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2012 March : Challahbear

Archive for March, 2012

Spring has Sprung!

I know this past winter was nothing to complain about… Even the parentals back home in the ‘burgh were enjoying 60 degree days. But it is official, as of yesterday, Spring has sprung. Last week was full of highs in the 80s, it’s lighter outside longer, and the flowers are blooming. Kirios and I decided to celebrate in style. I abandoned my colored tights, and donned a bright green dress to work yesterday. When I was done for the day, I walked through the garden at the Smithsonian castle, and then took out my Kindle to read on a bench at the National Mall. Kirios met me there as fast as the metro could carry him, and we picnicked on the mall. I packed a steak salad with veggies and leftover ribeye from our dinner on Saturday night, and he brought a diet cherry coke for us to share 🙂

After eating, we wondered down to the Tidal Basin for the obligatory Cherry Blossom photo shoot. Yes, the famous blossoms are in full bloom, and talked about in the tabloids more than Lindsay Lohan these days. It’s just that time of the year in DC. Kirios was a bit disappointed that the majority of the blossoms were white instead of pink, but they were nonetheless beautiful, encircling the water. We walked around and plopped down Kirios’ trusty tripod every few feet, posing for silly, serious, and romantic photos together.

After an hour of photo-taking, when my cheeks were starting to get tired, we mosy-ed our way back to the metro and travelled to Chinatown for another favorite spring tradition of mine – free Rita’s day! I must admit, the weather was a tad cold to truly appreciate my favorite ices, but such is life. The line by Rita’s reminded me of warm Saturday nights in Squirrel Hill. (It just doesn’t attract the same crowd in this neck of the woods, usually… too much competition, I suppose.) Kirios and I were disappointed to find there were only two flavors left, cherry and cotton candy. Of course, that was a no-brainer, we both got cherry. So the overall Rita’s experience was a tad of a let down, but combined with the cherry blossoms, it made for a lovely evening. Next time they better have mango!!!

Finally, a side note that must be said: Hines Ward is one talented athlete and a class act. There are many who could take a lesson from him, *coughLebroncough,* and this Pittsburgh gal is proud to have his name on my Jersey.

Kitchen Gadgets and a Bride

The highlight of my weekend was attending a bridal shower for a good college friend of mine in Waldorf, Maryland. I’m usually wary of showers – the hokey games are a bit too reminiscent of elementary school birthday parties for my taste, and I leave feeling like I’m supposed to be some modern day housewife who cooks, cleans, and bakes, all while wearing heels and a poofy dress. But I have to say, the love and effort put into planning such an affair is usually enough to waive off my reservations, at least for the afternoon, and to enjoy a little female bonding.

Waldorf is a little over an hour away from my apartment, and Kirios saw the event as an opportunity to bum a ride and visit an old friend of his who lives out there, so I was lucky to have some company for my journey into a strange place for a beltway broad like me, a city with land still waiting to be developed. Kirios’ friend only lives 2 miles from the bride’s parents’ house, and luckily my GPS decided to cooperate. Upon arriving at the shower, I was pleasantly surprised to see many familiar faces, including friends from college and the groom’s mother and sister. (He’s also a college friend, and his family lived nearby.) I was also pleasantly surprised to be handed a glass, with the couple’s name and wedding date printed on it, full of sangria within minutes of sitting down.

After the typical introductions and chatting, I helped myself to the food, which featured some ethnic treats from the Puerto Rican family, like savory green bananas, as well as a full variety of cheese, crackers, hummus, and the ever popular chocolate fountain. Our hostess, the bride’s sister, then announced our first game – she passed around a collection of around 20 kitchen gadgets, some more obscure than others, then removed the basket and made us write down all of the gadgets which we could remember if we knew their function. I did alright, tying for third place with 10 gadgets. I was the only one to correctly identify the function of the silicone ring used to prevent the edges of the pie crust from burning in the oven. (I usually do a poor job covering them with aluminum foil.) The only gadget I could identify but forgot was the cheese wire/board. But I must admit, until yesterday I was completely unfamiliar with an avocado slicer, pineapple corer, mango slicer, and cherry pitter – I was unaware that knives are only the primitive tool for such activities. The shrimp devein-er was also a mystery to me. Sigh.

Following the kitchen gadgets, we donned puffy-paint decorated aprons and gathered outside for cupcake decorating – another activity that left me a bit stumped. I can’t say my cupcakes were the prettiest of the bunch, but it was fun to mix food coloring to create frosting colors and to try out the different tip shapes for the icing bags. All the while, our bride was tested with answering Newly Wed Game-esque questions about her fiancé, and was forced to stick another piece of gum in her mouth for every response which didn’t match his. Thankfully, she did pretty well.

After turning my mouth blue with highly concentrated doses of food coloring, we returned inside for the obligatory present opening ceremony. I’m definitely not a fan of public present openings. As a child at birthday parties, it was always sad when your friend opened a bag with three Beanie Babies in it, knowing later on they would open your gift and only find one. Maybe my parents were stingy, maybe they had less, regardless, don’t judge me. Of course, you wouldn’t expect a shower without present opening, and all of the presents, including mine were much lovelier than a Beanie Babie or two. It was special to be there when the soon-to-be Mother-in-Law passed down a set of pearls that had been in the family for generations, along with a family tree showing who had had them before her.

Finally, as we said our goodbye we were treated to one last favor, in addition to the aprons, customized glasses, and special prizes for the game winners – we were all given a set of heart shaped measuring spoons. Kirios has shown me them online multiple times and said he wanted to buy them for me, so he was a tad disappointed. But I reminded him that I still don’t have the red silicone heart shaped spatula or the heart shaped tea infuser he’s been eyeing also!

All in all, it was a lovely day, and I’m sure the wedding will be even lovelier!

A Night in Provence

Kirios and I have been cutting back on eating out lately in an effort to reduce our spending and focus on healthy cooking. But Kirios decided it was time to indulge ourselves a bit, and planned a surprise dinner out this past Tuesday. I was told to wear a pretty dress, and that we had a 7pm reservation somewhere close by. There are over 200 restaurants within a mile of my apartment, so I can’t say that narrowed the field too much…

In honor of the 80 degree weather we’ve been having in the DC area this week, I broke out a simple royal blue sleeveless dress and fancied things up a bit with bright pink peep toe/sling back heels and a matching hand bag. Kirios came over a little early and we had a glass of the Lebanese wine we opened last Sunday.

At a quarter to seven, Kirios hurried me out the door and we strolled around Bethesda. A few times he started walking me into a restaurant before pulling my arm back and doing an about face – “not this one!” And once or twice he actually got confused about which direction it was in, and he pulled up GoogleMaps on his phone. 😛 Finally, we arrived at Bistro Provence, a fancy French restaurant.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we went on a couple of walks around town to check out menus at the many hidden restaurants in Bethesda, and I remember when we stopped into Bistro Provence. It was adorable on the inside, and the food looked delicious, but pricey. It must have been back in November when Kirios first made a note to take me there sometime!

Upon our arrival, we were asked if we wanted to sit inside our outside. There was no way I’d pass up an opportunity to sit outside when it was in the low 80s/high 70s, plus the restaurant felt like a sauna with the heat from the kitchen and no air conditioning yet. The host/lead waiter was charming, first asking if we were over 21. When we said yes, he said, “really, both of you!?!” and Kirios thanked him for the compliment. He directed me to my seat, “Right this way, Mademoiselle – or is it Madame?” Kirios was quick to reply, “She’s not Madame yet!”

We passed on pre-dinner champagne and a 3-digit bottle of wine. We took our time picking from the menu and enjoying the courtyard setting. Perfect weather, stone walls, pretty candelabras and potted plants. I was smiling a lot and Kirios couldn’t help but sneak a few pictures of me, while his camera was sitting on the table. We must have asked the waiter for more time to decide at least before focusing and making up our minds. Finally we ordered a roasted red pepper salad to share with nicoise olives, goat cheese, and a balsamic reduction to share. For our entrees I had salmon with ratatouille and Kirios ordered thice e duck breast, which came with brussel sprouts and some kind of sweet potato soufflé. Our meals were quite tasty. Though I think there was a lot more duck on Kirios’ plate than salmon on mine! (After I told him this he felt a bit guilty for taking a forkful of mine, but it wasn’t a problem!)

After we finished our entrees, neither of us could resist peaking at the dessert menu, and there was quite a selection. Kirios narrowed the pool to about five options, and I chose the Chocolate Amaretto Parfait. It was light and smooth amaretto parfait with a hard chocolate bottom (arguably the best part), an amaretto soaked cookie type thing… it wasn’t really a cookie, but I don’t know how to describe it… and some cherries and sauce which provided some nice flavor contrast. It was delicious, and we also shared a cappuccino with it. I rarely ever have coffee drinks, since it’s particularly harsh on my Crohn’s inflicted GI tract – but sipping a cappuccino in this beautiful courtyard on a warm evening and pretending we were in Southern France was the most enjoyable part of my week. It reminded me of my semester abroad (before I gave up coffee, I had quite a few cappuccinos in Italy), and my dreams of traveling Europe with Kirios sometime in the future…

Happy date night, Kirios!

Kirios and I decided to lay pretty low this weekend. While planning ahead what we’d want to eat, I found a “falafel mix” box in my pantry that I had purchased some time back. I figured it was worth trying since I had it, especially since it had a no-fry cooking option. So I asked Kirios if he’d like to have it with hummus or tahini, or even tzatziki, and what a surprise, my Greek boyfriend wanted Greek food. So we decided to make tzatziki, mostly based on his mother’s recipe, but we did check our Michael Psilakis cookbook for inspiration as well.

We did make a super necessary trip to Costco over the weekend, and in addition to the things I desperately needed on my list (cheerios, toilet paper, and a lifetime supply of lemon juice which Kirios drinks by the gallon, etc.) I picked up a 2 lb bag of brussel sprouts and 2 lbs of pre-cut butternut squash. I know, I feel silly spending the extra money on pre-cut squash, but it’s really such a pain to cut and peel it, that the Costco price didn’t seem so bad.

So come Sunday, when we started to plan our day, we decided to make butternut squash soup for a light lunch, and then cook up a Greek inspired feast for dinner. The soup was easy – we threw in just about every spice we liked the smell of with the squash, a couple of carrots I had leftover in the fridge, some orange juice, and because Kirios never cooks anything without it – a bit of lemon juice. After we blended everything, we decided it was a bit bitter (ahem, lemon juice much!?!) so we added a splash of maple syrup which rounded things out pretty well.

After lunch, Kirios went to the supermarket to pick up some non-fat Greek yogurt and a couple other groceries while I roasted up the brussel sprouts. In my attempt to recreate the extremely tasty brussels afelia served at Zaytinya (yes, I’ve blogged about them twice now), I cut the brussel sprouts in half and covered them with olive oil, salt, garlic powder, and coriander before putting them in the oven for 40 minutes at 400 degrees.

After the brussel sprouts, I got to work on the falafel, which was pretty simple… Add water, let sit, form patties, stick in the oven. Kirios took charge of the tzatziki, placing 10 cloves of garlic in the food processor with dill and lemon juice. We cut out the seeds/innards of an English cucumber and then the grated and drained what was left of it. He combined the cucumber and the garlic juice with the yogurt to make our finished product.

We enjoyed our dinner with a glass of red Lebanese wine, a cucumber-tomato salad, and pita bread. (Though sadly we decided there just weren’t enough hours in the day, or space in my tiny kitchen to make homemade pita along with everything else.) The brussel sprouts, to which I added some pomegranate seeds since Zaytinya’s uses barberries, came out exceptionally well. I probably could have eaten the whole 2 lbs myself if there wasn’t so much other food to try. And while the tzatziki didn’t complement the sprouts quite as well as Zaytinya’s garlic yogurt sauce, it was a very good substitute, and a flavorful dish on its own. The falafel patties were decent considering they came from a box and we didn’t fry them – a bit salty though. And the tzatziki helped their texture a great deal.

Kirios and I were very pleased with ourselves and our food. And I anticipate enjoying our leftovers throughout the week. But since we had spent the whole day at home cooking, Kirios treated me to dessert at Dolcezzo Gelato to take advantage of the warm weather before starting another week at work. We shared a large cup with lemon, blood orange, and nocciolladel piemonte (hazelnut).

…Is it Friday yet?!?!

Side note – wouldn’t it be great to see pictures of all of the food we cooked along with this post? Of course we took photos, and they’re all on Kirios’ spiffy dSLR… amongst other photos he has yet to sort through going back until September. Help me motivate him to go through them faster so I can show you what I’m talking about in my posts!

I hit my first quarter-century mark the other week. I think it was my first birthday when I wasn’t thrilled to be a year older. But I celebrated nonetheless. Kirios and I went out for a trendy yet romantic dinner at Founding Farmers, and of course I couldn’t resist the temptation to throw yet another theme party. So in approximately 6 months when Kirios catches up uploading photos from his dSLR, you all can see what an awesome Pebbles and BamBam we make.

Last weekend Kirios and I opened the cheese he brought me on Valentines Day (well I had already broken into the smokedgouda, I admit) and I realized he sneakily broke our Vday no chocolate pact AGAIN. He purchased Trader Joe’s cheese of the month, which mixed milk chocolate with sharp white cheddar. It was… interesting. I think I actually like it more than Kirios, who was hoping for dark chocolate.  I didn’t think it was too bad upon first taste, but it actually was worse when I ate it on top of a Ritz cracker. And unlike most cheeses I’m apprehensive to try, it didn’t grow on me with consecutive bites. It definitely tasted like it should be marketed as a snack to put in your kids school lunches. It was definitely edible, but I suppose it makes me appreciate even more what Mr. Reese has known for so so long, nothing goes together quite like chocolate and peanut butter.

Other than tasting cheese, Kirios and I set out to cook some healthy meals for ourselves this weekend, so we cooked salmon, couscous, and broccoli on Saturday, and gemistas, Greek stuffed peppers on Sunday. And now that it’s Wednesday already, I’m wishing I had the time/motivation to continue the trend, but I think I may have to last on leftovers for a few more days.

Sunday afternoon my cousin Jessica visited from New York, and with Kirios we made a ton of delicious hamentaschen to get excited for Purim. We filled the triangular treats with strawberry jam, peach-mango preserves, nutella, and chocolate-peanut butter spread, and baked them on a cookie sheet that used to be our Grandma Ruth’s. And as it turns out, last Sunday was Grandma Ruth’s 12th yartzeit, the anniversary of her passing on the Hebrew calendar. I can’t think of a better way to have honored her memory on that day.

Parental Invasion

For the second year in a row, my parents decided to celebrate our nation’s presidents by spending a long weekend in Maryland. Last year they stayed with family friends in Baltimore, and I drove down to spend time with everyone. This year, they were excited to stay with me in my first apartment without roommates. They drove up on Friday afternoon and conveniently arrived right at the end of my telework day.

We first went for a walk around Bethesda, enjoying the unseasonable weather until the sun fell low enough in the sky that it stopped keeping us warm. Then Kirios met us back at my apartment and we walked over to Pizzeria da Marco, a Neopolitan pizza place extremely close by. Kirios and I had been a couple of times before and enjoyed their pizza, especially during happy hour when their margherita pizza is just $5. My father has a particular fondness for pizzerias with brick ovens who take their food seriously, so I had been waiting for him to visit so I could take him there for sometime. We enjoyed arugula salads with oranges, red onion, fennel and chili flakes before feasting on a variety of pizzas, which we divided up evenly amongst ourselves. We enjoyed the certified authentic Margherita D.O.P.; Quatro Formaggi; Siciliana with eggplant confit, black olives, and capers; and the Diavola which had roasted red peppers. The Diavola also came with finocchiona, a cured ham, which Kirios ordered on the side so he could add it to his slices. Pizzeria da Marco serves a good product, with a chewy crust and flavorful toppings. It does tend to pool liquid from tomatoes and other toppings in the center, where the crust is extremely thin, which is a bit of a turn off and keeps them from topping our favorites list. But all in all, it was a very satisfying meal.

Saturday morning the parental units were feeling ambitious and prepared to take on the District. We had an early lunch and then we drove downtown with Kirios for some tourist activities. We made a spur of the moment decision to go into the Old Post Office. Kirios had taken me there during my last birthday, but due to rain storms and heavy winds, the National Park Service had shut down the tower (the main reason to visit the pavilion) rumored to have one of the best views of the city. Since it was announced only days earlier that Donald Trump will take over the historic building and convert it into a hotel, we figured we better visit while we could. The wait was longer than we had hoped, and the view was a bit anticlimactic. But at least I got to cross it off my DC bucket list.

After the Post Office, we realized we were running behind schedule and ditched our original plan to visit the Newseum. Instead we went to the nearby and free American History Smithsonian. There were a couple of closed exhibits, but we did spend some time judging the first ladies’ fashion choices, and other museum highlights.

Around four we walked over to Chinatownin order to enjoy an early meal at Zaytinya, Kirios’ favorite restaurant which I first tried on his birthday. (We were originally planning to go to Founding Farmers, but it proved difficult to get a reservation on a Saturday in Washington DC!) Kirios and I weren’t too disappointed by the tradeoff. At Zaytinya, I ordered my favorite brussel sprouts afelia and Kirios indulged in his beloved garides me anitho, sauted shrimp. We also shared a flatbread with tomato sauce, cinnamon, oregano, and halloumi cheese (Kirios’ favorite cheese, made in Cyprus); greek olives; mushroom saganaki with tomato and kefalograviera cheese; bamya (okra with crispy chickpeas); seared salmon with squash puree, maitake mushrooms, and pomegranate molasses; almond trout with preserved lemon-kalamata olive tapenade and garlic yogurt; and the kolokithokeftedes (zucchini and cheese patties) which I had ordered over Kirios’ birthday also. These dishes were all quite enjoyable, but there was one more dish which stood above all the rest (or in the case of the brussel sprouts, and the shrimp for Kirios, on par) and that was the havoc koftesi, carrot, apricot and pine nut fritters with a pistachio sauce. These balls were packed with flavor, and my mom instantly began planning a kugel version that she can serve on Passover, leaving out the pine nuts (which did provide a nice texture) and substituting flour for potato starch. We saved a bit of room for delicious desserts and Turkish coffee too.

We finished our feast at Zaytinya ahead of schedule, so we quickly jumped into the National Portrait Gallery across the street to check out the Annie Leibovitz exhibition, Pilgrimage (which uncharacteristically doesn’t include pictures of people). Following the exhibition we walked over the Ronald Reagan Building, where Kirios and I enjoyed a round of drinks before the four of us enjoyed a show by the political satire group, The Capitol Steps. I’ve enjoyed their public radio broadcasts on July 4th, and April Fools and so on throughout the years, and both Mom and Kirios have seen them perform live in the past. It was truly a treat, and the four of us spent the entire performance smiling.

We returned home a bit before 11pm, and I made sure my parents were comfortable and all set for bed before before heading out with Kirios to hear our friends’ band perform at a wing bar a couple of blocks away. I got home around 12:30am, exhausted from an extremely full day.

I woke up Sunday morning feeling extremely grateful that it was a long weekend, and then next time I woke up wouldn’t be at 5:50am. There were still adventures to be had. Kirios and our family friends from Baltimore came over at 10:30, and I showed off my big girl apartment before we walked over to Bethesda Row to have brunch at Le Pain Quotidien, a Belgian chain centered around the idea of communal tables. We were all extremely impressed with the food. Their omlettes and quiches were quite nice, as well as their breads and pastries. I had a smoked salmon omlette and we tried both their lemon tart and pistachio tart (which was more of a cake) for dessert. The only thing that didn’t impress us was their seasonal soy chai special which was too thin for our liking. (I heard the coffee was good though.) As we kvelled over the food, we flipped through their cookbooks displayed on their tables. Kirios and I scanned the barcode on the back of one for kicks, since my mother loves to collect cookbooks, and Amazon offered it starting at $146. Less than 10 minutes later, Kirios returned from a trip to the bathroom with a shrink-wrapped copy which he presented to my mother as an early birthday gift. (It was available much cheaper than what we had seen online, but was nonetheless an extremely generous and thoughtful measure. He’s a keeper!)

Following brunch, we visited some of the cute shops along Bethesda Row. I ran into a great friend of mine from college, and then we were all interviewed for a YouTube video about the red “parking meters” to donate change to the homeless in Bethesda. Although I must admit, the focus of the video was clouded by excitement over the mozzarella bar across the street. Watch for yourself, we’re famous. http://youtu.be/xrR2KCbK8Io And this of course led to a great demand for a follow up video http://youtu.be/IN8kVp_akSw. There’s been big talk about eventually visiting this place… I’ll be waiting.

By mid-afternoon we all parted ways and my parents and I enjoyed some much needed R&R back at the apartment before cooking a meal together. My parents left fairly early on Monday morning, and I was happy to have a bit of down time before returning to work on Tuesday!