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Food : Challahbear

Archive for the ‘ Food ’ Category

Last week I had a free cholesterol test taken at work as part of my employer’s a heart health initiative. My dad and Kirios both had their checked recently, and my mom pointed out that I’ve been eating a lot of cheese lately. They do not provide the results by phone, so when I went back to the clinic to get my results, the nurse and receptionist asked me if I was a vegetarian. “An itty bitty thing like you, you’ve got to put some meat on those bones.”

Something told me my results were atypical.  “No,” I said, “but I do have Crohn’s Disease.” The women both nodded before escorting me to a patient room for a consultation, where they showed me the test results indicating that my cholesterol levels were abnormally low. Most people would be glad to hear that they don’t have high cholesterol, but this was not news that I wanted to hear. I wanted, for once, to have a medical report telling me that I’m average.

My first thoughts were concerns about Crohn’s Disease – I’ve been feeling well, but is it possible that I’m suffering from malabsorption anyway? If my cholesterol is low, what else am I low on? Then of course I returned to my desk and googled – low cholesterol can be caused by Crohn’s Disease. It can cause anxiety and depression, and if pregnant, increases the change for a premature baby. Would I really worry less if I had higher cholesterol?

I called my mom to tell her, and I emailed my Dad. Then I told Kirios via gchat, and lightheartedly suggested he defrost steaks for dinner when he came home that evening. Next I emailed my doctors. None of them seemed concerned with the results. The PA who regularly administers my Crohn’s infusions agreed to do additional blood work during my next appointment to recheck my vitamin levels just in case.

Kirios surprised me by stopping at Koshermart on his way home from work. When I got home, he urged me to check the refrigerator to see what he bought. There was a package of beef short ribs and a package of kosher lamb bacon. There was also a new hunk of cheese from Trader Joe’s. He was serious about fattening me up! Or at the very least, he was serious about keeping me cheery, and distracting me from any anxious health thoughts.

“Are we having ribs instead of steak for dinner?” I asked with a smile on my face.

“That was the plan at first,” Kirios replied. “But then I stopped next door and picked these up.” He pulled two warm and massive laffa bread sandwiches out of the oven, one with falafel the other with schwarma. “We can have the short ribs tomorrow.”

Valentine’s Crepe Cake

When it came time to make plans for Valentine’s Day, we knew we wanted to skip a pricey prix-fixed evening out. Cooking something special together would be a nice treat. Before we moved in together, Kirios and I would frequently plan recipes to cook together on weekends. Now a days  cooking can sometimes feel like more of a chore that a treat – especially since I come home almost an hour and half later than I did with my last job. We still enjoy home cooked meals almost every night, but it’s hard not to be a tad tired and hungry in the evenings, or rushing around to do see friends on the weekends. Sometimes if Kirios has work to catch up on for a couple of hours during the weekend I will spend some time preparing fun dishes at a relaxing pace, or if I’m working from home I may throw something together and let is roast for a while.

 

A little over a year ago Kirios and I purchased a blue steel crêpe pan and a recipe book with pretty crêpe pictures. We like to make crepes together at home, but it’s a bit involved for a normal weeknight. We made crepes for Valentine’s Day last year which was a big hit. So this year we perused the recipe book and a recipe for a Savory Florentine Crepe caught my eye. Well – the picture did. The Florentine Crepe was actually more of a crêpe cake – crepes laid flat and piled on top of each other with savory filling in between each other. There were two different filling recipes – one with diced tomatoes, onions, and parmesan cheese; the other with spinach and heavy cream. We stacked nine herb crepes into a pie pan and alternated filling flavors for each layer. We cut “slices” of the creation like a cake. The result was a rich buttery dish with well-developed flavors. It was a tad difficult to slice when warm, but the refrigerated leftovers gave us no problems. Despite the challenge, the presentation of red and green layers was impressive and sophisticated. It looked just like the picture in the book, and tasted like a special occasion indulgence – mission accomplished.

 

The best part about our Valentine’s Day meal though, was not the food itself. It was the fact that Kirios was so proactive in preparing the food before I made it back from work. He has seen me struggle as I adjust to arriving home around 6:15 instead of before 5:00 in the past few months. He knows that I get stressed when there’s a lot to be done and it’s getting late. And he knows by the time I get home he’s already hungry. So Kirios prepared all the crepes before I arrived and was at work on the first filling by the time I arrived. He also washed some of the dishes while he was still preparing the food (something my Dad does obsessively). There was still plenty to do together, but we were able to eat at a reasonable hour and relax for a bit before cleaning up.  

 

Kirios has stepped up a lot since I switched jobs. He often starts on dinner while I’m still commuting, and he’s experimenting and learning to cook a greater variety of things on his own. He wasn’t slacking before, but I appreciate the help even more with my new routine. His thoughtfulness and initiative is something I’m thankful for year round.

Food Wine & Co Date Night

After going to Volt for his birthday, Kirios decided (and I didn’t protest) that he missed taking me out on the town for date nights. Especially since we started living together, we’ve spent a lot of time watching tv/movies together on the couch or hanging out with a group of friends, but neither of those activities count as dates! So we decided that a nice meal out – trying a new restaurant or repeating a GREAT one, was worth it about once a month or so.

In December, we went to Food Wine & Co, in Bethesda. Kirios had wanted to go for a while, especially since it’s so close by. When I first read the menu, I could tell why – it’s got all of his favorite things! I started things off with a wine. I ordered a flight board with 3 half glasses of red wine.  Kirios ordered a cocktail. For food, I had a hard time ordering, mostly because all the appetizers and sides sounded so good to me. We decided to start with the artisanal cheese plate, which included a yummy fig spread. My wines complimented the cheeses quite well.

For our main courses, I had the Bucatini Pasta with roasted butternut squash, sage, hazelnut, croutons, and brussel sprouts. It was creamy and hardy – perfect for a cold evening, and the hazelnuts gave it nice texture in addition to flavor. Kirios chose one of the specials – a duo of pork belly with a sweet potato purée and rockfish with sautéed kale. He ranted about the sweet potato purée, and I happily finished his well-prepared rockfish.

We did save room for dessert. Although it sounded like overkill, I took our attentive waiter’s suggestion and ordered the fried apple pie. It came with cinnamon spiced port, candied walnuts, and caramel ice cream. I’m a big apple pie fan, this was divine. Kirios was more dubious of the apple pie, so he hedged his bets by ordering a second dessert – molten chocolate cake with grand marnier, chocolate-covered almonds, cocoa streusel, and chocolate ice cream. It was tasty too, but I was pretty enamored with my fried pie.

After a meal like that, it’s safe to say that there will be many more date nights in our future!

Still Alive, Still Eating

I’m having a hard time adjusting to my new routine with the new job and keeping up with the blog lately. Mostly because I don’t get home until 6:30 these days, and I’m either running out of the door to meet up with friends or frantically trying to make something for dinner before passing out in front of the television for the rest of the night. Despite the fact that I’m still struggling a bit with the workplace transition, there have still been many blog worthy times I meant to write about.

In light of my work transition, it’s been important to me to keep up with my Postal friends lately. Leading up to my departure from the Postal Service, Kirios and I hosted my coworker and her boyfriend for a wine and cheese night. Kirios and I picked out four new cheeses at Whole Foods:

-Mitica caprichio de cabra pepper – tasted rich like goat cheese with hot red pepper on the outside

-Somerdale Wensleydale with Blueberries – sweet and desserty, but not a soft/spreadable cheese. I liked the blueberry flavor a lot, but it tasted better on sweet things than salty crackers. (we had variety pack of crackers which included some that were graham cracker style)

-Igor gorgonzola piccante mountain gorgonzola – a bit salty for me, but made for good variety, and the leftovers were great in salad!

-Rosemary and olive asiago – this was probably everyone’s favorite cheese of the night. The rosemary flavor shined, and while I wouldn’t say it was a particularly special or interesting cheese, it’s definitely the kind that you want to keep eating with crackers – very satisfying.

We also served some leftover smoked gouda and leftover toscano with ground black pepper. Yum!

More recently, two other Postal friends of mine came over for brunch. Kirios and I made pancakes with chocolate chips and nuts in them, and served pumpkin bread, fruits, challah with nutella, and chai tea.

I think I’m going to have to come up with some healthier ideas for keeping in touch my former colleague friends!

In addition to seeing Postal people, Kirios and I kept busy over the holidays. We attended eight holiday parties over the course of a month. I made Argentine Chimichurri bread with onions, parsley, cayenne pepper, and other spices for a potluck. It was a recipe from my dad that I found on my computer and I was a bit nervous about it. I’ve never thrown that many random ingredients into the bread machine before, but it ended up being pretty tasty and there weren’t any leftovers by the end of the night. I also made my dad’s chocolate bourbon tart recipe (but substituted the bourbon with Johnny Walker red label) for a party which was divine. It’s a chocolate tart crust with a dense fudgy filling. It was very rich, so despite being a big hit there were lots of leftovers – most of which the host and hostess were glad to keep. I’ll definitely be making that recipe again.

In addition to trying out recipes from my dad, Kirios’ parents taught me how to make some of their favorite Greek cookies over the holidays this year. We made kourabiedes and melomakaroma. Kourabiedes are my favorite of the cookies they make – almond butter cookies coated in rose water and powdered sugar, traditionally served at weddings. Melomakaroma are Kirios’ favorite cookies – first you make a simple cookie with flour, oil, orange juice/zest and spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, all-spice. Then you take your sugarless cookie and completely drench it in a warm spiced honey syrup and top it with crushed nuts, so in the end, it’s basically the cookie equivalent of baklava. It’s completely parve, and you can substitute out the honey for sugar making it vegan too. Plus, because of all of the syrup, the cookies stay good for a very long time. Next I’ll have to start learning how Kirios’ dad makes such delicious cakes… My parents are both great cooks, but that’s one thing they’ve never mastered. (My mom is famous for having hilariously bad outcomes when cooking cakes – she even exploded the pan once!)

Every month, the large Conservative synagogue in Washington DC hosts a Friday evening happy hour followed by Shabbat services for young professionals. I’ve attended fairly regularly for the past three plus years since graduating from college and seeking a Hillel alternative. The first time I went, I dragged my roommate who was still at student at University of Maryland to come out with me. We made some friends there, and convinced other friends to join us for future events. It usually draws somewhere around 200 people each month. An anonymous donor enabled to program to include free Shabbat dinner for a year, and now there’s a small fee if you stay for dinner.  Originally, I went each month to meet people. I wasn’t in college anymore, it was time to meet new friends. But after the first year, I wasn’t ashamed to admit that I go as often as I can to see my friends. It’s not that I’m opposed to meeting new people, but let’s be honest, a noisy crowded room with 200 people isn’t the best place to meet people, and it’s hard enough to get the friends that I do have together on a regular basis. Especially now that so many of my friends have moved to the Virginia suburbs while I remain the Maryland ones.

It’s not surprising that after a few years of attending we decided that we could do better than hanging out and celebrating Shabbat together once a month. So we formed a Shabbat club. It started with an email thread and a google spreadsheet. We have a core group of about 10 people and let the host or hostess decide if he or she would like to invite a few more. We meet the second Friday night of the month, and everything is potluck. Naturally, I made a plug for theme Shabbats, because who DOESN’T want a theme dinner party each month?!?

Our first Shabbat Club dinner was dairy “make your own burrito” night. Kirios and I made a fresh pico de gallo. Everyone made something yummy and we filled our plates to capacity. It was a resounding success. And then we had our second Shabbat club dinner, which Kirios and I hosted – Kosher (Meat) Indian theme. It exceeded my expectations by far. We made challah, garlic naan, and a delicious yet simple Chicken Korma recipe which uses coconut milk to create the thick, creamy sauce characteristic of Indian food. The recipe, found here –http://parttimecruisers.blogspot.com/2008/09/chicken-coconut-kurma.html was a great choice. And thanks to our friends, we had a full thali platter. Everyone else tried out new recipes – we had a cold cucumber peanut chili salad, spicy eggplant, a chickpea dish, and a spinach dish, plus fruit for dessert.

Indian Shabbat was followed by Shabbat club’s Channukah dinner last month. My friend made her spinach lasagna recipe I used to devour when we were roommates. There was kugel and salads, latkes, etc. Kirios and I made spinach latkes with a Greek yogurt and feta sauce – Jewish and Greek 😉 We all brought our menorahs and lit candles together. After dinner, we made cookies with dreidel and menorah cookie cutters and decorated them with sprinkles and icing. We also had a never-ending bracket-style dreidel match. I was beat badly in the championship round.

This Friday will be our fourth Shabbat club extravaganza – a football playoff tailgate themed feast with chili, challah-wrapped “pigs in a blanket,” corn bread, cole-slaw, and more. Plans are in the works for February’s make your own sushi dinner, and I’m confident that there are many more awesome meals together in the future.

Just when I was finally getting used to my new routine with Kirios as a roommate, I switched jobs. I left the Postal Service at the end of November and transferred to work as a contract specialist at another federal agency. It was exciting and sad. It’s a great opportunity for me, but I really did love my last job and many of the people with whom I worked. My first month on the new job has been a bit slow… you know how things play out around the holidays. It’s been a difficult transition to go from chatting with my coworker/friends in our cubicles to new faces of people working in offices with their doors closed. Additionally, I started a new compressed work schedule where I’ll be working 9 hour days most of the time in exchange for a Friday off every other week. I’m still trying to get used to coming home later and going to bed at a reasonable hour. I think it’ll be easier when the days are longer.

Anyhow, despite all of the transitioning, Kirios and I have continued to keep up with our busy social calendar and our foodie appetites, I just haven’t had much energy to reflect on our adventures and share them through the blog. But maybe I’ll make time to write up some of the highlights from the past two months. Here’s one to start things off…

Kirios and I ventured out to the DC Convention Center to attend the Metropolitan DC Cooking and Entertaining Show the first weekend in November. I’ve wanted to attend in the past, but the event is a bit pricey around $25 for general admission. And speaking of prices, if you want to see any of the presentations by celebrity chefs, it’ll cost you even more. Cookbook signings are more than that, and there are even VIP celebrity events if you’re willing to shell out around $500 per person. When I saw a living social deal for admission and entrance to a presentation by Tom Collichio and Gail Simmons and a second one by Giada de Laurentis for $30, I felt it was the right year to check it out. I also may have bribed Kirios to go with me – not because it wasn’t the type of event he would enjoy, but because it was the type of event which he would expect to be free.

We arrived at the cooking show about fifteen minutes before Tom and Gail’s presentation, and we found seats near a friend of ours who was also attending. It was a big theater area with most of the front rows reserved for people who paid extra, but compared to watching Top Chef episodes through the television I felt closer to them. Tom cooked a rabbit, which made me a little sad because bunnies should be hugged, not butchered. He actually stole the rabbit from two-time Top Chef contestant (and former executive chef of Kirios’ favorite Zaytinya) Mike Isabella’s kitchen at Graffiato, because the show was right after Superstorm Sandy hit and he couldn’t bring food with him from New York. Tom pan cooked the rabbit with basil, dates, and pistachios, with some earthy mushrooms and carrots. He told everyone they could replace the rabbit with a chicken or duck, but encouraged people to try rabbit. Gail made a cocktail basil ginger cocktail and a no-bake basil ice cream pie. Her crust was made from crushed ginger snaps mixed with candied ginger and dried pineapple. And she swirled the basil simple syrup from her cocktail into a container of ice cream before pouring it into the crust and refreezing. Tom and Gail weren’t allowed to provide any hints about the 10th season of Top Chef which started the following week, but they cheerfully answered questions about their favorite dishes from the show, shared family cooking memories, and provided advice to amateur chefs looking for meal suggestions.

After Tom and Gail, we sampled vendors’ products – mostly small companies making salsas, hot sauces, and baked goods. We tried sweet potato butter which tasted so good it would be problematic to own. We also saw our favorite local Greek olive oil salesman. Kirios and I had spent a long time talking with him at a Greek festival over the summer and purchased a bottle of blood orange olive oil for ourselves and lime olive oil for my parents at the festival. He appreciated hearing how much we love it, and that we use it on everything. (We’ve since ran out and refilled our bottle with the rosemary flavor.)

Giada’s presentation didn’t actually include her cooking. She had volunteers follow her instructions and prepare a shrimp bruschetta, lamb chops in barbecue sauce, and more. This freed up more of her time to answer questions. Regardless, the food sounded pretty good. She told the audience how her young daughter will eat anything that’s cooked in a muffin tin these days, and she frequently makes mac’n’cheese with veggies and chicken in muffin tins for dinner. She also gave advice on preparing large Thanksgiving dinners.

After Giada’s presentation ended, Kirios and I frantically went from booth to booth to visit the rest of the vendors before the show closed. We were moderately successful at that. But I was disappointed we didn’t have time to check out the recipe book store. Of course there are always other places to buy cookbooks. Overall, it was a fun day and I’m glad we attended. I’d go back again, but I’d probably wait a few more years before doing so.

Kirios’ Birthday Brunch

This year Kirios decided to surprise ME with a fancy meal out for HIS birthday. He refused to tell me where we were going, but told me it was fancy and somewhere I wanted to go. Obviously that meant it would be somewhere expensive… I was hoping that Kirios had scored coveted reservations to Rasika, the highly regarded Indian restaurant on the top of my “fancy/expensive places I’d like to go one day” list. (I believe I’ve mentioned that on this blog before). When Kirios asked me for when he should make the reservations, only a week or so prior to his birthday, I knew that wasn’t the case. Oh well, my birthday is only 4 months away! At that point, I had no clue where we were going and the possibilities seemed endless. A few days before, Kirios blocked off about an hour to travel to our restaurant on our calendar – this didn’t limit things too much, since Metro is quite unreliable over the weekends. But when Kirios said we wouldn’t be metroing into DC I had another guess as to where we’d be going.

Two days before our birthday date, Kirios said we needed to pick up a bottle of wine for his friend/colleague and his wife because we’d be visiting them in Frederick, MD after our meal – confirming my suspicions that we were headed to Volt. Volt is a fine-dining farm to table restaurant owned by its head chef Bryan Voltaggio. Bryan was the runner up on season six of Top Chef, my guilty TV watching pleasure. Bryan’s younger brother Michael beat him out to claim the Top Chef title that season in an exciting battle showcasing their differing culinary strengths. Obviously I’ve wanted to go to Volt ever since, but it had been extremely difficult to get a reservation for some time after all the TV hype, not to mention the $95 price tag for their seven course kitchen menu. Yes, even the vegetarian food is $95 per person. Luckily, Kirios made brunch reservations, allowing us to order from the much more reasonable $35 pre fixe menu.

Kirios and I arrived in Frederick early, anxious for our reservations. We walked around Market Street, downtown Frederick’s main drag, peering into the cute storefronts. Since it was significantly colder weather that day, we stopped in Café Nola, a coffeehouse/restaurant/bar, for a warm beverage. The café had a bustling brunch crowd of its own and looked like a nice spot to catch live music in the evenings. We split a soy “Ninja Turtle;” a latte with hazelnut, caramel, and chocolate. We were in an indulgent mood.

We walked back to Volt and admired its garden as we walked in. If only it were warmer out… Our table wasn’t ready yet, so we sat at the bar by in Lounge and ordered cocktails. Kirios probably ordered something strong and manly. I got a drink called “Airmail,” since, you know, I work for the Postal Service. It was flavorful, bubbly, and served in a champagne glass. We were seated by the window and given bread sticks with sea salt to munch on while we looked over the menu. After much deliberation we ordered. A waitress came around with a bread basket for us to pick a roll from. There were several which looked tasty, some with fresh herbs. Since it was brunch, I opted for a biscuit. Kirios had a sticky bun with pecans. Perhaps our biggest complaint of the whole meal was that the bread (and later the donuts) weren’t warm when served to us. They did however come with deliciously flavored butter. I don’t usually butter my bread but Kirios insisted I try it. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what flavor it was, perhaps lavender.

My first course was ravioli with sweet corn, green garlic, and chanterelle mushrooms. There was foam on the side of the plate – I wasn’t sure which ingredient was foamed, but it tasted good with everything else on the plate. It reminded me of Marcel, and old Top Chef cheftestant known for being unable to resist foaming at least on ingredient on every dish he served. Overall, the ravioli was tasty, but left me wanting more food. Kirios’ first course was salsify with apple, country ham, and hazelnut. I won’t pretend that we weren’t expecting some salsa-like dish, but we soon learned that salsify is in fact an edible root. Kirios went with it and dug in. Also served with our first course was an a la cart item Kirios ordered – maple glazed bacon donuts. Since they had bacon, I didn’t try any, but Kirios insisted they were the best donuts he’d ever have. (But should have been warm) He saved one to enjoy with each of his courses and was a happy birthday boy.

My entrée was rockfish with artichoke, maroon carrot, fennel, and basil. I was surprised and excited that rockfish, a local treasure, was featured on the menu. And it was cooked perfectly. The vegetables were simple, not to over shine the fish, simmering in broth next to the fish. The portion wasn’t large, but it was adequate for a fancy restaurant. Kirios ordered rabbit (which made me a little sad, since they’ve always been my favorite animals and I used to sleep with a bunny puppet/security blanket). His rabbit was served with maitake mushrooms, english peas, green garlic, and pearl onions. Kirios loved the mushrooms and claimed the onions were the best he’d ever had. (Kirios is not an onion fan, and the onions weren’t listed as an ingredient when he ordered the dish.) Unfortunately he was unimpressed with the rabbit itself which evidently just tasted like chicken.

I would feel bad for Kirios being let down by the rabbit dish, but he had another maple bacon donut and perked back up quickly. Before our last course, a waiter brought out a dish of orange flavored liquid nitrogen ice cream and orange dark chocolate shavings with a candle to wish him a happy birthday. Interestingly enough, this is exactly the flavors and type of dessert I’ve enjoyed with Kirios and his dad in the past, just a bit fancier. I knew he was enjoying it.

Finally it was time for our last course. We shared one cheese plate and one sweet dessert. The cheese plate featured five domestically produced cheeses; one cheddar, one Parmesan style, one blue cheese, one Camembert style, and one brie style. The cheeses were served with walnut raisin toast. Our sweet dessert dish was raspberry sorbet and fresh raspberries with vanilla ice cream, frozen shortbread, and basil granite. It was quite tasty. Kirios had a double espresso to finish the meal, and added the final crumbs from his maple bacon glazed donuts to his cup. Our check came out with mini coffee cakes packaged up to go – a perfect tea time snack.

Kirios and I walked .2 miles from the restaurant to visit our friends. We shared the coffee cake with them – I had a slice. I didn’t eat for the rest of the day.

Happy 26th birthday, Kirios! Here’s to many more tasty birthday celebrations!

Will Travel for Cheese

The last trip Kirios and I made in August (although most of the trip was September) was to visit friends in Madison, Wisconsin. This was Kirios’ third trip to the area and my second. We had been there eleven months earlier in November and were looking forward to warmer weather. Unfortunately, it was too warm – temperatures were in the 90s most of the week. It was even hotter than DC! Despite the weather, we had a really nice trip.

We flew direct to Madison’s small airport on Friday afternoon and relaxed for a bit before dinner at Bomber’s. At Bombers, our server sat us and told us that at “P-Nut Bomb” would be sent. She shouted “R2D2,” and an employee behind the bar sent a “bomb” painted like R2D2 flying across the ceiling. It hit a bull’s-eye near us and proceeded to dump peanuts out from inside it. Some landed in a metal bowl which was brought to our table. Others sprayed across the floor and stayed there. In addition to the peanuts, we started off with an order of fried cheese curds with a chipotle ranch dip. The cheese curds were tasty, lighter than those at The Old Fashioned, which we had previously dined at specifically for their cheese curds. We especially enjoyed the chipotle flavor in the dip. The dip tasted a little too good, we even double checked that there was no meat in it! For dinner, I had the Stuffed ‘Shroom – a crispy fried portobello stuffed with cheddar and muenster cheese (and lots of it), along with lettuce, tomato, and the signature “Bomber Sauce.” It tasted like the ‘shroom burger Spike Mendelsohn serves at Good Stuff Eatery, but oozed with extra cheese. Wisconsin style, I guess! Kirios had the Mad Sconnie Burger which actually had bacon blended into the patty along with fried pickle slices on a spicy cheese bread roll (see below for more on the roll). He was a pretty happy camper.

Following dinner we strolled over to the University of Wisconsin Student Union and enjoyed popcorn and a pitcher on the terrace (the Badgers are big on their beer gardens!). When I told my mother we were going to the Student Union, she suggested we were a bit old to be hanging out there. But in fact, it seemed like there were just as many parents as there were students enjoying the beverages, beautiful weather, and sunset over the water. There was a reggae concert but it didn’t start until 9pm (which was 10pm in my normal time zone!) so we left as it was beginning.

Saturday was a lazy day for all of us. We were originally planning to kayak on Lake Monona, but we were wimpy and liked the idea of canoeing more than being strapped in to a kayak that would inevitably flip over. There weren’t any canoes available, so we bummed around the house for a while before heading into town. We checked out a used bike sale and then looked for treats at the local food co-op. Kirios and I bought a large spicy cheese bread and had almost half of it in one sitting. This stuff is legendary around Madison and there’s always a long line for it at the Saturday farmer’s market. We visited the farmer’s market during our last trip to the area, but they were already sold out of the good bread by the time we reached the Stella’s Bakery booth. This year we even stocked up, bringing a loaf back to Maryland with us, chilling out in my freezer as we speak!

After eating at the co-op we went for a drive and found ourselves at the Madison arboretum. We didn’t spend long there, but by the time we left we were in the mood for a bike ride (everyone is always biking in Madison). We signed up for a 24 hour pass for Madison’s bike share program B-Cycle and drove over to a bike station next to a 20 mile bike loop. When we got there, we saw a free promo code for the 24 hour passes… Too late for that though. B-Cycle offers 30 min rentals and then charges additional money for extra time beyond that. We planned to bike for just under an hour, which would be an additional $2 charge. The trail was lovely and there was even a scenic field we stopped to take pictures at before turning around. (I’m way too slow to attempt the whole 20 mile loop!) We didn’t account for picture-taking time though so we hurried back to compensate and prevent an additional automatic $5.00 charge for our bike rentals. The sign on the handlebars which said “Tick tock you’re on the clock” didn’t make us feel better either. We made it back before the hour was up, but decided that the bike share program wasn’t a great solution for a leisurely ride.

Saturday evening we had dinner at Ha Long Bay which serves Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian food. Mostly we needed to detox from excessive amounts of Wisconsin cheese, and this did the trick. I ordered crispy fried noodles, veggies, and tofu like I get at our favorite Vietnamese place in Pittsburgh. I still ate too much, but I didn’t need any lactaid pills!

We biked to downtown Madison on Sunday morning taking advantage of our 24 hour passes. It was a scorching hot day already and unlike the bike trail we were riding on streets and sidewalks with hills and bumps for which the 3-gear B-Cycle bikes weren’t ideal. By the time we returned our bikes, I was exhausted and ready to walk. I’m still a pretty new biker and I thought I did pretty well by riding three different bikes during our three different trips in August!

When we got to downtown Madison, it was filled with people for the Taste of Madison event in Capitol Square. There were four long blocks of food vendors and three stages with different themed live music lineups. Kirios and I cooled off with locally brewed beer. Our friends had at least 3 different smoothie/ices treats. We headed to The Old Fashioned’s booth for the best cheese curds in town while looking at the other options around us. We ended up making a full circle before purchasing more food, making frequent trips into the capitol building to refill our water bottles, use the restroom, and cool off. Kirios had a slider with friend onions. I had a really tasty Indian corn fritter served with rice. One of our friends and I ventured over to the “Melted: An Urban Grilled Cheese Shop” booth. (This won’t shock anyone who knew me growing up.) The shop is scheduled to open in Madison this month and won a blue ribbon at Taste of Madison. And that’s how we wound up in a 30 minute and growing line for half a grilled cheese sandwich. The line was so big people decided to join just to see what it was all about. It was a combination of buzz and inefficient serving practices. I got the “American Caprese” sandwich with cheddar and cream cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and green pepper. The jalapeño cheddar also sounded like a good option. My sandwich was pretty tasty. The sun-dried tomatoes provided a nice flavor, but there weren’t enough of them to take away from the buttery bread or creamy cheese. I was disappointed though overall – the veggie empanada I planned to try next was sold out by the time we got out of the grilled cheese line. It also wasn’t enough food to justify spending $4.00. Plus it was still incredibly hot outside. Our friends rode their bikes back home, leaving Kirios and I at the event for a while longer before they picked us up. Kirios made a B-line for the chocolate covered bacon on a stick. I opted for some Wisconsin-made ice cream to get over my empanada-less disappointments. Kirios was glad to help me attack my duo of flavors. He noted that while I shared with him, I was pretty focused on my solo enjoyment of the ice cream. Oops.

Monday, Labor Day, we drove to Beloit,WI to visit our hostess/friend’s mom. We took the scenic route there and it was interesting to drive through the small towns. It was also incredibly telling and sad to see the short brown cornfields which suffered from this summer’s oppressive heat waves. These are not things that Kirios and I see everyday living in the densely populated D.C. metro area. Once in Beloit, we went for a walk in the woods at the property. We cooled off with snacks and drinks and we had a lot of fun topping our own pizzas. Kirios was particularly proud of his pizza mountain with layers upon layers of toppings.

Tuesday we returned home to Maryland with spicy cheese bread and a bag of cheese curds after almost 3 hours of flight delays. We were tired from all of our traveling adventures and looking forward to the arrival of cooler autumn weather. And of course, we were very thankful for our wonderful friends for having us and making it such an enjoyable trip!

P.S. Miss the pictures? Me too. Tell Kirios to hurry up and upload some!

Business Visits

My mother has been a permanent telecommuter ever since our family moved from Baltimore to Pittsburgh when I was five. At some point earlier in our relationship, Kirios asked why my mother didn’t come visit me more frequently and just work from my apartment during the day so we could see each other more often. It seemed like a reasonable question – if you can’t walk into a coffee shop without seeing someone camped out with their laptop barking on a conference call or number crunching while rocking out to his or her iPod, why wouldn’t she take over my living room every once in a while?

I explained to him that my mother started working from home in the early 90s and it was a completely different deal than what you see with teleworkers today. Mom’s company ships her desktops and reimburses her for a land-line phone number.  For several years a Fed-Ex delivery woman stopped by our house every morning during the week to drop off packages for my mom – lengthy reports printed on reams of paper, sometimes CDs. Every afternoon Tom, another Fed-Ex delivery person, would come to pick up packages going out. One day we gave Tom a peach fresh from Georgia, another time we gave him a coveted box of Girl Scout cookies. I remember when we had a replacement package picker-upper while Tom was on his honeymoon. Over time, the pick-ups and deliveries slowed down. I didn’t completely understand back then, but it’s pretty obvious now as an adult who works for the Postal Service… Mom’s company was just starting to use e-mail when we first moved to Pittsburgh and she could hardly send attachments. Over the years, that all changed.

Fast forward to present day – my mother recently finished working on a multi-year government contract and was assigned on a new project based in Washington DC. Mom needed to meet with her new team and customer to kick-off the project. She opted to stay with me, her one and only daughter, rather than at a hotel. She drove up on a Monday afternoon and arrived just in time for dinner. We ordered a pizza. Afterwards we watched a movie on Netflix. Mom checked her work email online from her personal laptop. We both scrolled Facebook and looked at people’s pictures over each other’s shoulders. In the morning, Mom walked to the Metro with me and I helped her buy a farecard. (I know, she really needs a SmarTrip, but they don’t sell them at my station.) I reminded her to stand on right and walk on the left for the escalators, and hurried her off the train at her stop. I continued on to work and Mom grabbed a coffee, her meeting didn’t start until later in the morning, and I arrive at work at 8:00. An hour later, she called to ask for directions to her meeting location. She had printed out walking instructions from the Metro station, but got disoriented and confused by the street numbers. I checked Google Maps, and she made it to her meeting location.

Early that evening I met Mom downtown. We had a delicious dinner at Founding Farmers (It was near her customer’s office and it’s so yummy there I had to take her) and Mom told me that for this project, they wanted her on site weekly meetings for the next month. Suddenly, Mom was transformed into a 21st century contractor. She ordered a company laptop and began wondering if it was time to upgrade to a smart phone (no progress on that yet – she doesn’t even text.) Next she wondered about transportation. Driving to the DC area and back to Pittsburgh over the course of 36 hours is a bit much for her to do on a regular basis. Her company prepared to book $400 roundtrip flights. She suggested taking Megabus instead, which costs a whopping $21 roundtrip.

Mom has now become a master at her new exhausting routine. She drinks less coffee and limits her water on Megabus days and eats salty snacks to ensure she doesn’t need to use the bus’ facilities. She squeezes everything she travels with into a roller laptop bag and a back pack, and she event metros between my apartment and the city on her own.

Having mom in town about once a week has kept me busy entertaining her in the evenings and doing extra laundry with her linens. I’ve also been able to show Mom my new purchases, like my exercise bike and the new pair of shoes that I bought last weekend. And it’s led to some fun dinners out. (You knew I couldn’t resist talking about food for the whole post!) During her last visit, she took Kirios and I to Red Tomato Cafe. We were particularly impressed with their Panzanella Salad of roasted fennel and tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, fresh oregano, Parmesan, and  croutons will olive oil, pesto, and balsamic as well as their interesting preparation of homemade gnocchi in a cream sauce with candied walnuts, grapes, and Parmesan. For dessert, Kirios made his homemade crepes, which we filled with caramelized figs, pomegranate seeds, and our new blueberry balsamic. This week Mom and I had dinner with my cousin in Rockville at La Tasca, sampling a lot of their tapas dishes.

Mom is returning home tonight after her latest trip and, and has two weeks at home before she returns. I can’t say I’ll have too much time to miss her – my dad will be in town for 3 nights next week and I have my own business travel the following week. She’ll be back before I know it!

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!