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Trying New Things : Challahbear

Archive for the ‘ Trying New Things ’ Category

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!

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Is it Friday yet?!?!

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

Santa Fe Finale – Day 3

After much delay, the final installment…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ringing in 2012

Traditionally, I’ve always been home in Pittsburgh with my family for New Years. My parents and their friends always take turns hosting a New Year’s Eve potluck, and in the past, all of the children would join as well. We’d spend the evening watching moving, playing board games, and casually working on puzzles. We’d turn on the television at least ten minutes before the ball dropped (and earlier once Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper began co-hosting for CNN) At the midnight hour, us “children” (let’s be honest… we haven’t been real youngsters for a while) would clang together pots and pans in the front yard. Everyone would enjoy aDixiecup full of champagne – except in 2007, when we each had one sip, enough to determine that the bottle was rancid – and we’d be making our way home by 12:15am. On ambitious years, some of us girls would rent extra movies and turn the evening into a sleepover. But these days we typically prefer to sleep in our own beds rather than pile sleeping bags into the basement. Growing up, I think we all knew that these New Years gatherings were “lame,” but we still enjoyed them anyway. And even though the kid’s generation has dispersed, we all still love those parties. No hype or drama, just good family, friends, and food.

My first foray into the world outside of our usual New Years microcosm was when I was a freshman in college. I traveled to Israel for a ten-day trip sponsored by Hillel for college students from across the country. Sylvester, as the Israelis call the secular New Year, fell on a Sunday. So 500 college students gathered to spend Shabbat together on an isolated kibbutz, and when the sunset, it was suddenly New Years Eve. There was no where to go except the party on the kibbutz, and there was plenty of alcohol. I knew students from my university, and students from my high school youth group, some of whom I hadn’t seen in a few years, and there were new friends from my trip. We danced, we drank, and we laughed. At midnight we counted down and toasted with champagne. It was definitely a fun night. But I’d be lying if I said a big part of me didn’t miss being at home in Pittsburgh for our usual festivities.

Since my trip abroad, I attended the rest of my New Year holidays inPittsburgh, until 2011. Last year I decided to celebrate with Kirios. We didn’t do a lot of planning for the evening. In fact, just about every night leading up to New Years was booked – we had a lot of friends visiting over their breaks and we were anxious to catch up with everyone and introduce each other to our friends from out of town. In the end, we decided that working and socializing that much was expensive and exhausting, so we made a fairly late decision to stay in for New Year’s Eve itself. We didn’t do anything too special; we just had some snacks and drinks and watched all of the hoopla on TV. At midnight I had my first “New Year’s kiss,” and then we both spent the next half hour on the phone with our friends and family wishing everyone a happy New Year.

Much like last year, Kirios and I didn’t feel like dropping a lot of money for cover at a bar or a fancy dinner or reception downtown, so we had decided to attend a big house party one of Kirios’ fraternity brothers was throwing in DC. I even purchased a new dress to wear. (Yes, it was my first New Year’s Eve wearing a dress…) It was a big crowd, a loud party, and a lot of new faces for me. Similar to the party on the Kibbutz, we danced, we drank, and we laughed. At midnight we counted down and toasted with champagne. And like last year, I welcomed in the New Year with a kiss!

I know there are a lot of fun nights and New Years celebrations still to come for me. And I imagine it will be less and less often that I spend the holiday with the same family and friends in Pittsburgh, as I plant roots for myself elsewhere and get closer to eventually starting a family of my own. But I know a part of me will always miss being at home in Pittsburgh for our usual festivities.

Player or Planner?

The other day I emailed a coworker of mine who has been out of the office on military leave for the army to wish her a merry Christmas. I was delighted to hear that she was actually home for the holidays, and she was interested in getting together for lunch with me and our boss next week. We both told her that we’ll be around the office and would love to do lunch, so she emailed writing, “Where would you like to go, Mike’s? Ok. Excellent choice. : )” Mike’s is a restaurant we’ve gone to together as a team before, kind of a far drive out Virginia. But it is one of her very favorite restaurants, so she offered to pick us up and drive us there.

My coworker’s restaurant selection reminded me of a conversation we had together back when Kirios and I first started dating. We had just gone on our second date – a trip to the National Portrait Gallery followed by dinner at Matchbox, a regional gourmet pizza chain which is one of his favorite restaurants (as it’s much more affordable than Zaytinya, his very favorite we went to for his birthday). I had a great time – we were planning more dates and emailing each other throughout the day at work, you could definitely say that I was smitten. But like most of us sensible ladies, I was trying hard not to get ahead of myself – not to let my guard down just to find out he was a notorious playboy, a million dollars in debt and addicted to shopping, a borderline alcoholic, or already three girls’ baby daddy.

At some point in this process, I did the inevitable, and began Facebook stalking him. For those of you that know Kirios, you know he loves to take pictures and post them on Facebook, so there was a lot to see and learn. I tried to limit my peeking – I’d rather learn by getting to know him in person. Plus, who really likes to see pictures of their love interests with other women? Of course, it’s not his fault he was with the wrong women – he didn’t know me yet, so he didn’t know what he was missing out on!

Despite this, I looking at his pictures with past dates and girlfriends did upset me – I found pictures of him at the same museum and the same restaurant with at least two ladies. I thought about our impromptu photo-session in the museum courtyard. The cocktail he ordered at the restaurant, no longer featured on their menu. A trap, a sham! All of it, the skeezeball! Here I am, thinking we had a really special date, and now I see these pictures and feel really dumb. Just another girl falling for the same trick he’s used a million times.

Incredibly discouraged, I went over to my coworker’s cubicle to complain. I filled her in on everything, looking for sympathy. But she gave me a lot more than just that – she gave me a completely different perspective on the situation. “Remember that restaurant we went to, Mike’s? It’s one of my favorite restaurants, and I’ve taken a lot of different guys there. It doesn’t mean that I think the guys are all the same, it’s just that I know we’ll enjoy our meal there!” Maybe Kirios wasn’t a lazy date-recycling player, and instead, just a guy hoping to ensure that a second date would turn into a third with an itinerary with which he felt confident and comfortable. The only way to find out would be to continue to get to know him. So with a still cautious skeptical and skeptical attitude, but much more optimism and encouragement, courtesy of my coworker, I continued to see Kirios.

As it turned out, on date number three Kirios decided he was feeling comfortable enough with me to quit playing it safe (I had planned our first date) and take me to a restaurant with very good reviews and that he had never been to before – and it was a disaster! The restaurant was in a neighborhood of DC that I wouldn’t walk alone in at night, in the basement of a house. When we got there, we learned that they only accept patrons with advance reservations, because they have all of 3 tables. And there was a cat sitting on one of the tables. I was horribly sketched out. No doubt they have excellent food, we’ll have to try it for real one day, but that was NOT going to be the night! I’m sure Kirios was pretty embarrassed by the debacle, and he worked hard to act cool while thinking on his feet and find a perfectly lovely plan B restaurant. I was ecstatic – this was a unique experience we had shared together, one which we’ve been laughing about ever since.

A Couple Odds & Ends

A few weeks ago I ran into a friend and she asked me how I liked the cheeses Kirios surprised me with for our semiversary. I’ve been meaning to report back, and appreciated the nudge! So I’ll give you a few follow-up tidbits to a couple of posts, and then I’ll let you know about the cheeses.

Holiday Parties – Remember when I told you that my office hadn’t even sent anything out about a holiday party yet? Last Thursday, an email was sent out gauging interest in a potluck for today – the Thursday before Christmas. Now, I’m actually leaving the office at noon to go to the doctor. But let me tell you, other than me, there are probably 3 people from our department who are here today. Unsurprisingly, a follow-up email went out saying there wasn’t enough interest to have a potluck. The original email also said we’ll be having a “New Year’s luncheon” in the second or third week of January. Yea… our manager totally forgot to have someone plan a holiday party. Epic office fail.

Meat Pizza – Apparently, completely distraught over the lack of lamb bacon from my trip to Koshermart, Kirios called the store the following day to see if it was now in stock. And it was! He was planning to surprise my brother, sister-in-law, and me with it last Wednesday, but when he had a 4pm meeting scheduled, he knew he wouldn’t have time to pick some up when he got home from work. So I took my sibs back out to Koshermart, and we were all able to enjoy a lamb bacon pizza in the end afterall. And I froze the beef fry strips so Kirios and I can enjoy them another time 🙂

Now the cheeses – overall, I’ve been enjoying all of the cheeses Kirios brought me. I’m sad that they’re mostly eaten by now, but also excited to go back out and buy more cheeses. I guess I’m hooked now!

The fontina was the “least scary” cheese. I’ve had it before, afterall, I studied inItaly! It’s salty and melts well, it’s easy to grate, and I especially like having it with pasta.

The comte, like the fontina, was relatively mild. It’s less salty than the fontina and has a nuttier flavor, in part due to its thick rind. I especially enjoy the comte in sandwiches.

The creamy toscano with espresso delighted Kirios and I both. It’s an incredibly flavorful cheese, that I would eat anywhere, anytime.  My only complaint is that the espresso shavings on the outside of the cheese get messy. But they do add to the flavor, Kirios is especially fond of pieces that include the espresso itself. It’s definitely a cheese I’ll be purchasing again. And since he liked it so much too, Kirios will complain less about the fact that I’m rebuying instead of trying something new 😛

The Spanish cheese tapas sampler with iberico, cabra al vino, and manchego was a nice snack to have with crackers and a bottle of wine. And it’s easy to serve, since the cheese is pre-sliced into wedges. While the first two cheeses tasted pretty similar to me, I do think the wine in the rind distinguished the cabra al vino. And the manchego had a fruitier taste than the other two. All three go nicely together.

Finally, there was the semi-scary looking wild blueberry vanilla chevre. Despite being a soft cheese, it’s not bad at all. I do like goat cheese, and get it on dishes at restaurants from time to time. But I’m still a bit at a loss as to what to do with it at home. This particular goat cheese tastes like yogurt with a thicker consistency.  I wouldn’t eat it at the same time as my other cheeses, since it’s sweet instead of salty. I think it would be really great on a bagel. (Although admittedly I haven’t bought any.) I’ve had it on toast as a morning snack, and when my brother and sister-in-law were visiting, they topped some homemade blueberry muffins with it. Overall, a nice cheese… but I still can’t help but think of cheese as a savory snack.

As for the other surprises, I’m almost out of chai powder, and we have yet to try the mulling spices, but are still looking forward to doing so this winter!

Meat Pizza

One of the main principles of keeping kosher is not to “cook a calf in its mother’s milk.” Simply put – don’t eat meat and dairy in the same meal. This is a tenant of kashrut that my parents brought me up to follow, and is pretty much second nature to me. I don’t make chicken parmigiana, I eat hamburgers instead of cheese burgers, and I frequently substitute butter for parve margarine. So when I was planning to cook Shabbat dinner for Kirios a month or two after we started dating, and he requested a meat pizza, I was taken aback.  Let me be clear – Kirios understood that I don’t mix meat and dairy, he requested a meat pizza without any cheese. But I refused immediately. It seemed absurd.

For me, pizza is by nature a dairy meal – bread, sauce, and cheese, plus any veggie toppings if I so desired. For Kirios though, his ideal pizza was inherently meat. Pepperoni, sausage, chicken… you name it; he loves it on his pizza. Sure, his pizza usually includes cheese as well, but he was willing to live without it for the night, declaring meat paramount. His argument seemed perfectly rational and logical – kosher meat, sauce, bread, and any veggies we choose. Why not? Still, it seemed so foreign and unnatural to me. “We still can’t do it. All of my pizza pans are dairy, I won’t cook meat on them,” I declared. I thought I had won, but my stubborn boyfriend persisted – he bought me a brand new pizza pan to be used for meat, instead of dairy. “This won’t be the only time I want to eat a homemade meat pizza with you,” he said confidently.

For that first meat pizza, I didn’t have time to make a special trip to the Kosher store, so I purchased kosher beef salami and turkey slices from the regular supermarket to top our pizza. It was a big success – Kirios’ point was valid: meat, sauce and bread; what’s not to like? I thought of it like a veggie burger – not a replacement for a hamburger, but a valid entrée in its own right. I wasn’t exactly ready to abandon cheese pizzas, but mixing things up with a meat pizza every once in a while didn’t sound like a bad idea either.

Kirios and I have made several homemade pizzas since. I’ve made special trips to the kosher store and we’ve experimented with different meat toppings: hard salami, turkey fry strips, beef fry strips, and spicy sausages. We even made a cheese pizza with Morningstar fake bacon (which features ridiculous neon coloring). One day we bought kosher lamb bacon, which triumphantly declared the best kosher substitute for regular pig bacon – although we had that top a salad instead of a pizza.

My family was especially interested in hearing about our meat pizzas – for them, like me, the idea of pizza with meat seemed unnatural to them. But they were also fascinated by the idea – understanding that it was a different but delicious pizza formula. Kirios and I will be making another meat pizza for dinner tomorrow night, to share with my brother and sister-in-law who are coming to visit. Unfortunately there was no lamb bacon at the Kosher store this week, but we’ll be topping our pizza with fresh veggies and basil, beef fry strips, and chorizo sausage.

Personally, meat pizza is more than a good story and a good meal to me. It’s representative of how Kirios and I have shaped our relationship. He is respectful of my traditions and observances, and I understand that he has differing views and preferences. We weren’t raised the same way, and it can be challenging, but it also keeps things interesting. And when we include each other and share our favorite things, our culture, and our traditions, it makes them even better. Anyone else hungry for Greek food now?

Pluck a Duck!

After months of anticipation, Kirios and I finally celebrated our second semiversary. (aka we’ve been together for a year and a half) The eighteen month mark was actually last Tuesday, but for many months we’ve discussed roasting a kosher duckling and cooking a feast to mark the occasion.

Cooking duck has become a somewhat sacred ritual in my family. For many many years we’ve cooked a peking duck feast with our family friends in Pittsburgh. Other than our two families, the only way to be invited to this oft-spoke of feast is to marry in. Since “the children” are now grown up (my friend from the other family now has 3 kids of her own!), it has been more difficult to gather each year for this meal. Since Kirios won’t be earning an invitation just yet anyway, we decided that cooking a (non-peking) duck together would be a wonderful treat to celebrate.

The 3.75 lb. duck was purchased from Shalom’s Kosher Mart in Silver Spring a week before our trip to Wisconsin. At $7.99/lb. I was glad to use a $20 for $10 Groupon I purchased months ago. On Thursday morning, I moved the duck from my freezer to my fridge to begin the thawing process. Friday morning I scoured the aisles of the Bethesda Row Giant gathering the rest of the groceries needed to prepare our feast. And Friday afternoon I unwrapped our baby bird, rinsed her off, and spent an hour plucking feathers to clean her up. (the kosher butchers never de-pluck poultry well!) She spent all night uncovered in the fridge, drying out so her skin would crisp in the oven. I rotated the duck every few hours (while I was awake) to make sure both sides aired out.

I was very relieved to be feeling better after my never-ending head cold; however Kirios, who had been feeling better for a few days before me, took a turn for the worse. This meant another antisocial weekend for us, staying indoors and watching multiple movies. But the duck was defrosting, so the meal must go on!

After much deliberation, we decided to make duck à l’orange, a classic French recipe. Kirios picked out a couple of recipes for the dish online, and I decided to combine them with the prep and roasting techniques we use for our peking ducks. So Saturday at 11:30 I brought to boil a stock pot full of water with a quarter cup or so of honey to boil. I dipped the duck into it, making sure the whole bird was immersed, and then removed it from the water. This helps break down the fat under the skin, and is one of a few techniques used for making the bird less greasy. (Some people prefer to slit the skin so it drips out while roasting… but I followed my Mom’s recommendation.) I patted the duck dry with paper towels, and set her to dry out in the fridge for another 4 hours, rotating it every hour.

By 3:30, Kirios had arrived, and I preheated the oven. Since Kirios was under the weather, he tried to maintain involvement in the cooking process from a distance. Since he loves to take pictures, he was more than happy to watch from the other side of his camera lens. I rubbed crushed black pepper, cumin, and coriander on the outside and inside of the duck. I then placed sprigs of fresh thyme and marjoram into the cavity, along with wedges of half a small onion and half an orange. The duck cooked like this for just over two hours, lowering and raising the oven temperature, and with Kirios occasionally flipping the bird over from its back to its breast.

While the duck roasted in the oven, we began preparing the orange sauce. For this we made syrup out of sugar, freshly squeezed orange juice, red wine vinegar, Cointreau (previously unopened, but purchased for my father’s bar mitzvah 40+ years ago) and orange zest. We combined the syrup with the duck drippings (and a bit of chicken stock to get the right volume) and a tablespoon of flour to thicken it up.

Kirios carved the duck, and before we knew it, we were enjoying our much anticipated feast. The duck was well cooked, and the sweet orange sauce complemented the rich duck flavor really well. While we both enjoyed the meal a lot, I think Kirios also enjoyed watching me eat. I was just so happy to be eating one of my absolute favorite things, and I was very proud to have successfully made the duck on my own.

I should also mention that I spent the rest of my morning and afternoon preparing side dishes. Along with the duck, we had a fresh salad, cauliflower sautéed in olive oil with garlic and breadcrumbs, and couscous with pine nuts. These were all fine dishes, but they were unnecessary – we were there for the headliner! And then there was a pumpkin pie for dessert. My mother convinced me to wait a while after dinner, allowing ourselves time to digest, and to make a dairy pie instead of a parve one. In the end, Kirios and I had small slices of pie as a snack while the duck was roasting, and I was way to full to think about dessert after dinner. Kirios has a second small piece of pie later in the night. Like the sides, the homemade pie was lovely to have, but for me, it was still all about the duck.

Now all of this blogging is making me hungry – leftovers for dinner tonight! 🙂