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2012 May : Challahbear

Archive for May, 2012

Seven Countries in One Day

Not everyone has the vacation time to enjoy 3+ week vacations on the other side of the world. I like to travel and explore. But I’m a business major, so when I plan a trip, I like to get the most bang for my buck. And that’s exactly what I did earlier this month when I played tourist in seven countries in one day: South Africa, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Ghana, Pakistan, Brunei, and Egypt– in that order. 

Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. The rest of you are skeptical. I’m not lying. But there is a catch. I visited the embassies (technically not U.S.soil) of all of these exciting places as part of Passport DC’s World Embassy Day. Every year the embassies in Washington DC open their doors for a Saturday in May to hold an open house showcasing their nation’s culture through art, performances, food, and drink. Even the buildings are beautiful. In addition to World Embassy Day, Passport DC also sponsors EU Embassy Day the Saturday closest to EU day, exclusive to the European embassies.

I was introduced to EU Embassy Day back in college when I decided to tag-along with my roommate who was attending with her older brother and his friends. We started with a tour of the Belgium embassy which featured samples of chocolates, cookies, fruit nectars, and beers. We finished in Romania, which had a full lunch buffet complete with wine. My mind was blown; it was the best event ever. And it was FREE (although some embassies sell food and goods).

EU Embassy Day was so amazing that I told everyone about it. This had mixed results. Once, I started telling a stranger about it at a party. Before I left, he asked if he could email me to get more information about the event. We ended up meeting again to go to Embassy Day together a few weeks later. I now call him Kirios. True story. Happy anniversary, agapi mou <3

Unfortunately, in addition to complete strangers, I also told a bunch of coworkers and friends about how great EU embassy is. Word spread and the lines to get into the embassies got longer. Kirios and I noticed it last year; we were hungrier and waited longer to get into our favorite embassies. This year it was so bad we only visited Portugal and Greece. I’m not giving up on EU Embassy Day just yet, but I definitely screwed up letting the cat out of the bag on that one!

Now where was I… oh yes, World Embassy Day. Last year my parents visited in May and asked that Kirios and I take them around the city to partake in normal weekend activities for us. Because we’re super cool and always do fun things. (Is it possible that used to be true?!?) They actually chose a great weekend to visit and we were able to take them to World Embassy Day, among other events like the city’s largest Greek festival. We visited Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, Croatia, Argentina, Rwanda, and so on. There was dancing and food and we ran into lots of friends – including childhood friends from Pittsburgh who had relocated to the area, which was exciting for my parents too. Kirios even wrapped a snake around himself and ate a Rwandan delicacy with worms. Possibly. Whether he actually ate it or not remains a secret. The parental units and I of course declined since worms are not kosher. World Embassy Day has more embassies open, which means shorter lines.

So this year I was looking forward to my almost free trip around the world. The day of the event, Kirios had an unexpected obligation and was unable to go. So I called up a few friends who I had already blabbed to about how amazing Embassy Day is, and by 1pm we assembled a motley crew to sightsee together. A childhood friend, and post-college friend, and new friends they brought along. We took turns caffeinating at Starbucks (i.e. every time someone got off the metro and met up with us, he or she wanted to stop and pick something up) and we embarked on an epic journey. Or at least an exciting walk around a few blocks.

The South African Embassy is currently undergoing renovations, but they temporarily took over the lobby level of a fancy schmancy office building. They transformed it with music and costumes, vendors, and a full lunch buffet with white corn grits, a wonderful salmon dish, super spicy vegetables, and at least four desserts to try. They did run out of utensils, but someone managed to find a spoon for me. They also gave out samples of liquor which tasted like Baileys, so after sipping it, we all dumped the rest of our cups into the Starbucks drinks we were still carrying around.

Next we visited Ethiopia, so I immediately texted my one Ethiopian friend. Then we sampled Ethiopian coffee, which we expected to be very strong. But it was actually quite smooth and delicious. I don’t drink coffee anymore since it upsets my stomach and the whole Crohns’ thing can be a bummer, but when I did, I always drank it with milk. I only took a sip of this coffee, but I had it straight, and I would drink it black. Also at the Ethiopian embassy, we enjoyed traditional music playing and most of us splurged and spent $2 for a cup of Tej, honey wine. It tasted like iced tea with a lot of honey it. An Ethiopian woman came over to us multiple times warning us to sip it slowly so it wouldn’t go to our heads. I followed her advice. At least one member of our group didn’t, and admitted to feeling fairly tipsy by the time we entered Indonesia.

Indonesia had a pretty building and lots of colors. I was feeling full and the food was for sale so I skipped it. We ran into another friend who bought a purse there. She looked inside and it said “Made in Thailand.” Fail.

Ghana gave us a chocolate candy when we walked in. Plus one. They also had a couple people playing drums, dancing, and chanting. The main performer had a wonderful smile that made me want to be his friend. Or at least allow him to entertain me. By then it was also raining a little bit, so we were happy to sit and enjoy for a while.

Next we went to Pakistan, and that was a PARTY. A Pakistani dance troupe from Georgetown Universitywas performing under a big tent. They had bright costumes. Their dances combined Pakistani songs with top 40 ones, so everyone could get into it. And they had some interesting props they used in their dances too.

We went to Brunei at the suggestion of the friend we ran into at Indonesia. She told us there was lots of chocolate there. When we arrived, we were disappointed to see it was the Three Musketeers, Twix, and Milky Way sampler. We were more interested in Brunese chocolate. Microsoft Word tells me that Brunese isn’t a real word, but I think you understand. Their building is absolutely gorgeous, and even has a waterfall wall out back. Before we left, they did bring out Brunei foods – shrimp chips, which I didn’t eat because they’re not kosher, and a sesame covered dessert ball thing. The dessert was warm and airy. There was a filling inside which we thought was fig. Later in Egyptwe learned that the filling was actually red bean paste. Who knew!

Our finally stop was in Egypt. (Although we stared curiously at the outside of the UAE embassy which wasn’t participating in the open houses. We imagined opulence at its finest.) In Egypt, we promptly started taking pictures with the mummy artwork. We watched a short movie that was probably created by their national tourism department. Then we checked out the goods they were selling in their marketplace. I tried on a fez, but decided my head is a bit too small to successfully pull it off. Aladdin looked better. Some of the folks in our group bought picture frames with interesting designs. Then we discovered their patio, around which they hung a bunch of colorful cloths creating a bright tent. There were pillows and things which looked like bean bag chairs but featured hieroglyphic style designs. If we were actually in Egypt, there would probably be a bunch of middle age men smoking hookah in the tent.  It was sunny and breezy and pleasant, so a bunch of us sat down and spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying this Egyptian tent. Embassy Day ended at 4pm, and we slowly shuffled out of the tent, reentering U.S. soil. The vacation was over, we were home.

Now please, forget everything you just read about how awesome the DC Embassy Open House days are and stay home come next May. Long lines are no fun!

Founding Farmers Feast

Kirios and I planned to spend quality time together during his last weekend home before his big European vacation. I had to be in Chattanooga, Tennessee(which always makes me think “choo-choo”) for an almost-all day meeting on Friday. My flight was scheduled to arrive back at Reagan National Airport just before 6, and takes about an hour to metro/walk back to my apartment. I thought it would be super exciting to return to a home-cooked meal ready to eat and being the sweetheart that he is, Kirios agreed to come over and cook while I made my way back home.

Of course, life never goes as planned, and through a series of coincidences we ended up having a completely different yet enjoyable evening. Kirios arrived at work Friday morning to find out that it was going to be a long day preparing a proposal with an approaching deadline. He originally told me he didn’t think he’d be home before 10pm. Clearly the only way I was going to get a home-cooked meal was if I made it. My meeting in Chattanooga didn’t go as expected either. We were learning so much from the folks we met with and the clock was ticking closer to our flight departure, so we decided to skip lunch in order to keep the conversation going longer. I eventually got a veggie wrap from the only food vendor at the Chattanooga airport around 3:30pm.

By the time my flight landed, the proposal prognosis at Kirios’ company had improved. Kirios also received a late in the day call from one of his best friends from high school who has since moved away saying that he and his girlfriend were in for the weekend and free that evening. So Kirios went ahead and made 8:30 reservations for the four us to have a dinner at the new(ish) Potomac location of Founding Farmers. (The original DC location is where we went for my birthday dinner.) Kirios made it home minutes before 8pm, and quickly changed his clothes. I met him at his house, and we arrived at the restaurant right on time.

Meanwhile, I had texted my great friend from college who happens to be a talented actor/Founding Farmers Potomac server, and learned that he was working that evening. We were seated in his section, and as a result of the good company and good service, Kirios and I decided to indulge. Founding Farmers is known for their prohibition style bar, so I first ordered a Clementine; clementine and seasonal chili-infused Reposado Tequila, Benedictine, lime and pineapple juices, and agave nectar. It was served in a sugar rimmed glass – yum. To eat, I had a ricotta, pistachio, and date flatbread as an appetizer and butternut squash ravioli with brussel sprout leaves as an entrée. Kirios ordered oven-roasted cracked black pepper wings and a rack of ribs of which he could barely eat half. Our friends ordered similarly decadent drinks, appetizers, and meals.

Unlike my companions, I was not successful in fully indulging. Our friends ordered a chocolate mousse bowl fit for two. Kirios ordered beignets served with three separate sauces. He tried in vain to have me split them with him. Eventually I gave in and had one bite. They were delicious. But if I stop at one bite, I’m definitely full. We finished the evening victoriously, with a doggy bag and food-coma induced night of sleep.

Two Years and Counting

I’ve been running around for the past couple weeks without taking time to blog about my adventures. Kirios is currently on a 3+ week vacation with his parents, and I’m doing my best to stay busy in his absence. Despite that, I think it’s about time I attempt to catch up on some of the noteworthy activities in my life recently.

May 8th was my two-year anniversary with Kirios. It fell on a Tuesday night this year, so we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at a nice restaurant in the middle of the week to celebrate. Originally we had discussed trying to get reservations at Rasika, the fanciest/most difficult to get a reservation at Indian restaurant in the district. Kirios suggested Indique in Cleveland Park as a cheaper but still classy alternative. We had a wonderful time at its sister restaurant Indique Heights (in Friendship Heights) for our first semi-versary a year and half earlier. I told him I still preferred to try Rasika, but I caved when a $20 for $40 deal of the day showed up in my inbox for Indique a couple days later. Welcome to two years – we’re not ashamed to use daily deals and coupons on dates, even for special occasions! Of course, I insisted that we would have to go to Rasika for my birthday if we don’t find another occasion sooner.

I was delighted to have so many new dresses to choose from in time for our anniversary. I picked out fairly fancy form-fitting sleeveless dress that’s purple on top and black starting at its high waist. Unlike most of my new dresses, it’s too dressy for most events and it isn’t appropriate for work. Any excuse to wear it will do! Since Kirios offered to drive, I wore black high heels and a lace shawl. Kirios is always happy to take off his work clothes when he gets home, in favor for his infamous plaid shorts and brown flip flops. For this occasion, he wore khakis which I bought him as an anniversary present. (No joke, the guy didn’t own a single pair of khaki pants!) He wore a nice polo and a sports coat and a nice pair of shoes. You know he’s making an effort when he leaves the flip flops at home.

The atmosphere at Indique was pleasant. Tables were a bit close together, but there was plenty of room. We sat next to a window, and there was a cute balcony with Christmas lights, but it was a bit too chilly for outside seating. It didn’t have a fountain or a swing bench like Indique Heights though, sigh.

We ordered drinks; Kirios got a mango lassi and I was tempted by their specialty cocktails but decided to have a glass of shiraz. We split a salmon “slider” appetizer, a salmon burger with shallot, ginger, and cumin between oothapam, Indian pancakes. It was served was a fish sauce, but we thought it was more interesting paired with the standard Indian restaurant chutney trio. The dish was unexpected for an Indian restaurant, but tasty none-the-less. Kirios and I are suckers for crepe-like dishes.

For the main course, Kirios ordered lamb vindaloo, which has been his standard Indian dish for at least the past 6 months. A Greek boy has a hard time passing up a good lamb dish. He ordered it at a spicy level of 10, as usual. This of course drives me mad, but it definitely wasn’t as spicy as versions of the dish other restaurants have served him. Since they didn’t offer any vegetarian thali platters, which I enjoy splurging on from time to time, I decided to stick with a favorite too. I ordered baingan bhartha, roasted eggplant with tomatoes and spices. We also had an order of garlic naan, because half the fun of eating Indian food is the naan. The entrees were served with a side of lentils and some pretty vegetable garnishes, presentation was nice. Portion sizes were typical; we were both too full to order dessert. But overall, Indique’s renditions of our favorite Indian meals just seemed average to us. There were points in the meal where we both wished we were at our go-to Indian restaurant inBethesda, Tandoori Nights. (Truthfully, I’ve been dying to go back since I ordered a new eggplant dish during my last visit, Shahi Baingan, which was exceptional.)

At the end of the evening we had a dispute with the manager over the bill, since they insisted on taking the $40 voucher value off the after-tax total, despite the fine print on the voucher instructing otherwise. Not a great ending to a less than enchanting experience. But to be clear, it was a lovely evening despite the mediocrity of our meals, and truly special to go out and celebrate this milestone in our relationship.

Back to School

After months away, I recently had the opportunity to go back to my alma mater, the University of Maryland not once, not twice, but three times in a one week period. It was more driving around the beltway than I’ve done in a while, but it was well worth the gas money. (Besides, I filled my tank with cheap gas in College Park!)

A week and a half ago, I attended the 20th anniversary celebration for the QUEST (Quality Enhancement Systems and Teams) Program. QUEST is a multidisciplinary program focused on forming cross-functional teams of business, engineering, and computer science students (now open to a few additional majors) with an emphasis on quality management techniques. We liked to call it pre-consulting, and most of my former classmates from the program now work for consulting companies. QUEST was undoubtedly the most fulfilling academic aspect of my college experience. The only students who didn’t do well in QUEST classes were those who were more concerned with their grade than their project.  I turned to my QUEST classmates to join my group project teams in my other classes as well – the students were smart and reliable.

That’s why when I get an invite for a QUEST event, I usually try to attend. The anniversary celebration was no exception. It brought 20 years of students, professors, and staff together, and featured a lot of memories, motivation, and excitement for the future.  It also featured a tasty tree-course dinner. (How I miss the luxuries of being a business student…) About fifteen classmates from my cohort of seventy attended, and it was a treat to catch up with them and hear about how they’re all doing. It was equally pleasurable to meet the newest class of QUEST students, recently selected and anxious to begin the program in the spring. I’ve also been paired with one of the new students as part of a new buddy program, and exchanging emails with her has also brought back fond memories and helped me stay involved.

A few days after the celebration, Kirios and I went to campus together for Maryland Day, which I already wrote about. We took advantage of the beautiful campus and frolicked on the mall. We rubbed Testudo’s nose for good luck, visited the campus store and coffee shop in the student union.

The following week I returned to campus again for yet another celebration, this time honoring Patricia Cleveland, who is stepping down as the Dean of Undergraduate Studies at the Smith School of Business at the end of the semester and transitioning into a teaching role. I remembered seeing Dean Cleveland in passing during my tour of the business school on admitted students’ day. Within my first week at Smith, she knew my name. And I thought that was pretty cool. So I took her advice and became involved in the Smith Undergraduate Student Organization (SUSA) which she oversaw. I became friends with other business majors and we assumed leadership roles, working together with Dean Cleveland. Most of us were able to make it to the event, and we spent the evening munching on hors d’oeuvres, sipping champagne, and recalling our favorite Dean Cleveland, SUSA, and Smith stories. I smiled the whole night, and when I turned the ringer back on my phone before getting in my car to drive I home, I realized it was 11:30! I don’t usually stay out (or up) that late on work nights, but I couldn’t think of a better reason to do it.

It may be a while before I make it back to campus again. But this proud Terp knows they won’t be able to keep her away for too long!

Domatokeftedes & Kosher Carbonara

Kirios and I embarked on another culinary adventure this past Wednesday. On this week’s edition of my big fat Greek Kosher Kitchen, we made Greek tomato patties called domatokeftedes, and an Italian recipe – pasta in carbonara sauce, with some modifications to make it kosher.

While domatokeftedes are a Greek dish, they are not from Kirios’ mother’s island, and he had never had them before. But nevertheless, he heard about them, and wanted to try, so we peeled and strained a pound of plum tomatoes, and we added scallions, mint, basil, oregano, parmesan, and breadcrumbs, and some other seasoning to form the patties. Kirios fried them up, and then we enjoyed. They were light and full of flavor. We plan to make them again in a few months when there are home-grown tomatoes from his family’s garden.

In addition to the domatokeftedes, we also made pasta with kosher carbonara sauce. The other week, I was reading a Jewish blog with a recipe for kosher carbonara, which usually includes pancetta. The recipe I read used smoke-flavored tofu instead of pancetta, which didn’t sound super appealing to me. But I did remind me that shortly after I returned from studying abroad in Rome my family friend who has previously lived (and cooked) in Italy made her own kosher version of the dish using fried (parve) bacos. I emailed her for her recipe, which she graciously shared.  In no extra time than it takes to make pasta, we were able to enjoy some with this creamy fake bacon/egg/parmesan sauce. It was so easy to make, I’m sure I’ll come back to it over and over!

Since Wednesday, I’ve been busy with lots of fun things, but unfortunately, I’ve been so busy that we haven’t had any more cooking adventures! Oh well, I’m sure there will be plenty more soon enough 🙂

Things are shaping up around here… Spring has sprung and my apartment building finally turned on the AC after a couple of unpleasant days reaching the 80s and even one in the 90s. Even better than that, I got some good news that one of the issues which have been stressing me out won’t be a consideration much longer. It gives me hope, and I’ve been calmer and more optimistic.

This past weekend was quite enjoyable. Kirios and I went to an interesting Shabbat dinner party on Friday where we were able to get to know some new people and enjoy my yummy challah. (I missed it so much over Passover!) Saturday we went to the Maryland Day at our alma mater and met up with some friends. It was lovely to be back on campus and remember how great school was. It’s even better now that I get to spend time on campus with Kirios too!

After Maryland Day, we had dinner with Kirios’ parents before driving out to Virginia for our friend’s *gasp* 30th birthday. That was a first. Luckily, our forever young friend planned an awesome laser tag party. We were originally thinking a moon bounce would be the best way to celebrate and heartbroken to learn that her alley just isn’t big enough for one, but it ended up being a rainy day, so laser tag was definitely the way to go! Unfortunately, my laser tag skills haven’t improved much since my middle school days at FunFest. It was also unfortunate that Kirios walked into a wall and got a booboo while playing. But rest assured, everyone had fun anyway. After laser tag, we headed into the District for drinks and 90s music. The birthday girl even played pac-man.

Following a successful Saturday, Sunday was posibbly the most relaxing and refreshing day I’ve had in months. Kirios and I slept in after our late night. He prepared yummy tropical bowls of cereal for us – with bananas, mango, kiwi, grapes, and pineapple in them! In the afternoon, we met friends and carpooled into DC to attend a young professionals’ barbeque at my synagogue to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, which was earlier last week. More of our friends met us at the synagogue, and we enjoyed beer, chicken and beef souvlaki (since Kirios refuses to recognize “shish-kabobs” as an acceptable description of skewered meat), hummus, tahini, babaganoush, and Israeli salad! We sat at a table outside, where it was in the mid-60s, but sunny enough I didn’t wear my sweater.  It was the first barbeque of the season, and such a treat to take a few hours to relax and catch up with good friends. I know I don’t take enough time to relax and keep still. Being able to do that, while still being out with friends was the perfect Sunday afternoon activity!

I’ve had a busy week so far. Work meetings and doctor appointments have filled my calendar, and there’s still a lot of excitement planned for both this week and next. I’ll try my best to hold on to that calm relaxed optimism as events unfold!