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2012 February : Challahbear

Archive for February, 2012

Having attended a Jewish day school for eight years while growing up, Valentine’s Day was never a big celebration. We were not encouraged to bring in cards or candy for our classmates, and my mother never failed to remind me that the holiday is actually SAINT Valentine’s Day. (I never trick-or-treated either, but I promise, I turned out just fine!) Looking back now, I never considered it a double standard when my father brought home chocolates (or even better, Godiva flavored coffee) for my mother on February 14th. I suppose he always bought extra candy on Halloween too, so I shouldn’t complain…

Last year, after having dated Kirios for several months already, it seemed appropriate for us to exchange gifts and spend time together on Valentine’s Day. We decided not to go out for a fancy dinner or anything, and we made a no-chocolate pact. (Trust me, we already had plenty between the two of us!) I ordered Kirios a set of cufflinks with his initials engraved on them (which meant I needed to buy him a French cuff shirt next so he could wear them!), and was feeling pretty good about my gift for him, and then a few days before Valentine’s Day I won a $25 Godiva gift card in an office raffle. There went my side of the pact!

Meanwhile, Kirios was laboriously working on the circuitry for ThinkGeek’s “LED Flashing Sweetheart Kit” and plotting the demise of our pact as well. (Yes, I love my Greek Geek.) While the flashing heart didn’t exactly pan out, (must have been a short somewhere) Kirios did surprise me with an entire case of Israeli popping chocolate. If you haven’t had popping chocolate, just imagine a chocolate bar with pop rocks inside it. When I traveled toIsrael in high school, I hoarded the stuff. My parents went toIsrael together in October 2010 and brought me back a bar, which I shared with Kirios. “They sell the cow brand chocolate in the States,” I told him, “but I’ve never seen the popping one here. It’s so unfair.” He may have broken our no-chocolate pact, but major props for thinking of popping chocolate and for actually finding it in theUnited States! (I know, he’s a keeper…)

Anyway, sure enough February rolled around again this year and Hallmark store on the way to my office started displaying humongous red hearts all over the place. With our trip toNew Mexicoin the beginning of the month and my birthday at the end, we decided again to skip the expensive price-fixed dinner, and while we were at it, we renewed our no chocolate pact. Instead, we decided to make our own crepe feast with savory crepes for dinner and sweet crepes for dessert using our fancy schmancy blue steel crepe pan.

I was in charge of getting ingredients for the savory crepes and Kirios was in charge of the dessert ones. I stopped at the supermarket on my way home from work, and picked up some fresh produce to ensure a delightful meal. Before Kirios came over, I prepared a platter of vegetables so we could quickly make the crepes together and then start eating our first course. We had steamed asparagus; sautéed portabella mushroom and garlic; fresh spinach, carrots, scallions, tomato, and avocado; as well as kosher imitation bacon bits, fresh oregano (to appeal to his Greek flavor profile) and hand-grated cheese.

I also gave Kirios a small gift – a mug designed to look like a camera lens. He was pleased with his present, and now uses it to drink coffee at work. 🙂  Kirios agreed not to get me a special Valentine’s Day gift, since he had just bought me a beautiful ring while we were in Santa Fe. But the man lacks restraint sometimes, especially when it comes to spoiling me. He arrived at my apartment with two overflowing grocery bags from Trader Joe’s and immediately said, “oh no, I forgot to buy a pineapple!” I mean, what sweet crepe is complete without a whole pineapple to stuff inside of it?!? Slowly he began unveiling the fruits he picked out for dessert – blueberries, blackberries, bananas. And then he continued to unveil fruits – mango, kiwis, a basket of plums, three different colors of grapes, an entire bag of oranges, a pomegranate, and a cantaloupe! Kirios became frustrated that I was putting the fruit away too slowly (it required a love of refrigerator maneuvering) but he didn’t stop pulling contents out of his grocery bags. In addition to the fruits, Kirios had also purchased two kinds of cheeses, a container of chai tea mix, mango ginger chutney (which provided much needed moisture for our savory crepes), a bottle of sparkling wine, and a single red rose.

It’s now more than a week after Valentine’s Day. I am still making my way through the produce, but I didn’t miss the pineapple!

Santa Fe Finale – Day 3

After much delay, the final installment…

Sunday was our last full day in New Mexico, and Kirios and I wanted to make the most of it. After breakfast at the hotel, we drove out to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. Basically, there are cone-shaped rock formations on mountains that were caused by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. Some of the tent rocks were just taller than me, and some were massive multi-story formations. The tent rocks also show layers of volcanic material, with different colored bands along the face of the cliffs.

When we arrived at the Tent Rocks, Kirios and I scarfed down the leftover pizza from our expedition to Taos the day before. And then I discovered that there was no running water at the National Monument, and Kirios and I rationed off the rest of our water bottle. There were two shorter trails near the visitor’s center, the Slot Canyon Trail which features a “steep climb” and increase in elevation, and the 1.2 mile  Cave Loop (half of which has a path wide enough for a wheelchair). Kirios crammed all of his business and sight-seeing clothes into one small carry-on; he only brought one pair of shoes toNew Mexicowith him – nice but comfortable leather shoes appropriate for the office… so we decided to explore the Cave Loop. It didn’t disappoint, leading us through the desert mountains to exciting views of the Tent Rocks and surrounding forest. We spent a lot of time taking pictures, including some with Kirios’ lightweight travel tripod so we could pose together. The day started to warm up, and by the end of our journey we had ditched our gloves and ear warmers, and even unzipped our winter coats!

Afterwards we drove to the closest gas station for some bottled water and took advantage of the cheap gas too – I got excited every time we saw gas under $3.00 so we kept topping off the tank. To get to the gas station, we passed a large dam, so we drove back to it to explore for a few minutes before enjoying the scenic drive back to Santa Fe.

Although we could have used a little R&R after our journey, Kirios and I decided to make the most of our last day in Santa Fe before all of the shops and attractions closed around 5pm. We did a quick drive through Canyon Road, known for its many funky art galleries. Then we toured the Loretto Chapel known for its Miraculous Staircase – really an architectural marvel! Afterwards, in desperation to send me home with a souvenir and frustrated because 99% of the jewelry in Santa Fe is handmade and well beyond our budget, we spent some more time in the shops near by the plaza. Kirios started to grow frustrated that my ears aren’t pierced and my wrists are too thin for most bracelets, when finally we found a store with a case full of rings on sale, some of which were small enough for my little baby fingers. Kirios immediately found one he loved – a funky Santa Fe-esque design with inlaid stones including turquoise (super popular in New Mexico) and opal (a personal favorite of mine, plus Kirios has already given me other opal jewelry it matches with!). He humored me and let me spend 20 minutes or so trying on the different rings before I agreed that his pick was by far the best. And I picked up a little arrowhead necklace for him at the store too before we left. Once my hand was adorned, we went back to shops with other novelties, and I picked up some dried green chile and other herbs for a birthday present for my mother. (She had told me a few days earlier that it had been worth her visit to Santa Fe many years ago if for no other reason that she started cooking better when she returned!) and I also bought a colorful little bowl for Kirios to put his wallet and keys and things in when he visits my apartment since he liked the one at the hotel so much.

The sun started to set and the shops closed down, so Kirios and I made a quick stop at World Market (the only place still open, if only for another half hour) to pick up some nuts and chips to snack on before our 8pm dinner reservations. We headed back to the hotel to enjoy our snacks and rest while watching Madonna’s half-time show and the second half of the Superbowl. Conveniently, the game ended right when it was time to leave for our dinner reservations!

For our final dinner in New Mexico, Kirios and I went to La Boca, a small tapas restaurant and wine/sherry bar. (They really like their sherry out there. Ick.) Our waitress advised us that their tapas portions were pretty large, so we each ordered two dishes and they were served as two courses. For our first course, I had roasted butternut squash cazuela with fresh sage, melted mahon, & pumpkin seed oil. It was hardy and well seasoned. The mahon cheese complimented the sweet squash flavor, and there were a few pumpkin seeds which served as a nice change of texture. I did think the portion was a bit big, and despite the delicious taste, after a while I couldn’t help but think I was eating baby food. Kirios’ first course was grilled semi boneless quail with pomegranate molasses & harissa cous cous. Kirios had never tried quail before, and although he selected many tempting finalists on the menu, he decided to go for it and try something new. (When he asked whether I thought he should order it, I said, “You like duck and chicken, what could go wrong?!?”) In the end, he said the quail was juicy and succulent, but he was a tad frustrated at how little meat there was on such a tiny bird, and how difficult it was to get to it with all the bones.

My second dish was bruschetta with crimini mushrooms, fried egg, truffle oil & reggianito, and let me tell you, it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. Instead of a slice of bread with neatly chopped vegetables, cheese, and an egg topping it, I was served a bowl full of a thick creamy mushroom sauce blending with a warm runny egg soaking a piece of toast at the bottom of the bowl. If I had known it would be like this, I probably wouldn’t have ordered it, but I’m glad it did. The thick flavorful dish had elevated ingredients and flavors, but an overwhelming homey-feel. In fact, while eating it, I kept having flashbacks of my parents making rocky mountain toast on a griddle years and years ago. Meanwhile, Kirios was having a completely different, albeit enjoyable experience on the other side of the table. He ordered one of the evening’s specials, pork medallions with a fig reduction topped with cheese. We can’t remember what kind of cheese it was, but I’m thinking parmigiano or something similar. Anyway, Kirios just went crazy about the dish. It was light and simple, perfectly balanced. He was on cloud nine. He was, however, still a tad hungry and interested in ordering an additional dish. My dishes were much heavier than his, and he decided it wasn’t worth getting another tapas plate if I wouldn’t also, so instead we shared a Spanish torte with strawberry sauce for dessert. It was pretty good, but I’m not in love with cream that isn’t sweet as a dessert component. All in all, it was a very nice meal. We did note that the meal end up costing the same as it would have if we had ordered it at a similarly nice restaurant in Washington DC – which is overall a more expensive city than Santa Fe, but we didn’t mind a little vacation splurge!

We made our way back to the hotel and I’ll admit, I fell asleep in a blissful food coma before Kirios had even finished packing up his suitcase. In the morning, we enjoyed our last “Mountain Sunrise” breakfast at the hotel before driving to the airport inAlbuquerque. We had as pleasant of a travel day as could be expected, and made it back home around 11pm EST, but not exhausted since the time zones went backwards!

Last Saturday, Kirios and I woke up in Santa Fe and enjoyed breakfast at our hotel before hitting the scenic High Road to Taos. Most of the day consisted of us listening to a Spanish radio station while Kirios drove our rental SUV and I attempted to capture the beautiful landscape with his dSLR and fancy schmancy lenses. There was lots of desert, tumbleweeds and cacti, and snow capped mountains. It was gorgeous.

Our first stop was at El Santuario De Chimayo. Chimayo is a small town known for chile peppers and this church. Both the Native Americans and the Catholics believe the church was built on sacred ground with healing powers. The grounds are beautiful – they included a horse which happily posed next to Kirios for several photos, and a serene outdoor gathering place. The sanctuary was quite pretty, and next to the chapel there were small rooms with pictures of loved ones in need of healing, crutches and casts allegedly left behind by people who were miraculously healed at the church, and a pit of “holy dirt” which visitors bag to take with them.

After admiring the church in Chimayo, we resumed our journey on the High Road, pulling over at a couple of scenic overlooks for photo opportunities. We arrived in Taos around 2pm and immediately saw signs of civilization. It had the first McDonalds we had seen since Santa Fe! (Although we did pass quite a few Post Offices… but I’ll leave that discussion for the workplace…) Obviously, we were not interested in stopping at the McDonalds, but it was lunchtime, so we stopped at Taos Pizza Outback, just past the downtown area, and frequented by tourists and locals alike. We decided to order a small pizza, meant for 2-3 people with mushrooms, artichoke hearts, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and toasted walnuts. But Kirios wanted to try a different pizza on their menu too, the Pizza Vera Cruz marinated chicken breast, bell peppers, onions, garlic, and a honey chipotle chile sauce, covered with mozzarella and smoked cheddar. I informed Kirios that it would be entirely too much food, and he seemed fine with taking back leftovers for a snack the next day. But he didn’t listen when I told him to look at the size of the other patrons’ pizza slices, so he was dumbfounded when his slice of pizza arrived, covering the entire plate and piled at least an inch and a half high. Despite the excess quantity, the pizza was pretty good. The crust contained a lot of sesame, which gave it a unique taste, and it was also twirled in a pretty pattern. We washed down our pizza by trying more local beer from New Mexico.

After our lunch we drove to the Taos Pueblo. There are several Native American Pueblos in New Mexico, we mainly decided to visit the one inTaos because it is the only one which is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Pueblo has been continuously inhabited by Native Americans for over a thousand years, and we walked around to see their church, cemetery, and homes (from the outside). We caught up with the last tour group of the day, and heard a college-aged tour guide describe a little bit about their government, rituals, land, and their 50-year legal battle to reclaim their land in the mountains. (I have to admit, it disappointed me a bit to hear that only members of the tribe, not even scientists, are allowed to visit the acres and acres of beautiful mountains they have). We visited Native American artists in their shops and admired their handcrafted works. We also learned quickly that they all had additional homes on the reservation, since there was no electricity in the Pueblo.

We left the Pueblo at five and stopped at the Taos town plaza, with shops. A friendly shopkeeper informed us that people hardly ever receive parking tickets in Taos, and although Kirios has incredibly bad luck with parking tickets, we successfully chanced it. We spent more time looking at artwork, jewelry, and souvenirs. (We did this so frequently on our trip, because New Mexico is really full of beautiful things.) We even stopped in a chocolate shop and sampled green chile peanut brittle. I liked it a lot, although Kirios claimed his piece wasn’t as spicy as mine. We purchased a bag of dark chocolate flavored with lemon and pepper (in honor of Kirios’ Greek heritage – he believes all food should be made with salt, pepper, oregano, and lemon juice!).

Finally, I convinced Kirios it was time to head back to Santa Fe, since it was getting dark. There was one sight left unseen in Taos, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Unfortunately, without city light pollution, there wasn’t much we could see in the dark. So we started out on the less scenic route back to Santa Fe… this involved a “highway” unpaved spiraling down the side of a mountain. In the dark. With a little bit of snow blowing. Kirios stayed calm and drove really well (For those of you that know him as an aggressive DC area driver… trust me, it wasn’t his driving that made me nervous at all!) while I sang along to the radio and tried not to turn my head to see the side of the cliff…

We made it back to Santa Fe safely. But a tad hungry. Kirios scarfed one of the leftover slices of my pizza, and we headed over to the hotel bar, Del Charro. Turns out the hotel bar actually is one of the best night life scenes in the heart of Santa Fe – that may not be saying too much, but sometimes it’s hard to believe the hotel websites… The bar was filled with young locals and Kirios and I played “spot the tourists.” To embrace the Southwestern spirit, we ordered tequila drinks. I had a tequila sunrise, Kirios tried the margaritas. And then we split an order of tomato soup and grilled cheese. Kirios’ soup was delightfully spicy, and those of you who grew up with me know that grilled cheese is my absolute comfort food. (Although Kirios is winning his war against my American cheese habit… I haven’t bought any for months!) A very home-y finish to a great adventure of a day!

After wrapping up a very busy January, Kirios and I kicked off February fabulously – in New Mexico! Since most of our travel weekends over the summer were filled up with weddings, we had been discussing a winter getaway for several months. We brainstormed a lot of cities to visit, but hadn’t actually sat down and made any real plans – after all, we usually keep busy! But a couple of weeks ago Kirios learned that he needed to travel to Santa Fe for a Wednesday through Friday business trip, and I jumped on the opportunity. “Stay there. I’m coming out to join you,” I told him.

And that’s exactly what I did. Kirios flew into Albuquerque on Wednesday and headed to Santa Fe in his rental car via the scenic Turquoise Trail, where he grabbed a Southwestern burger at the Cowgirl BBQ before preparing for a day of meetings on Thursday. I went in to work on Thursday morning with my suitcase, and left the office at 1:30pm. One train, 2 planes, and two busses later, I made it to our hotel, Inn of the Governors, in downtown Santa Fe at midnight – Mountain Time.

Originally, Kirios was scheduled to work Friday morning, so I planned to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, walk over to the Georgia O’Keefe museum, and window shop before meeting him for lunch. Luckily for us, his coworker’s flight was moved to earlier in the morning, and he got the whole day off. There was fresh snow on the ground in the morning which quickly turned to slush in the desert sun, and we skipped over puddles all the way to the museum. The museum was small but beautiful, and had a fairly comprehensive collection.

After we finished up at the museum, we headed over to the Plaza, where we admired the artwork of the Native Americans sitting out in front of the Palace of the Governors and the art and gift shops filled with beautiful things. We meandered a couple more blocks to have lunch at Ristra, an elegant restaurant blending French and Southwest flavors. We started with the appetizer special, a delightful creamy mushroom soup with chipotle croutons. I had the portabello burger with rosemary eggplant caviar, manchego cheese, and a spinach salad. It was not a bad sandwich, but it didn’t seem particularly special when compared to Kirios’ Crispy Duck Leg Confit served with a salad including dried cranberry, pumpkin seeds, and a raspberry vinaigrette. Duck is one of my all-time favorite dishes, and it saddened me that this wasn’t kosher so I couldn’t try it. It looked, smelled, and sounded (the crunch of the crispy skin!) excellent. But don’t feel too bad for me, we still shared a strawberry-rhubarb crepe with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Mmmm. I need to make another strawberry rhubarb pie one of these days…

After lunch, we spent some more time admiring the turquoise and opal jewelry in shops on the Plaza, and taking pictures in the snow before retreating to our hotel for its daily “tea and sherry” hour. I’m not a fan of sherry, but if you are, apparently Santa Fe is a good place to get it! Kirios enjoyed sampling the sweet and the dry, and we both took advantage of the R&R.

Most of the museums in Santa Fe have extended hour and are free from 5-8pm on the first Friday of the month. Kirios and I took advantage of this by visiting the New Mexico History Museum and the Palace of the Governors. The New Mexico History Museum is very new, it opened in 2009. It had a lot of interesting information about the history of the land, and the Native Americans and Mexicans who lived there. I was a bit surprised that its message was so anti-US. I probably shouldn’t have been, considering the state history, but I guess my textbooks and museums back East have all have more patriotic philanthropists funding them… Unlike the museum, the Palace of the Governors was extremely old, having been used as a government building back in the 1600s under Spanish rule. We didn’t have too much time there before it closed, but it was interesting to see how the building was built and used.

Finally, we had dinner at La Plazuela at La Fonda before calling it a night (La Fonda is a big hotel right on the plaza with shops, a café, and a bar in addition to the restaurant). It was our most authentic Southwestern meal. Kirios had chicken and beef fajitas with an extra side of green chile, and I had a roasted red bell pepper, stuffed with sautéed winter greens, leeks, shiitake mushrooms and sweet corn, served with butternut squash puree, poblano chile-potato gratin, cauliflower flan, quinoa pilaf and roasted tomato-sweet onion sauce. It was a lot of different tastes of vegetables and spice flavors, extremely interesting and tasty. We both ordered New Mexico beers to go with our dinner, and sat by the fireplace for at La Fonda for a little bit before returning to the hotel and succumbing to a food coma.