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2012 July : Challahbear

Archive for July, 2012

A Few Noteworthy Meals

If you’ve ever read my blog, then you know how much I enjoy cooking and going out to eat. Lately I feel like that’s all I ever do, and I’m in the market for an exercise bike to compensate for it! But I really shouldn’t complain – I do live to eat.

Sunday evening Kirios and I combined culinary forces to cook chicken fajitas. We sautéed Portobello mushrooms, orange and yellow peppers, and locally grown yellow squash along with the chicken. We also caramelized a red onion. Kirios doesn’t generally like onions, but I complied with his request to cook it separately, and keep it cooking extra long. The result was sweet and delicious, and he enjoyed it too! Kirios was in charge of seasoning the meal, so I’m not 100% sure what he threw in. There was definitely lime juice and oregano, pepper, and ginger, but you’ll have to ask him to find out what else was in there. I also mashed an avocado for guacamole which he seasoned as well. I served corn tortillas from Trader Joe’s – this was the weak link in the meal. The corn tortillas lacked flavor and structural integrity. Screw authenticity, I’m buying flour tortillas next time. I only had one tortilla, and I almost didn’t finish it.

Chicken Fajitas!

We enjoyed our fajitas with a glass of red wine and a tomato “salad” on the side. We chopped up a large tomato from Kirios’ yard; courtesy of Kirios Sr. It was a big juicy tomato that was red, orange, yellow, and green all at the same time. It was also the first homegrown one I’ve had this season. We drizzled blueberry balsamic vinaigrette (a new treat Kirios surprised me with last week!) over it as well as some blood orange infused olive oil we purchased at the local Greek Festival in May. It was such a simple yet divinely refreshing summer snack, thinking about it makes me want to sit outside with a lemonade and a good book and have some more.

Our Whole Spread

We continued our good eats trend last night with dinner at Yamas Mediterranean Grill, a small Greek place right behind my building that I walk by every day. Normally we wouldn’t have gone on a Monday night, but we did have an expiring Living Social deal, and Kirios needs no excuse when it comes to Greek food. We both ordered Greek beers and split baba ganoush and zucchini fritters with whole wheat pita to whet our appetites.

Drinks and Appetizers!

Our appetizers were accompanied by Horiatiki (Village) Salads with tomatoes, cucumber onions, Kalamata olives, pepperchinis, feta, and oregano. The salads were small, but tasty. For our entrees, Kirios had the gyro platter with beef and lamb served over Rice & Orzo Pilaf served with tzatziki and tomato sauce. I had yemista, stuffed vegetables (a pepper and a tomato). It was served with tomato sauce and orzo pilaf filling. It tasted remarkably similar to the yemista Kirios’ mother makes, but unlike Yamas’, his mother doesn’t add sugar to her tomato sauce. (Kirios and I have made our own rendition of stuffed peppers, but they weren’t quite as traditional as the ones I had Sunday night or the ones him mother makes.)

Kirios and his Gyro Platter

Yemista, Stuffed Vegetables

I was too full to splurge for dessert, Kirios was a bit disappointed. We were glad to have tried Yamas and enjoyed the food, but we decided that the prices were just too expensive to go back and pay full price. I suspect I may find Kirios at the bar for the $6 Beer and Burger deal though. I’ve been told they have a tasty lamb burger with tzatziki and feta cheese which sounds right up his ally!

In Greek, you say “Kali Orexi” before eating!

Finally, when my stomach thought it could squeeze itself no further, my boss treated me and two of my coworkers out to lunch at Graffiato. I am a huge Top Chef fan, and have been excited to try Graffiato ever since it opened, shortly after its Chef/Owner Mike Isabella came in second place on the show’s all stars season. Before opening his own restaurants (Graffiato was followed by Bandolero, a Mexican restaurant in Georgetown, which I also haven’t been to and doesn’t serve lunch), Isabella was the executive chef at Zaytinya – Kirios’ favorite restaurant which I frequently blog about. Anywho, Isabella describes the cuisine at Graffiato as “Jersey Italian,” noting “it’s not the food my grandmother put on the table.” The place had an interesting concept and a succinct but varied menu which promised interesting flavor combinations. But before I tell you about the food we ate, let me just say that the décor was not working for me. There were nice touches – a wall of wine bottles, tin cans with herbs growing next to our table by the window. But overall, it was a large industrial space with bizarre murals featuring strange cartoons and black dripping clouds…

Our waiter greeted us and explained that the menu consisted of small plates. Two or three per person would suffice, and the pizzas counted as two. If you ask me, the pizzas seemed much bigger than two of the small plates… But that’s beside the point. The waiter also said all of their beverages are alcoholic, aside from their homemade sodas. Since it was a work lunch, we abstained from the good stuff. When I realized there wouldn’t be anything to fuel my caffeine addiction, I along with another coworker, ordered a watermelon & lemongrass soda, thinking it sounded like something I’d enjoy with a splash of vodka or rum in it. Our other coworkers ordered the strawberry & cardamom soda and the lemon & basil one. I was disappointed. The watermelon soda wasn’t fizzy and was very watered down. Worst of all, I didn’t taste the lemongrass. The coworkers who ordered the other sodas enjoyed them more, but they admitted they didn’t really taste any cardamom or basil. It didn’t look promising for their bar. Note: If you are looking for homemade sodas in Washington DC, I highly recommend those at Founding Farmers. I recently enjoyed a refreshing grapefruit soda there. I also recommend the drinks at Poste if you enjoy unexpected spice combinations in your cocktails.

To eat, we shared an order of broccolini with spicy pepper relish, walnut, and feta; crispy potatoes with lemon, parsley, and parmesan; and an order of olives marinated in citrus, chili, and herbs. The broccolini still had a nice crunch to it, and the potatoes were absolutely delicious – the best thing we tried. The portions were pretty small, especially when shared between four people. There were, however, ample olives, and the chili added a nice flavor to them. After our vegetable plates, we ordered three pizzas; Goodfellas with meatballs, tomato, provolone, and chili; the Greco-Roman with eggplant roasted peppers, kalamata, arugula, feta, and capers; and The White House with mozzarella, taleggio, ricotta, prosciutto, and black pepper honey. I only had the Greco-Roman since the others weren’t kosher. It was tasty, but not without its flaws. There were very few vegetables and they were buried under massive amounts of arugula and feta drizzled with oil. A good amount of the arugula and feta fell of when separating the pizza slices, and when placed on our extremely small plates, tinier than the individual slices of pizza. (Read: I made a mess.) The crust had a good wood-oven crunch, but it wasn’t quite hot enough when it served. Overall, it had a good flavor, but didn’t make my short list for gourmet pizza options in the area. My three coworkers all enjoyed the Goodfellas pizza, but didn’t care for The White House – none of them were fans of the ricotta cheese, and they felt it was too far away from a traditional pizza taste. I’m curious what Kirios would have thought – he’s more adventurous when it comes to different flavors on his pizza!

Despite the mediocre meal, we did end on a high note, splitting a refreshing champagne-mango sorbet and a warm chocolate cake with gooey fudge and salted caramel gelato. The gelato also had something with a crunch at the bottom – not sure what it was, but I liked it! I won’t be rushing back to Graffiato. The prices were steep, but we didn’t sample any of the pastas or proteins, so I wouldn’t write the place off yet either. It was definitely a nice treat to go out and take a break from the office for a little bit. Big thanks to my awesome boss!

People, Parties, and Power: Wedding #2

In the epic conclusion of the people, parties, and power blogs, my cousin Stephanie gets married! Most people thought Tuesday (July 3rd) was an odd day of the week for a wedding, despite the holiday following it. However I was happy Stephanie and her now-husband Larry got married on the 3rd, because it meant I could make both weddings I was invited to that week.

I took off from work on Monday, exhausted from Sunday’s wedding festivities, and planning to leave for Wedding #2 in New York that afternoon. Since Kirios wasn’t at the Sunday evening wedding, he planned to work for half the day before we hit the road. Since it was 3+ days since Kirios’ family’s house lost power, he was still staying at my apartment. I was woken up by his alarm at 7am when he had to pay for his parking. Again at 7:30 when he got up to shower, and finally he pushed me out of bed at 8am to help make breakfast while he was getting ready for work. So much for sleeping in on my day off… (Although I normally wake up at 5:50am for work, so I still benefited.)

While Kirios was in the office, I showered, packed, and prepared lunch and snacks for us. Very slowly. Because I was still pretty exhausted. But by the time Kirios made it back to the apartment, I was doing better and ready to go. We had an uneventful drive up, making our way to my cousins’ building in Manhattan around 6pm. My parents had spent the day touring with my brother, sister-in-law, and Cousin Rebecca, and everyone was hanging out and waiting for us when we arrived. My parents left shortly after to get to their hotel in Long Island, and the rest of us went out for Kosher Chinese food. It was a real treat for me to have meat Chinese food and be able to share with everyone for a change! Kirios was happy to indulge in his favorite sesame chicken as usual. We all hung out at Rebecca’s apartment and called it a night relatively early.

Unfortunately, Tuesday morning was street cleaning for half of my cousins’ neighborhood. I got up with Kirios a little before 8am and made sure he had breakfast before he went to move my car. (I’m scared to drive in New York. And Kirios is the bestest boyfriend everrrr.) Rebecca also went out to move the car she and her sister borrowed from their parents to get to wedding on Long Island. Neither of them had any luck finding a spot, and they spent the next hour and a half circling and double parked around the neighborhood. I got a couple of quick phone calls from Kirios, “How far do you need to be from a hydrant in New York City?” and “where does Harlem start?” And while I waited for them to return, my sister-in-law woke up and kept me company. After a while, my brother joined us too.

Following the parking fiasco (Kirios ended up parking in almost the same spot he started in) Cousin Rebecca and my Sister-in-Law left to get manicures. I stayed behind with the boys since I had gotten my nails done on Saturday before the fancy party, although I cried to myself a little that my polish was already chipping. No one noticed except when I pointed it out. When the ladies returned, they brought back a New York pizza. It was a wonderful lunch. They certainly don’t make them quite like that anywhere else.

Following lunch, we left for Long Island and arrived at the hotel with less than an hour to get ready for the wedding. We arrived at the venue, the Woodbury Country Club, at 5:30 for pictures. The wedding didn’t officially start until 7, so there was a lot of time waiting around. But it ended up being very worthwhile because we able to get some really beautiful photos – pictures of my parents, my cousins, Kirios and I, and with my brother and sister-in-law, etc. The pictures also formally document my momentous decision to spend the summer as a blonde – something I anticipate my future children will laugh about. Although I think I pull it off rather well!

Kirios and I with my brother and sis-in-law!

Cousins 🙂

At seven, the bar and the smorgasbord opened. Kirios ordered me a tequila sunrise, a cocktail I always associate with my semester in Rome, and then we made a B-line for the food. You see, New York weddings take the cocktail hour way more seriously than any other city I’ve seen… There were stations with sushi, Mediterranean food, a carving table, vegetable crepes, veal Marsala, lemon chicken, and more. Wait staff was also walking around with other treats including sliders, cocktail wieners, and lamb chops with mint jelly. My mother is especially fond of lamb chops and when she heard they were making their way around, she harassed a waitress for about half an hour until another batch came out and were brought directly to her. My father, Kirios and I stayed in close proximity so we could enjoy them too! I should mention that in addition to gorging myself on this delectable kosher buffet, I caught up with some second cousins and the like, introducing them to Kirios, and I said hi to the girls I met at the bachelorette party the month before. But yes, it was mostly gorging.

Mom destroys a lamb chop

The sun set and my stomach filled, so it was time to for some marrying to happen. My family secured second-row seats and we were happy to witness Stephanie and Larry’s happy moment. At the conclusion of the ceremony, we made our way inside (air conditioning at last!) for the reception – dancing, speeches, and a 3+ course meal. (Because we were all starving… NOT). Stephanie and Larry danced to a romantic Israeli love song, and then everyone danced the hora. We had a salad and poached pear, followed by more dancing and a sorbet intermezzo served in miniature ice cream cones. I had a large steak with mashed potatoes and asparagus for dinner. Kirios ordered the salmon, brother ordered the chicken. We all danced some more. Finally the cake was cut, and in addition to large pieces of wedding cake, and dessert sampler was served with a chocolate cigar, a chocolate cake with a chocolate lava filling, a chocolate covered strawberry, and rainbow cake. The rainbow cake brought back memories; I loved eating it on my trips to New York as a little girl. But I can honestly say I was stuffed by the time we left the wedding. I wasn’t even disappointed that we stayed so long there was no more popcorn and candy left on our way out!

Despite our attempts to sleep in on Wednesday morning after the wedding, Kirios and I got up to attend brunch with the newlyweds and say our goodbyes to the relatives. We made a quick stop with Mom and Dad to stock up on New York bagels, and then we headed back home to Maryland. As we left, Kirios learned from his parents that their power was finally restored, five jam-packed days later. And thus concluded my whirlwind of seeing great people, celebrating at great parties, and appreciating power. I can’t say I was particularly delighted to be back at work Thursday morning, though.

Stephanie & Larry’s first dance!

Fancy party was a very fun and very late night. As mentioned in my last post, I slept until noon on Sunday, July 1st. My alarm was actually sent for 12:15, but my friend Jeff called at noon to coordinate carpool plans – our wonderful friends from college, Jackie and Andrew, were getting married!

I woke up at 12 and left to meet Jeff at 2:45, so my “morning” consisted of an epic bowl of cereal made by Kirios (would you like some cereal with your fruit?), showering, and debating whether to wear white shoes or silver. I wore a slinky pink dress which fell to my calves and I had a silver purse. I really love my white evening shoes that I bought for a wedding last summer, and they look nice with the pink dress. But I borrowed some shawls from my mother for the occasion and her new silver shawl is much prettier than the white one she’s had forever. In the end, Kirios promised to create an opportunity for me to wear my fancy white shoes later this summer, and I wore the silver ones. It turned out to be a good move… the white shoes would have stained from sinking into the dirt and grass at the venue!

The wedding took place at Stone Manor Country Club, north of Frederick, MD. It was only about an hour from my apartment, but I was concerned about driving around rural roads one the way home when it was dark and I was tired, so I made plans to carpool with Jeff. In light of the recent storms, I also didn’t know what to expect as far as road conditions (many homes were still without power, lights were still out, and there was debris on the side of the road everywhere). And then of course there’s the environment; +1 for carpooling. I met Jeff at his parents’ house and immediately felt like I was picking him up for prom. His parents, who I hadn’t seen in a while, were both waiting with him, and his mom insisted on taking our picture before we left. Disappointed that I didn’t get a corsage, I said goodbye to Jeff’s parents and we headed out in Jeff’s car.

 

With Jeff before the Wedding

We arrived at Stone Manor at four. It was a beautiful old mansion on a huge plot of land in the middle of nowhere. I could understand why Jackie and Andrew picked the site to get married. Unfortunately, it was also 100+ degrees and peak sun. We grabbed water and hors d’oeuvres, and headed into the (unairconditioned) mansion where Andrew was partaking in a groom’s tisch, when the groom is greeted and guests, shares a little Torah, and indulges in a few celebratory L’Chaim shots. Andrew signed the Ketuba, Jewish marriage contract, and then saw his bride. The building was pretty crowded with guests, so I spent most of the time hugging and posing for pictures with the rest of our college friends. Everyone looked so pretty!

By the time we made our way to the sit down for the reception, everyone was sweating. I felt bad for the gentlemen who were wearing three piece suits. We played and posed for more pictures with the paper fans placed on each chair. And then Andrew walked down the aisle escorted by his parents, who have invited us all into their homes many times for Shabbat dinners and their annual Sukkot  party. Jackie was a beautiful bride, and the ceremony was lovely. After the Sheva Brachot, seven blessings said during a Jewish wedding, Jackie’s aunt translated them into Spanish for her side of the family from Puerto Rico, which was really special.

The reception was in a large tent next to mansion. At first it was a relief to be covered from the sun, but as soon as the band – an energetic 12(?) person Latin band – began playing, and we started dancing the hora we knew that things were only getting hotter. I spent the rest of night poorly attempting the many different Latin dances with all of my college friends. Each dance partner was sweatier than the next. It was a fantastic celebration for a fantastic couple. Congrats!

The bride and groom!

When I last left off, it was Saturday June 30th. Kirios’ house had no power, my apartment did. And we had a lovely dinner with my cousin who lives in Gaithersburg and her parents who were visiting from Florida… If you’ve been following along, you’ll note that there haven’t been any parties yet. But now it’s Saturday night, so time to start!

Saturday night marked the much anticipated return of “Fancy Party,” an epic college tradition created and hosted by my friend Joel. I met Joel in the beginning of my time at the University of Maryland while at an event for freshmen in the business school – we were the only freshmen who attended. Lucky for us, there were other eager freshmen out there, and it didn’t take long before we had a good group of folks getting involved in activities at the Smith School, collaborating on group projects for class, and just hanging out. Sophomore year Joel and his roommates decided to throw a college party unlike any other – one with exclusively high quality liquor and beer. Ladies were encouraged to dress in cocktail attire; gentlemen were expected to wear jackets. Tuxedos and prom dresses weren’t discouraged. Fancy Party was born.

Over the past 3 ½ years since graduating, I’ve tried to keep in touch with my friends from B-school… I along with everyone else who is still in the DC metro area make an effort to attend young alumni events which generally lets us get together a couple of times a year. For everyone else, well, there’s Facebook stalking. When Joel decided it was time to resurrect the Fancy Party tradition, my college nostalgia kicked into full gear and I told Kirios to get excited. Actually, I told him so many times he problem doubted the affair could live up to the hype.

I picked out a black cocktail dress – the last from my dress shopping spree which I had yet to wear – and matched it with patent leather heels and my fresh manicure. Kirios was planning to wear his grey suit. He got a little freaked out about the 100 degree weather and went back and forth for a while. He ended up arriving in the suit, but never had the jacket on. His desire for a seersucker suit grew, to my dismay (although one party goer was rocking a seersucker bow tie and cumberbund). Looking spiffy, we brought along some crackers and two of my favorite cheeses I’ve tried with Kirios so far; creamy toscano with cracked pepper – we had it with espresso when we tried it in December – and a tasty cheese soaked in syrah. We had to keep it classy!

The party lived up to my expectations, and it was a real treat to see everyone, particularly a few friends who were visiting from out of town. Kirios had a great time too. At 11pm, shortly after we arrived, he downed his first five-hour energy drink. Those things scare me. A lot. I protested, and told him that I really didn’t want him to be awake five hours from now. I retracted my statement at 3:15am when I requested that he, my designated driver, embark on the 30 minute drive home. We went to sleep exactly five hours later at 4am. It still scares me though… Kirios also learned never to offer anyone a ride home without first asking where they lived. Thankfully, my friend from Philadelphia declined his offer.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that I slept until noon Sunday morning. I definitely needed to, because there were still more parties to come and people to see!

Thanks, Joel!

This past week has been a whirlwind of people, parties, and (for some, a lack of) power. In anticipation of a busy busy week, Kirios and I decided to relax at my apartment and watch a movie late Friday night. I noticed heat lightning outside my window, a common occurrence during summer heat waves. Then Kirios noticed that the flickering switched to inside – the power was going on and off. Within seconds of him pointing this out, a horrible storm ripped through my neighborhood and the rest of the DC metropolitan area. Kirios and I watched trees and dust blowing down the block from my window. The power went out and we grabbed our flashlights. I was lucky – it was restored moments later. Half of my block and almost everyone in the surrounding area did not get their power restored. Kirios’ family had no power from Friday night until Wednesday afternoon. During my two years in Silver Spring, multiple day power outages were quite commonplace, and I had a lot of sympathy for the powerless people sweating through our 100 degree heat wave.

Around half an hour after the storm passed, Kirios decided to drive home to pick up his glasses and some other things, since he hadn’t originally intended to stay at my apartment that night. His home is less than 2 miles from mine – none of the traffic lights were working. Entire trees and large branches riddled the road, frequently forcing people to drive in the lane of opposing traffic. A tree fell onto the roof of one house – the roof had completely caved in. Kirios’ close neighbors had a large tree fall in their yard, taking a mangled bundle of cables down with it. Miraculously, the tree did not harm their house. But they’re still without power and will have to pay a couple thousand dollars to remove it and repair their lines before the power company will help them.

Kirios’ Neighbor’s Home

Saturday morning was a strange one. While I had power, my cable and internet were down. We had a full day of plans, and tried to maintain some normalcy to our lives, but the whole area was disrupted. In the afternoon, Kirios and his dad brought over many of the perishable items in their refrigerator/freezer to store in mine. I went out to get a manicure. Until Saturday, I’ve only had 3 manicures in my life, but I figured with a cocktail party and two weddings, now was the time to splurge. I walked several powerless blocks where all of the businesses were closed, passing two nail salons. There were branches and debris everywhere, and multiple dead birds. That’s always an ominous sign. I knew my quest for a manicure wasn’t hopeless when I started to see people holding Starbucks cups. I reached a block with power – and a nail salon! An hour later I had partaken in conversations about open restaurants, waiting lists for generators, and where to donate spoiling food. I also had pretty nails.

When I returned to my apartment, I saw the full fridge, but Kirios was gone. I called to check in and see how he and his parents were doing, but he didn’t answer. Twice. I thought about driving over to his house to check on him, but then I realized if I did, I probably wouldn’t have phone reception either, which would make it hard for him or anyone else to check on me. So I stayed put. He knew where I was. Eventually he called me, but we kept getting cut off after a few seconds. He came back over shortly after anyway, I suspect he was using me for my air conditioning at that point!

I also checked in with my cousin who lives about 20 minutes from me. Her parents were visiting from Florida and we were all planning to get together for an early dinner. She lost power and her parents made reservations at a nearby Hilton. (Later Saturday I heard on the radio that every Marriott in the greater DC area was sold out.) My relatives were having a hard time finding restaurants that would answer the phone.

Kirios and I left to meet up with my relatives around 4:30, but before going to dinner we made a stop in Rockville to check on our friend’s house. He and his parents had spent the past week at the beach, and were returning home a day early having heard about the storm. As we approached his neighborhood, we saw the same signs of destruction. Downed trees, powerless traffic lights, and basketball hoops on the ground… I was nervous, not wanting to have to call back with bad news. Luckily his home seemed fine, at least from the outside. They didn’t have power, but they also didn’t have any damage.

We met my aunt, uncle, and cousin at California Pizza Kitchen in the mall. The mall was filled with people charging their phones, iPads, and computers at any and every outlet. Some people were just there cooling off. But if you didn’t know better, you’d have thought it was the week before Christmas. Kirios guessed that the mall was running on a back up generator – although it was air conditioned, it didn’t have the typical freezing temperature of the mall. Despite the craziness, we were able to have a nice meal with my family.

Next update to include parties and more people!