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Being the Boss

I have a really awesome boss. He is super knowledgeable about what we do, having worked on the team for almost his entire career. He puts people first and doesn’t expect anyone to work nights or weekends unless there’s an extreme situation, even though he’s the first to check his e-mails on his days off. And as he nears closer and closer to retirement, he doesn’t give a damn about office politics. If he doesn’t agree with someone’s plan, he’ll be the first to say it. Because of this, not everyone loves my boss as much as I do, but almost everyone respects him.

For a little over a week at the end of September, my boss was on a well-deserved vacation at the beach. It’s rare for him to take more than a day or two off, and he certainly hasn’t done it since we grew from a team of two to a team of four earlier this year.  For the week plus that he was away, I became our pseudo team leader. Don’t get me wrong, I had no extra authority. But I was the go-to person on the team, and my manager (my boss’ boss, who is thankfully also great to work for) was not shy to seek me out. On my boss’ first day of vacation, I arrived at my cubicle to find the ever ominous “come see me,” note signed by my manager. Two hours later I sat down at my desk and turned on my computer. (And no, I wasn’t in trouble – just helping to put out other people’s fires!)

Naturally, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have my boss’ job, especially since he’s planning to retire in 2 years and won’t let anyone forget it! The week he was gone gave me a bit more of an idea as to what it can be like. Not surprisingly, it’s more stressful. I was interrupted a lot more when trying to do work (and when avoiding it!), I felt guiltier for taking time off for Jewish holidays and doctor’s appointments, and I juggled even more tasks than usual.

The experience wasn’t all bad though. I liked the increased sense of purpose while at work. I also liked delegating work to my teammates. I didn’t unload all of our work on them, but after meeting with our manager, I decided which projects needed to take priority, which required acceleration and meetings and which to let sit longer. It’s not like I’ve never delegated work or set priorities for teams before, in work and outside, but it felt a little different this time because I was expected to step up and do it. Not just because I’m well-organized and on top of our projects. Our office was asked to speak at an upcoming training conference; I spoke with the manager planning the event to identify topics of interest. I quickly realized another teammate of mine was best equipped to prepare the presentation. She set to work on the presentation, happy to have an interesting project. I was happy to know it was in good hands and there was one less thing I needed to do.

Perhaps the best part of my boss’ vacation was when he called to check in on us. I had just left the manager’s office when and my mind was filled with tasks to be done. When my boss called, he could sense there were work issues on my mind, that it was “one of those days.” So he asked what was happening and I calmly replied, “Nothing we can’t handle. Enjoy the rest of your vacation. And if nothing too difficult comes up, I’ll fill you in when you return.”

Playing boss had its ups and downs. There are difficult days and tough decisions to be made – I’m often grateful that my boss is around to take change. But it’s also good to know that if he’s not, I’m able to keep things running smoothly. And someday, I’ll be ready to be someone’s boss too.

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!

Beach Bums at Bethany

Less than a full week after returning from our Virginia getaway, Kirios and I repacked our overnight bags to join my best friend from and her boyfriend at Bethany Beach. Besty and I have been friends since my family first moved to Pittsburgh 20 years ago, and she and her boyfriend still live in the neighborhood we grew up in, so it was extra special to see them.

A few days before leaving for the beach, I emailed Besty to see if she had any plans in mind for the weekend so we could pack accordingly and properly be excited. She informed me that her boyfriend wanted to go to a black light party at Seacrets in OceanCity on Friday night, and other than that, they didn’t have any specific plans in mind. Kirios and I don’t spend a lot of time at the beach so neither of us had ever been to Seacrets, but everyone is always talking about it and they make it seem pretty fun, so we were game. Even if a black light party seems a little undergrad for this 25 year old.

Thursday morning, the day before we left, I casually mentioned to my boss (an overgrown hippy who’s my parents’ age) that I was going to the Delaware beaches. He asked where we would be going so I told him we were staying at Bethany and planning on going to Seacrets but didn’t have any other plans yet. “Seacrets?!?” he asked. “Well, everybody makes that mistake once.” My boss strolled down memory lane telling fond stories of weekends at Dewey Beach and one less fun day in Ocean City where he found himself at Seacrets with a bunch of “squares and jocks” or something like that. Then my boss called his youngest sister to tell her that his employee in her 20s was headed to Delaware for the weekend. I only heard half the conversation, but there was a lot of laughter and smiling. When he hung up, he presented me a weekend agenda – Friday happy hour at the Taco Toss at the Lighthouse; Saturday afternoon at Bottle & Cork, his favorite; followed by Saturday happy hour at the Starboard. I tried telling him my petite Jewish girl genes could never live up to his Irish ones for a weekend like that, but that I would pass along his suggestions. And then my boss was in an exceptionally wonderful mood for the rest of the day. True story.

Kirios and I got a somewhat late start on the road Friday afternoon, but once we got going we had a fairly uneventful drive up. We spent some time relaxing with Besty and Boyfriend and then the four of us went out to dinner at a Mexican place in Ocean City. There was a long wait, but it was gorgeous outside (significantly cooler than the July heat wave!) so we didn’t mind. An order of margaritas and some burritos later we made it to Seacrets. There was a reggae band playing when we came in. We made our way past that area to a not very crowded bar with people in the 40s. We passed that area and found a cover band playing to a densely populated dance floor. We hung out in the corner near the bar and avoided the dance floor where confetti was flying all over the place. We danced a bit and judged people’s outfits. I was disappointed that I wasn’t wearing anything with a cool black light glow. I was also disappointed at how unattractive everyone’s teeth look when they glow a weird yellow color. We weren’t super into the Seacrets scene, but that was probably because it was already pretty late by the time we got there. On another day, in another mood, I think we might have made “that mistake” again.

Saturday morning we slept in for a good long time. Then the four of us went to “downtown Bethany” and ordered crepes for breakfast. We also filled up a bucket of Fischer’s popcorn. Mmmm caramel peanuty popcorn. We took the crepes to go and enjoyed them back at the condo. By the time we were ready to head out to the beach it was already early afternoon. It was a cool day in the low 70s and we went to a private beach, so it was not crowded at all. We all sat and read for a while. It was very relaxing. Besty and I stood by the water with our feet in. It was cold, so we didn’t want to swim, but not so cold that I minded the water on my feet. Kirios and I went for a walk along the beach and he told me how much he despises sand. He also wouldn’t get his feet wet. It was a nice walk anyway though. At one point Besty and I filled up little water guns in the bathroom and sneak attacked Kirios and Boyfriend. We attempted to play keep it up with a beach ball, but the wind wasn’t cooperating. Kirios and Boyfriend fell asleep, Besty and I read some more. Then in the late afternoon we decided it was time to swim so we headed to the pool. Besty was a lifeguard and swimming instructor. She showed Kirios how to float since he claims to have forgotten. She also made me swim with my head underwater, which I hadn’t done in years and years – I usually like to wear my glasses in the pool so I can see and play.

After the pool, everyone went back to the condo to shower and change for the evening. I decided to take one of the beach cruiser bikes out for a quick test ride, since we were planning to go for a bike ride in the morning and was still a bit uneasy after my challenging bike ride the weekend before. Kirios watched me pedal around the parking lot and gave me some pointers on using the pedal breaks. It was a lot easier to use than the bikes in Virginia, especially since there wasn’t a hand break also to confuse me and everything was flat.

We had dinner at a Greek restaurant close to the condo. Kirios was super happy about having Greek food. We made some cocktails and then Kirios, our designated driver for the night, took us out to Dewey Beach to explore the bar scene my boss had raved about. We parked next to the Starboard and got out of our car. Three groups of ”older people” walked by us. Naturally, we got back into the car dismissing the bar as an old person hangout. We went to Bottle & Cork instead; a rock bar where everyone seemed to be drinking cheap cans of beer and then throwing them on the floor. There was a loud but decent cover band playing that Besty had seen perform in college. Kirios and I ran into a friend from the DC area, and we stayed out enjoying the music until the band finished playing for the night. I knew my boss would be proud.

Sunday was another late morning. We all went for a bike ride together. I was slow but did fine. I left my mom a message saying I did fine but I ran into a tree, but it was fine/not a big deal. I was stopping anyway and I didn’t get hurt or anything. It was just there, in front of me. Mom didn’t believe me, got nervous, and left a voicemail for Kirios asking if I was okay. Parents! We went out for lunch at The Cottage Café, which apparently Besty and Boyfriend go to every time they’re at the beach. And sadly, after lunch, Kirios and I returned home so we’d be ready for work in the morning. Besty and Boyfriend stayed at the beach for the rest of the week. Lucky friends!

Where Did August Go?

I bet I’m not the only one out there who’s still scratching their head wondering what happened to August, or the whole summer for that matter! School is back in session, football has started, and although I haven’t had either yet, discussions of pumpkin lattes and pumpkin beer are frequent. Hello autumn! Honestly, the fall is my favorite season and now that I’m not in school anymore, I’m not ashamed to admit it. This summer in particular was too hot to enjoy most outdoorsy seasonal celebrations. (Did I mention how sweaty those outdoor weddings were?!?) I’m hoping for a fabulous fall to make up for that. But I won’t complain about the summer too much, there were still a lot of great times.

If you’re curious what happened to Challahbear during August, the answer is a lot! I’ve been visited by my Mom and my Dad (separately – they had business trips on different weeks), and Kirios and I went away for three long weekends! Work has been busy too, and the weeknights have been a struggle to keep up with all the packing and unpacking, laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. It’s been a fun month, but it wouldn’t hurt to stay in one place for a little longer! I’ll be packing up again in just over a week to head home for Rosh HaShana, so I can’t say things will be calming down too much just yet. Oh well!

Here’s a recap of the first trip Kirios and I took to Wintergreen Mountain, VA. (True fact, I’ve been reading A Song of Ice and Fire, the first Game of Thrones Book, and wrote Winterfell the first time around. Oops.)

Kirios and I spent two nights at Wintergreen Mountain Resort in early August.  It was a little over three hours from where we live, and the temperature was much cooler up the mountain, thankfully!  We arrived Friday evening and visited Wild Wolf Brewery for live music and beer sampling. I was a big fan of their beer, even their hoppier brews went down smoothly with nice flavor.

The next morning we had breakfast outside on the porch before heading over to the Nelson County Farmers’ Market. We sampled cheese and fruit and jams. We decided to buy some jams, mostly because we found blackberry and hot pepper to be such a fun flavor. We also got crabapple jam and “bluebarb.” Kirios negotiated with the nice old man who sold it to us and was satisfied he was getting a good deal. Following the farmer’s market, we prepared large turkey sandwiches with lots of veggies for lunch, but not before trying more of our new jam. Then we went to the resort’s lake at the bottom of the mountain. We rented bikes by the lake and I had a bit of a meltdown…  I never really rode a bike as a kid and Kirios made it his mission to get me riding again over the past few summers. Because it was so hot this summer, we hadn’t had a chance to take our bikes out this year and I was quite nervous. To make matters worse, this bike had one hand break, but really stopped by pedaling backwards. I was only used to hand-breaks. Anyway, I screamed a lot going downhill, and struggled for the hour we had the bikes, but I did keep riding. It wasn’t my favorite part of the trip, but I’m glad I got back on the bike. At the very least, it made my other trips a bit easier! I rewarded myself by jumping into the lake for a swim. Kirios and I jumped on a huge lake trampoline which was fun, but super disorienting. He also climbed up an inflatable rock wall and then slid down it. It looked hard to pull yourself up and I was tired from the bike ride, so I cheered him on from below.

After the lake we attended a lovely wedding for Kirios’ friend and former coworker, the reason for our excursion in the first place. The ceremony on top of the mountain was beautiful and intimate. The reception was in a big tent by another brewery at the bottom of the mountain. There was a colorful sunset above the mountain during the cocktail hour. There were sentimental speeches, silly photo ops, and fun dancing. The evening ended with the bride and groom exiting through a line of guests holding sparklers.

When Sunday morning came around, we weren’t ready to end our trip just yet. We packed up the car and checked out of our room, but then we stopped at the resort’s mini golf course! After mini golf, we headed to Delfosse Vineyards for their French Crepe Day. Kirios and I love crepes, and I was especially excited to have found out about this event. I’d like to say doing research in advance pays off when planning a getaway, but this was a big disappointment. The vineyard was beautiful, I had high expectations. But the dining room/tasting area was madness. Our waitress ignored us most of the time, and gave Kirios mean looks from time to time. We ordered a cheese platter, two savory crepes, and one sweet crêpe for dessert. She was unable to accommodate our request to have the cheese first. While we enjoyed the cheese platter and it was quite large, it only featured cheeses available at Trader Joe’s. We had tried most of them before. It also looked like the fruit wasn’t washed.  Since we still needed to drive home, we shared one glass of wine. We prefer red and ordered the Cuvee Laurent. Neither of us liked it. Mom always complained about the Virginia wines. I guess we’ll have to try white next time. Although I wouldn’t mind skipping the VA wineries and heading straight for Napa Valley…  Anyway, the whole thing was a fiasco. But we were full when we left and satisfied that we had made the most of our weekend.

Besides, we had another trip waiting the following weekend!

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!

Olympic Bum No More

In case you’re wondering what I’ve been up to lately, I’ve been watching a lot of Olympic coverage.  It started July 27th with opening ceremonies. I hosted a Shabbat dinner for some friends. I served freshly baked raisin challah; roasted red pepper hummus; and Asian cabbage salad with ramen noodles, oranges, and almonds. For the main course we had St. Tropez Chicken (marinated with honey, wine, and herbs de Provence), egg noodles, and broccoli with garlic and breadcrumbs. As we finished eating, we moved closer to the television and watched the activities in London unfold. Then I served this peach pie.

Go Team USA!

By the end of the night I was feeling patriotic, well fed, and sleepy. That’s pretty much how I’ve felt most nights since. I’ve gone out to tasty restaurants, I’ve cooked good food, and I’ve woken up at midnight, once after 1am, to find myself on my futon with the TV still showing NBC.  The Olympics suck me in every time they come around. I admit, I prefer the winter games. My mother figure skated when she was young, and there was nothing I enjoyed more than watching Kristi Yamaguchi and friends compete for the gold. (Side note: Her commercial endorsing Romney makes me pretty sad.) But who can ignore the talents of the US swim team. Rooting for Michael Phelps has become a national pastime. The youngest US Olympian this year, 15-year-old Katie Ledecky, is from my neighborhood. She took gold. And then there’s the women’s gymnastics. The National Zoo has committed to naming its baby cheetah twins – one male and one female – after the winners of the 100 meter dash. I’ve seen synchronized diving, volleyball, heptathlon, cycling. The sport doesn’t matter – the spirit is infectious.

As I’ve watched the athletes accomplish great feats and find myself spending more and more time planted on my futon, I can’t help but feel like a bum. I spent 10 months training for and running two half marathons. It was grueling on my body, but I lost about 30 pounds and felt great. Since then, my knee has hurt whenever I run for more than 10 minutes and I haven’t exercised regularly. I walk fifteen minutes to and from the metro every day when I go to work and I walk up some extremely tall escalators, but it’s not exactly endurance training. Last summer Kirios and I made a big effort to go bike riding. We’d go out two or three times per week when our schedules allowed. I’m embarrassed to admit we haven’t even gone biking once this summer. Kirios has had additional evening commitments and quite frankly the extreme heat has kept us both indoors as much as possible. It’s been over 90 degrees almost every evening.

Fear not, I finally decided to do something about the situation. Last week I ordered an exercise bike online. It’s semi-recumbent and folds up to take up less space. It arrived on Thursday and I spent an hour assembling it on Friday afternoon. Full disclosure, I assembled the whole thing except for the handlebars. I couldn’t figure out how to get them to attach. Kirios put them on this morning and told me the screws went through the bottom, not the top. Oops. So for the past two days I’ve spent 30 minutes cycling while watching the Olympics. I may not deserve a medal for it, but it certainly makes me feel like less of a bum!

My New Bike

A Few Noteworthy Meals

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

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

Chicken Fajitas!

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

Our Whole Spread

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

Drinks and Appetizers!

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

Kirios and his Gyro Platter

Yemista, Stuffed Vegetables

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

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

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

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

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

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

People, Parties, and Power: Wedding #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cousins 🙂

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

Mom destroys a lamb chop

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

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

Stephanie & Larry’s first dance!

People, Parties, & Power: Wedding #1

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

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

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


With Jeff before the Wedding

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

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

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

The bride and groom!

People, Parties, and Power – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Joel!