with exuberance by Ben Lurye.” (http://washingtonexaminer.com/entertainment/theater/2011/12/love-among-perfume-and-powder/2019841) I know the showed finished its run this weekend, but I can’t help plugging my friend! The show was very cute and entertaining.

After the play, I rushed home to prepare cinnamon bread with the dough I made in the morning, cream cheese, cinnamon, and sugar. Kirios came over just in time to help me… put it in the oven. 😛 (Just kidding, he’s very helpful around the apartment!) The bread barely had time to cool before we headed into DC to attend a birthday dinner for his high school buddy at Dukem, http://dukemrestaurant.com, a popular Ethiopian restaurant on U Street. Kirios ordered Gored Gored, a dish of raw diced beef, while I enjoy a vegetarian sampler with yellow peas, collard greens, cabbage, and a tomato salad. We also split an Ethiopian beer.

Following dinner, we headed over to Silver Spring for a belated holiday party hosted by a good friend, where my cinnamon bread was enjoyed by many of my old college friends. I was too full from dinner to have any myself, but luckily I stashed some in my freezer before embarking on our evening plans!

Sunday afternoon was of course the Steelers/Broncos playoff game. I of course took advantage of the opportunity to invite some friends over for food, drinks, and football. Kirios and I were joined by three friends for the game. Since we were winding down from a busy weekend, I kept the menu simple. Our guests brought veggies and hummus, and we took the opportunity to serve some leftovers from Kirios’ birthday party (back in October, and there’s still so much!), tortilla chips and guacamole, mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce, and oreos and brownies. Plus I prepared a simple baked ziti for our entrée. Everything was easy to serve and stress-free. Unfortunately, our victorious viewing party didn’t translate to an on-field victory for my men in black and gold. (Although Kirios looked very handsome in his new Troy Polamalu jersey.) With a season-ending loss, the weekend closed out on a lower note, but it was ok, because I was full with good food and friends.

New Year’s Cake

Growing up, my parents generally only served dessert for special occasions; Shabbat dinners, holidays, birthdays, and entertaining guests. I wasn’t exactly a deprived kid – my school lunches frequently included cookies (never more than three though), and if I was hungry after dinner I could usually find a piece of chocolate or a little ice cream to share with my dad. But since I started dating Kirios, I’ve been eating quite a bit more dessert. Kirios’ father loves to bake, especially cakes. Almost every time I visit, he’s baked a new cake or treat, and the whole family insists I try it. And then they send me home with a potion large enough to last me several days. It’s a hard life, I know. I actually had to train myself not to fill up on dinner as much before going over to their house. Saving room for dessert can be a burden! And Kirios insists that he too has been eating more desserts since we started dating, because his parents realized that if they send me home with a good portion of what they bake, they’ll finish what they have sooner and be able to bake different desserts on a more frequent basis.

 While all of Kirios’ family’s desserts are tasty, I especially love trying the ones that reflect their Greek and Cypriot heritage. In addition to excellent baklava, they’ve treated me to homemade galaktoboureko, a custard and phyllo treat; wonderful cookies; and even tahinopita, Cypriot tahini pies. (Because it would never occur to me that tahini belongs in dessert)

Last New Years, Kirios’ family served me a walnut cake they baked in honor of the holiday. Kirios excitedly explained to me how every year they make Vasilopita, New Years Cake, and they wrap a quarter in aluminum foil and add it to the cake batter, similar to the baby trinket in a New Orleans King Cake. Whoever gets the piece of cake with the quarter in it is supposed to have good luck for the New Year. Kirios proudly told me that he finds the quarter every year. (Have I mentioned he’s an only child?!?) Even though US quarters and aluminum foil aren’t magnetic, he uses his trusty magnet to help guess where the coin is, and he then plants a toothpick with an American flag to mark his guess and reserve his piece of cake. He had already found the quarter when he served me a slice last year.

This year Kirios’ family made a pistachio Vasilopita and they still hadn’t found the quarter by the time I visited. Kirios’ initial guess didn’t yield the coin, which he claims is due to the loss of his trusted magnet, (again, quarters aren’t magnetic) but he proceeded to claim more territory by replanting his toothpick flag with updated guesses. A large portion of cake was separated into a Tupperware container for me to bring home, and Kirios and I decided to split a piece of the remaining cake at his house. Kirios gave me the knife and told me to cut a piece as big or as small as I wanted for the two of us to share, and then he stepped out of the room.  With Kirios’ parents as my witness, I stuck the knife straight into the cake and immediately struck the hidden coin. We all laughed and called for Kirios to come see.

I learned that in addition to good luck, the coin in the Vasilopita comes with a prize, like the Afikomen on Passover, which Kirios’ parents insisted I accept. Maybe it was Kirios’ plan all along, letting me cut the cake so I could find the coin… For someone ending a 24 year lucky streak, he took it pretty well. Or maybe he just found solace in the fact that I usually share with him!

Ringing in 2012

Traditionally, I’ve always been home in Pittsburgh with my family for New Years. My parents and their friends always take turns hosting a New Year’s Eve potluck, and in the past, all of the children would join as well. We’d spend the evening watching moving, playing board games, and casually working on puzzles. We’d turn on the television at least ten minutes before the ball dropped (and earlier once Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper began co-hosting for CNN) At the midnight hour, us “children” (let’s be honest… we haven’t been real youngsters for a while) would clang together pots and pans in the front yard. Everyone would enjoy aDixiecup full of champagne – except in 2007, when we each had one sip, enough to determine that the bottle was rancid – and we’d be making our way home by 12:15am. On ambitious years, some of us girls would rent extra movies and turn the evening into a sleepover. But these days we typically prefer to sleep in our own beds rather than pile sleeping bags into the basement. Growing up, I think we all knew that these New Years gatherings were “lame,” but we still enjoyed them anyway. And even though the kid’s generation has dispersed, we all still love those parties. No hype or drama, just good family, friends, and food.

My first foray into the world outside of our usual New Years microcosm was when I was a freshman in college. I traveled to Israel for a ten-day trip sponsored by Hillel for college students from across the country. Sylvester, as the Israelis call the secular New Year, fell on a Sunday. So 500 college students gathered to spend Shabbat together on an isolated kibbutz, and when the sunset, it was suddenly New Years Eve. There was no where to go except the party on the kibbutz, and there was plenty of alcohol. I knew students from my university, and students from my high school youth group, some of whom I hadn’t seen in a few years, and there were new friends from my trip. We danced, we drank, and we laughed. At midnight we counted down and toasted with champagne. It was definitely a fun night. But I’d be lying if I said a big part of me didn’t miss being at home in Pittsburgh for our usual festivities.

Since my trip abroad, I attended the rest of my New Year holidays inPittsburgh, until 2011. Last year I decided to celebrate with Kirios. We didn’t do a lot of planning for the evening. In fact, just about every night leading up to New Years was booked – we had a lot of friends visiting over their breaks and we were anxious to catch up with everyone and introduce each other to our friends from out of town. In the end, we decided that working and socializing that much was expensive and exhausting, so we made a fairly late decision to stay in for New Year’s Eve itself. We didn’t do anything too special; we just had some snacks and drinks and watched all of the hoopla on TV. At midnight I had my first “New Year’s kiss,” and then we both spent the next half hour on the phone with our friends and family wishing everyone a happy New Year.

Much like last year, Kirios and I didn’t feel like dropping a lot of money for cover at a bar or a fancy dinner or reception downtown, so we had decided to attend a big house party one of Kirios’ fraternity brothers was throwing in DC. I even purchased a new dress to wear. (Yes, it was my first New Year’s Eve wearing a dress…) It was a big crowd, a loud party, and a lot of new faces for me. Similar to the party on the Kibbutz, we danced, we drank, and we laughed. At midnight we counted down and toasted with champagne. And like last year, I welcomed in the New Year with a kiss!

I know there are a lot of fun nights and New Years celebrations still to come for me. And I imagine it will be less and less often that I spend the holiday with the same family and friends in Pittsburgh, as I plant roots for myself elsewhere and get closer to eventually starting a family of my own. But I know a part of me will always miss being at home in Pittsburgh for our usual festivities.