Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Up and down and back soon

So many ups and downs this week. For instance:

  • UP: Project Liberal Porn is going strong - we're done with Season 2!

  • DOWN: When I use my brain for anything but West Wing lately, all I can focus on is the absolute tragedycrime of the Gulf oil spill, and my heart hurts.

At any rate, while I finish up some work tonight (DOWN) I'm also packing (UP!). I leave tomorrow for a loooong weekend home in North Carolina to toast my bff Heather before her kidney donation and spoil my nephew Liam for his first birthday. So excited to get home, and for such good reasons, too.

My brain shall return, after some NC good cheer. Until then... happy holiday-ing!

Monday, May 24, 2010

One year later...

... so many more laughs

... so many more reasons to say 'I do'

... so many more reasons to celebrate

Happy first anniversary to us!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

New Mexico in DC

My weekend starts this afternoon, when two very special gals arrive at my doorstep.

Gal #1 is Mikaela, my graduate school partner in crime and one of the Ms. My first Mikaela experience was hiking with her in the Sandias for a planning project and stumbling upon a bear cub, high up in a tree. We cooed, then promptly froze on the trail as we heard Mama Bear munching on apples just below us. Eeeeek! We're too smart to get between Mama and her cub. We high-tailed it out of there and spent the next five years inseparable, with room for no one but our missing link Marjorie. So many laughs, so much goodness, so much toughness, so much growth. She's one of my favorite people on the planet, and she's coming to see me!

And who is Gal #2, you ask? It's Mikaela's daughter Umea!

Umea had the honor of being the youngest guest at our wedding, but is now a crazy-cute, walking and talking machine. By night's end I won't even believe she was this tiny at our wedding - just six weeks old!

How lucky am I to drag these ladies across the country two times in two years? I'm feeling pretty darn blessed, that's for sure, and so excited to meander around this city for a few days and see it with Mikaela's eyes. Future President Umea might have an observation or two as well.

Happy early weekend, folks!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Last night's dinner, in leftovers (with bonus contradiction recipe!)

The best tables almost always go unphotographed in my life. I'd love to take pictures all the time, but so often it doesn't happen. When I forget to step outside the moment and snap a shot, that's when life is at its best. And so it was last night: fun friends and family at the table, great wine, huge laughs, and a giant bowl right in the middle where we all lustily discarded our artichoke leaves. The bowl piled ever-higher, the wine kept coming, and the laughs got louder. Fantastic all around.

And so no photos from last night, when the food was fresh and bright and hot. I have leftover photos for you instead. Not of those artichokes, though... those beauties are long gone. (By the way, in the same spirit that makes mussels my perfect first date food, artichokes are my perfect table full of friends food. Discuss.)

Spring Green Risotto from Playing House

Amy's risotto is to-die-for, and perfect for this time of year. Fresh English peas and asparagus, cooked right at the height of the season... just perfection. I omitted the favas in her recipe because I had enough going on in my kitchen last night, but I'm sure they're a fantastic addition. You'll notice that my risotto is quite a bit more yellow than Amy's, and the reason is that I used vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. I do wish store-bought vegetable stocks weren't quite as bright. That said, my favorite is the 365 brand; while still vivid, it's not quite as glaring as some other brands.

Here's an experiment for you fellow Brussels freaks. This recipe isn't perfect, and you'd do well with a more sophisticated mandoline than my little Japanese wonder. I ended up using a lot more cheese and oil than called for - not sure if that's because of my shredding style or simply a matter of taste. I think I'll continue to play around with this dish - toasted walnut oil, perhaps? - and will report back. This is one of those 'better the day after' recipes, too. I'd love to hear what you do with it!

For those of you still sticking around through this random tour of leftovers... a recipe! A special one, in fact, because it celebrates my contradictions.

Fact A: I detest mayonnaise. Can't eat it out of a jar, hate mayo-laden salads, and have it removed from any sandwich I order.

Fact B: I will now present my amazingly delicious homemade mayonnaise recipe.

You don't believe me? I converted my sister-in-law last night. A fellow mayo-hater, she couldn't stop dunking her artichokes in this stuff. It's. So. Delicious. The bonus to making your own mayo, by the way? It's a hell of an arm workout!

So since we began with talk of a table full of love, let's end with one, too: Scott and Edna's.

Southern-with-a-Twist Mayonnaise
adapted from The Gift of Southern Cooking

My twist on Scott and Miss Lewis' Southern classic? I use olive oil. The combination of the robust oil with dried mustard makes this stuff irresistible. Really. This recipe makes a large bowl full - I usually cut it in half. It'll last for a week in the refrigerator.

1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups olive oil
1 tablespoon hot water

1. Put the vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and mustard into a bowl and whisk or stir until the salt and mustard are dissolved.
2. Add the egg yolks and beat until smooth.
3. Add the oil drop by drop at first, and then in a slow, steady stream, whisking or stirring constantly until all of the oil has been incorporated and you have a very thick emulsion.
4. Stir in the hot water until smooth.
5. Refrigerate - and rest your arms!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Eating alone

Remember that book that was making the rounds on food blogs a few months ago: What We Eat When We Eat Alone? If left to my own devices, I could happily dine on cheese and wine every night for dinner. If I was feeling crazy, I might do the occasional salad or pasta dish (wild, I tell you!). I used to make a damn good risotto late at night after community meetings, when I was feeling particularly in need of therapeutic stirring. But meat? Nah. When eating solo, I never bother. I'm happy that I now share my dinner hour/hours-if-we're-including-beverages with someone on a daily basis, of course. And T knows his way around a baguette and wheel of brie for dinner, too, so we do have that in common. My most bird-like single Maggie meals, though? Not really looked upon with affection by my dinner companion. This doesn't really concern me. See, with their weird place in my heart standing strong, I've simply moved them over to lunchtime.

When T met me, I was post-grad but still very much living the graduate school lifestyle. I lived in an adorably tiny adobe apartment in downtown Albuquerque, just a hop, skip, and a jump away from my partners in crime and all our favorite haunts. I chose to spend my money on wine for girls' nights (and fine, the occasional shoe purchase) rather than on balanced meals. Dinners usually revolved around the many and varied things I could do with a can of garbanzo beans. There are so very many things, you know. Although T makes fun of these meals today, ignorance was bliss back then. My $1 meals enabled me to hang out with him afterward and seem a little less like a pauper than I might have otherwise. Or so I thought.

I loved those meals and that time in my life. And so at least half the week, all these years later, I really love getting out a can of chick peas for lunch. Some days I eat them old school with just salt, pepper, and a spice of choice ("am I in a cayenne mood today or is it a smoked paprika kind of afternoon?"). Other days I dress up my bowl with fresh veggies and herbs, drizzled with my favorite jalapeno olive oil. Either way, it's a me meal. It's What I Eat When I Eat Alone, and I think I always will.

Tell me: what do you eat when you eat alone?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Peonies, tzatziki, and lamb

It was a gorgeous spring weekend here, full of gorgeous weather, gorgeous friends, and gorgeous food. I love those weekends that strike the perfect balance between relaxation and productivity. Relax too much, and that To Do list in the back of your head makes you feel lazy. Relax too little, and you spend the next week cursing yourself. Strike that perfect balance, and you feel like a genius. This weekend, we were geniuses.

Do you have peonies on your table right now? I hope so. This is the only time of year that you can buy a bouquet for the typical price of a single stem. These flowers are just stunning.

After a week of catching up on work and sleep post-vacation and lazily eating takeout, it felt great to get back in the kitchen again. We ate so well. It was a lamb feast weekend, which happened entirely by accident. To continue our theme, I'll call it accidental genius. Also genius: my great little garden growing up a storm outside, supplying us with all the fresh herbs we needed. 

Before we get to the lamb, we must begin with tzatziki. My quest for the perfect tzatziki began, in all places, in Vienna. We arrived there from Prague full of delicious beer and sausage and cheese. The Austrian specialty of schnitzel wasn't at all appealing to us, nor were the smoky restaurants that served Austrian food. We needed to detox from heavy food and from the smoke that had surrounded us since landing in Europe. We found what we needed in a tiny little Greek restaurant tucked away in an alley in Vienna. It was late and it was raining and we were dying for something fresh to eat. That Greek meal was everything we needed to jumpstart our senses. Fresh, green, clean, and served with the perfect tzatziki.

I've made tzatziki many times, but never using a preferred recipe. I usually peruse a few recipes, throw cucumbers and dill and Greek yogurt into a blender, and eat it all up. That flavor combination is never disappointing, but it was never perfect, either - usually too runny for my taste, with not enough punch. This tzatziki, though, in the unlikely locale of Austria, was perfect. I like a thick tzatziki, full of dill, with more than average garlic. I came back determined to recreate it. After a Friday night of tinkering and sipping on wine, I think I've got it. In fact, I made it again the next day and am sure of it. If you like tzatziki the way I like tzatziki, this recipe's for you.

Maggie's Perfect Tzatziki

1 cucumber
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (2% or whole) updated to note: I use whole
1.5 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 small cloves garlic, minced

1. Cut cucumber in half and scrape out seeds. Discard seeds.
2. Grate the cucumber into a small strainer that's placed inside a bowl. Add salt and let drain for 30 minutes, then squeeze dry.*
3. Mix together the yogurt, cucumber, dill, and garlic. Season with salt.
4. Try and leave enough time for the tzatziki to sit in your refrigerator a while before you serve it. The flavors come together really nicely if you give them a moment to get to know one another.
5. Serve with lamb, chicken, falafel, salad, pita - anything you please!

*I found that this manual technique helps release the water and gives the tzatziki a texture that I much prefer than when I've used a blender or food processor in the past.

Now what about the lamb? We actually cooked lamb two ways this weekend, thanks to Whole Foods' sale on boneless butterflied legs of lamb in addition to our hunger for moremoremore of that delicious tzatziki. In the photo above, you see lamb prepared very simply - simply oiled lightly with salt and pepper and a touch of dill before grilling. A huge thunderstorm rolled in as the meat was on the grill, so in the circumstances we actually overcooked it a tad, but it was still delicious. I mean, that tzatziki! You cannot go wrong! On Sunday we used a recipe from this month's Food & Wine, and it's absolutely going into our permanent rotation. We prepped the meat in the morning, went out for an afternoon of Open Houses and urban exploring, and cooked the lamb that night. Truly, truly amazing. Without further delay:

Greek-Style Leg of Lamb
Courtesy: Food & Wine Magazine

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove
2 dill sprigs
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, in one piece
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. In a blender, puree the oil, onion, garlic, dill, lemon juice, zest, and oregano.
2. In a baking dish, pour the marinade over the lamb and turn to coat.
3. Refrigerate for at least four hours.
4. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking.
5. Light a grill. Scrape off the marinade and season the lamb with salt and pepper.
6. Grill over moderate heat for 28 minutes, turning once, until medium-rare.
7. Transfer to a surface and let rest for 10 minutes.
8. Slice the lamb against the grain and serve with tzatziki.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Confessions of a reluctant ironer

I finally bought these sheets for the guest bed, which are perfect with the room and oh look!, also match the hand towels in the adjoining bathroom. I'd been stalking them for ages hoping to find something I liked just as much at a lower price point, but that never happened, so in anticipation of two fabulous houseguests arriving next weekend, I finally bit the bullet. Pearl embroidered sheets in red arrived yesterday, just perfect out of the package (and happily un-monogrammed, of course). Rejoice! Bedding problem solved!

I washed them, because that's what you do with new sheets before you put them on the bed. Only, when they came out of the dryer, their perfection was no more. The washed and dried sheet set looked like a pile of white garbage that had been left to die a painful death in a wind tunnel. Which I suppose sounds very much like a dryer, now that I think about it. But these sheets weren't just wrinkled, they were 90-year-old-smoker-with-a-tanning-bed-addiction wrinkled. What do I do with this?!

Does this mean... I'm not that kind of girl! Surely I don't have to...


Isn't that the stuff of Martha apprentices and brittle Wasps who have entire rooms devoted to storing their heirloom linens? But there I was:

Only, not so much, because the true ironer of the house quickly came to my assistance after being appalled at my ironing technique. He's a much more effective ironer than I am. Wearing crisp shirts to work every day instead of my current tank top and yoga pants will do that a person, I suppose.

Two refills of water in the iron later, the sheets look okay on the bed, but nothing like the crisp glory I'd imagined for the sight straight across from my work desk five days a week. Major bummer. This leads me to my next question:

Is this thing for real?

While I admit that a mere two days ago I would've scoffed at the very notion of this machine, even now, wrinkled sheets and all, I'd spend $2,000 on approximately two thousand items before even considering purchasing this thing.  And so I must ask:

1) Seriously... how do you get the wrinkles out of these damn sheets without having the previously noted "linen room" and a $2,000 ironing apparatus?

2) How do I ensure that I never, ever, ever fall in love with sheets again that turn out to be the bane of my not-even-anal-about-wrinkles-unlike-others-in-my-household existence?

3) $2,000? Seriously?

While we're on the hot topic of ironing, I will confess there was lots of ironing humor in play during our European vacay last week. See, by the time we met T's family in Ljubljana, our clothes looked and smelled exactly like they'd spent four days in rainy on the outside/smoky on the inside Prague and Vienna, with nary a hotel iron in sight. I quickly realized where T's ironing love comes from after his father was late to the first wedding event of the week due to his own fretful search for a hotel iron in Ljubljana (seriously - they don't exist in any city we stayed in, don't even bother asking). The group of us ended up setting off hotel heat sensors the next few days due to excessive shower steaming of our clothes, until my father-in-law broke down and found an iron in a Ljubljana department store, which promptly became the hottest item in town among all 34 wedding guests. ("I heard someone has an iron." "Go to the ninth floor, knock on room 907." "Really? Someone scored one?" "What can I do to get a piece of that iron?")

That said, any guesses what my gift to all the in-laws will be this Christmas?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Honoring Heather

We all have tried-and-true friends who make us proud. For some of these friends, we admire the way they have our backs without question. For others, it's the way they laugh out loud through the most difficult of times. For yet more, it's the way they see the world as a place bursting with interesting people and potential adventures... a world that even when it's crummy, is still a place of hope. My hometown best friend Heather makes me proud for all of these reasons, and always has.

Mutual love of barbecue makes it into the local paper!

Heather liking me even though I refuse to use a hairdryer. Summer of 1996, Outer Banks, NC

[College and Grad School Photos Contained on Dead Laptop and Unavailable... grrrrr]

 Wearing pale pink by force while Heather stuns in classic black. My sister's wedding, 2004 

 Upon realizing that the small stepping stone would not allow both sets of curvy hips to face the camera at once. Ten-year high school reunion, 2006.

Dozens of friends and family celebrated the new year together - as orchestrated by Heather, of course! New Year's Eve '06-'07

 There were better shots, but this one makes me laugh. Paparazzi photo from Vegas, celebrating Heather's 30th

My wedding, 2009

I'm writing about Heather today for a very particular reason. On top of all the reasons why I love Heather's place in my life, here's why I'm proud to be part of hers: On June 1, she's donating her kidney to her cousin Michael.

Last year at the age of 25, Michael was diagnosed with Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a type of kidney disease. He's been on dialysis and searching for a new kidney ever since. His immediate family was screened and ruled out as kidney donors, and Heather volunteered her services. After six months of testing, the doctors determined that Heather's kidney was indeed a match for her cousin. Heather being Heather, she said yes immediately.

After the kidney transplant, Michael will need to take expensive anti-rejection medicine the rest of his life. On top of the already steep medical bills that have accumulated as a result of his condition, the financial realities of what's ahead are humbling. Heather being Heather, giving her cousin one of her organs is only the beginning: she's also organizing a fundraiser on his behalf. As you might have gathered already, that's just the kind of person Heather is.

Interested in raising a glass with me in honor of these two courageous individuals, virtually or in person? Heather's got you covered. I'm thrilled to be at this event supporting my girl, and I'd love to see you!

If you're not in the area and would like to support Michael virtually, either through a donation or simply with kind words of support, you can do so at Support Michael Wall. The blog will help us follow the course of the surgery and track Michael's progress over time.

Heather will be on medical leave for a month after the surgery. Plenty of time to plan our fantasy trip to Paris, don't you think, Heather?

To friends, to family, and to doing the right thing: I'm so proud of you, Heather Love.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mission accomplished

I'm back in DC (take that, ash cloud!) and recovering from a truly amazing trip. In a quick review of the highlight reel, I give you the first song we heard during our trip, in a Prague cab. It's too easy to note how fitting it is, but, well... I'm easy.

Now here's one of the last images from the trip - the two people who brought us to this amazing corner of the world. Everything that happened in between will come, but for now - whew! What a trip.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Quotable: Barbara Kinsgolver

(Auto-published while I'm off galavanting in Europe ... thanks, technology!)

One of my all-time favorite authors. A woman of wisdom, this one.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Quotable: Alice Walker

(Auto-published while I'm off galavanting in Europe ... thanks, technology!)

A poem from our wedding ceremony. So suited to the two of us: independent to a fault, romantic but not naive, and above all, partners.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Quotable: Howard Zinn

(Auto-published while I'm off galavanting in Europe ... thanks, technology!)

Howard Zinn passed away this year. An evening in his honor was one of the first things I did as a DC resident, and with good reason. To know our country's history the way that he did - to know it, with all the hate and underbelly and lies that exist but are so often brushed away - and to still believe in it fervently, to have hope for what's next and to believe that tomorrow will be a better day... that's true inspiration.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Quotable: Molly Ivins

(Auto-published while I'm off galavanting in Europe ... thanks, technology!)

Oh, Molly. Miss Molly. I adore this woman. I read the columns, I have the books, I saw the one-woman show... complete fangirl over here, forever in mourning. I could write at length about the many and varied reasons I love Molly Ivins' work, the thousand and one ways I shouted "YES!" while reading her columns back in the day, the thousand times more I burst out laughing while holding the newspaper. There's all that, and there always will be. But here's succinct Molly, summing up in a quick riff everything I feel about something but always stumble over expressing. Her pieces on Dallas from the late '80s, by the way? Could've been written today.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Quotable: Mark Twain

(Auto-published while I'm off galavanting in Europe ... thanks, technology!)

My very favorite quote. To me, it speaks to the wonder of humanity, the interior worlds taking place inside of every single person we pass on the street, and the fact that nothing is ever how it looks. I like people. This is why.

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