Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday I'm in Love

More snow falling outside right now.... wheeeeeeeeeeee! Other than that, just putting in an offer on a house tonight, no big deal. !!!!! Time will tell. Here's what I've got this week:

Brunette Belgian Praline Spread

Last Sunday we had a light lunch at Le Pain Quotidien and went to an Open House, all the while talking about the jar of deliciously nutty, chocolaty spread that had been on our table at lunch, served with fresh bread. Before long, we were circling back to Le Pain Quotidien to buy a jar to take home with us, along with a walnut boule. This is that spread. It's called Brunette, and slathering it onto warm bread while sipping coffee turns a regular morning into something absolutely decadent. I want to say it blows Nutella away, but this great post by a local blogger has led me to believe that I've never tasted true Italian Nutella. I believe a taste-off is in order...

The Decemberists: The King is Dead

 I have a love-hate relationship with the Decemberists. I adored their '05 album Picaresque. I adored the single "O Valencia!" from the following album. But I actively disliked everything else they touched, for the next five years. That's a lot of songs and a lot of longwinded nerd mythologies to hate. Until now. The King is Dead is their new album, and it breathes new life into the Decemberists catalog for me. It's earthy and warm, gutsy and folksy, full of life and sound. It features Gillian Welch and REM's Peter Buck. Fewer pirate references, more Americana singalongs. Fewer allegories, more relatable moments. This is my kinda album. And I can't stop playing it.

Book-Printed Wallpaper

As I write this I'm staring at the wall in the home office/guest bedroom, which is completely lined with bookcases, which are spilling over with books. Trying to create the look of too many books is not a problem for me. But if it were, or if I decided the perfect accent in my perfect kitchen would be the look of books minus the flammable/keeping-them-clean concerns, I would own this wallpaper. And I would love it. Thanks, Remodelista - your post showcasing book-printed wallpaper made my dreamy morning eating Brunette, listening to the Decemberists, and watching the snow outside a little bit dreamier.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What the snow reminded me

And then, finally, there was snow. Not as much as predicted, but full-on snow, at last. In the midst of record white stuff all over the country, DC has had nothing but pretty dustings this year. This is just fine with the city; we got our fill last year, if you remember. Which is exactly what I was doing last night.

My sisters-in-law were visiting, and in the height of the storm the four of us walked back to our apartment from a neighborhood restaurant. We were tromping through the snow, barely able to see, tightening hoods and lowering hats, slipping and laughing at the absurdity of the mess everywhere, and for me anyway, having a full-circle moment.

Our anniversary as DC residents is in 11 days. We've been here just short of a year, just short of all sorts of snowy havoc. We're going through life right now obsessed with our real estate conundrum, feeling a bit lost, a bit untethered to anything resembling a concrete plan. Our "it'll be okay" gut feelings are leading us, but those gray hairs I mentioned are proof that the stress is taking its toll. I was thinking how strange this feeling of not knowing is for us, but then I remembered life fourteen months ago, when we were looking for jobs and a new life and a new city, sure somehow it would work out but not all sure how.

It did work out, beautifully. Here we are, in our first choice city. A city that has four true seasons, just like we wanted, including a winter that brings us snow. A city close enough to our families that we see them regularly, including T's sisters, who I love as if they were my own. In so many ways, we've made it. In the context of how big and full our lives are, whether or not we rent or own this spring is really just a tiny subchapter.

And so with heavy, wet snow pummeling my face, I reminded myself: we've already made it. Life is great. And maybe, just maybe, next week we'll make it even further.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

This is what it looks like

This is what emotional fuel looks like.

A batch of breakfast burritos made this weekend, as sustenance for Open Houses ahead.


This is what thoughts of warmer weather look like.

Because after a weekend freezing your ass off, every springy thought counts.


This is what shame looks like.

When months fly by without exercise, nothing quite does the trick like a Workout Calendar of Shame posted on your front door. No more denial.


This is what trying to buy a home in DC looks like.

So... the whole "we might be homeless in six weeks" thing. It's, you know, a tad bit stressful. We lost out on renting the purple house, which the owners had led us to believe they'd be ready to sell to us in a year. (We also wasted a lot of time chasing this scenario, as you might imagine.) This weekend we found another place we love that's priced below market value, then discovered that it's priced so well because it's being sold closed/silent auction style, where offers will be taken for two weeks then all opened at once - with the highest winning, no questions asked or negotiation offered. Despite this craziness, we were actually feeling optimistic. Then last night, a local agent told us that it will probably go for $70,000 higher than the list price, no contingencies. Which sort of means that even putting in an offer is just an exercise in futility. Yeah. Moving on...

So how 'bout them community-owned, sexual predator-free Packers?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday I'm in Love

So.... this week kind of flew by over here! I blame work travel/work meetings/real estate stress/fatigue for getting in the way of posting, should you want an excuse. Next week should be much slower for me, thank goodness. And on that note... let's celebrate a few lovely things from this week before it rushes by us, too.

Giant Drunken Puppet

This guy is the best thing to hit the world of puppetry (?!) for me since, well, ever. How much would you love seeing this guy rambling down the sidewalk of your town? Amazing. A-maz-ing.

Fabio and Blais' Bromance

So in recent years, the Top Chef franchise has been pretty dead to me. Overdone, over-dramatic, over... everything. I happily moved over to Top Chef Masters and that was that. Bravo must've realized there were lots of folks like me out there, tired of seeing sub-par contestants and lackluster dishes sprinkled in among the catfights, and they gifted us with this year's All-Stars version of the show. I, for one, have hungrily eaten up every second of it. The contestants are fantastic, the food is to die for, and the show is fun again. Also, saving the best for last here... Fabio is back! I adore Fabio, and adore him even more when he's nurturing his bromance with Richard Blais on screen. See this blog post of Fabio's, where he draws hearts on Blais' photos, to see what I mean. Follow him on Twitter for more laughs (and Italian lessons!). And go ahead and allow yourself to swoon at every second of that broken English.

This Week's Modern Family

Okay, my love for Modern Family knows no bounds. But this week? I was cackling and then full-on weeping with delight. Funniest. Show. Ever.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday I'm in Love

Whew! Busy, busy, busy week. Let's get right to it, then.

Giddy Planner Alert

I do work for communities all over the country, but the work that means the most to me is when I get the chance to make a difference where I live. This week, I rolled up my sleeves and begin working with a DC community, as we kicked off a planning process for a project that's intriguing on a number of levels. Even though I'm far away in the news photo above, you can easily see that I have a big 'ol grin on my face, due largely to the totally delightful group that I was facilitating. Getting to know communities and helping them forge plans that best capture their vision is what I do best, and having the opportunity to do that in my new city makes my heart smile. (Nerdy community planner group hug!)

Rescued Baby Bats

I feel terrible for the flooding that's ravaging Australia, but how do I feel upon discovering the extreme cuteness that is rescued baby bats wrapped in blankets? Fantastic!

Healing after Tucson

The president, telling the crowd that Gabby Giffords had just opened her eyes. The crowd, cheering on the brave men and women who helped at the scene. The message, about how words matter, and about why love is stronger than hate. The good people we lost last weekend. The little girl inspired by democracy, with her entire life ahead of her. "She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism, vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted. I want to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it." All this, on my mind all week long.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Desperately seeking wide rice noodles

This was our dinner tonight: not pad see ew.

Pad see ew is a house favorite, and when we lived in Dallas I made Playing House's version several times. Tonight I realized I hadn't made it since we moved to DC (our year anniversary here is coming up quickly - whoa!), and as this dish takes just 10 minutes to throw together on the stove and I was feeling lazy, I thought I had the perfect dinner plan. 

But see, to make pad see ew you need wide rice noodles. It never occurred to me that these would be difficult to procure here. I went to two different stores today in search of them, but had to come home with the skinny guys instead. Not the same. Not pad see ew.

Maybe it should have occurred to me that wide rice noodles would be difficult to find. After all, there's no Central Market in DC. I knew I'd miss Central Market when we moved, and also figured much of my one-stop shopping was over, but I truly underestimated the effort it would take to source what I consider to be everyday ingredients here. Don't believe me? In the last week alone, I've had to buy Maille dijon mustard and dried ancho chiles online. Online! The outrage! I picture myself a year ago, happily throwing anchos and mustard into my Central Market shopping cart, and want to weep. And don't even get me started on my frustration with the P Street Whole Foods...

So. Am I missing something, DCers? I'm thrilled beyond belief that I've made you my home, but I'd like cooking with great ingredients to be a wee bit easier, if you don't mind. I know there are big Asian markets out in the Virginia suburbs, but ummm... not gonna do it, in my best Dana Carvey as George Bush impression, says this urbanist. Not even for the Wegman's that I hear is the closest thing up here to CM.

So c'mon, make my day... where's the DC foodie mecca that's been hiding from me? Because paying $7 shipping for two pounds of wide rice noodles is about as likely as me battling suburbanites in traffic on a Saturday afternoon.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Friday I'm in Love

Triumphantly returning for the New Year, I bring you (finally!) a new installment of FC's original Friday I'm in Love series. Here are three fun favorites from my week that I'd like to share. Happy weekend, everyone! 

Soda Stream

In addition to my fancy new food processor, one of my favorite kitchen-related Christmas gifts was a Soda Stream. I adore this thing. Every time I go to the grocery store I lug home bottles of seltzer - no more! Making seltzer fresh every day saves time, money, and hassle - win win win. I highly recommend one to my fellow seltzer-chuggers out there.

Arcimboldo at the National Gallery of Art

 Last week I finally had the chance to see some of Arcimboldo's paintings - work that I find completely fascinating and have admired for ages. This 16th century surrealist uses individual items to compose human figures, ranging from vegetables that celebrate a particular season, to marine life, to library contents. The results are fantastic, clever, and mesmerizing (his reversible paintings aren't to be missed!). I'd hoped to see some of Arcimboldo's work when we were in Vienna (he was a court painter there and in Prague), but they were loaned out during our visit. Of course it took me nearly the full term of the DC exhibit to finally get over there. Which is to say - the exhibit ends tomorrow! Go go go. Anyone who cares about eating locally and seasonally must see Arcimboldo's Seasons paintings and smile. Who needs to buy Pollan's rules when you could simply eat according to a painting?!

Salmon Spread

 I'm full-on obsessed with this salmon spread, the brainchild of a local food blogger. It's incredibly simple to throw together and unbelievably delicious if like me, you love a salty, savory breakfast (or brunch. or lunch. or snack.). Fans of stinky food, prepare yourselves: this stuff is incredible on a plain bagel, perfect on a sandwich, delicious on toast with a fried egg, and I can imagine would be outrageous folded into an omelet or frittata. Have this stuff on hand for your next brunch and I guarantee it'll be a hit among lox lovers (hint hint: it really calls out for a Bloody Mary accompaniment, too).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Big dish of comfort: Butternut Squash Lasagna

Oh, butternut squash. Is there a single vegetable that tastes homier or more comforting? As much as I love the funny-looking things, I must admit I don't always love their application. In my experience, butternut squash lasagna is one of those dishes that's almost always pretty good, but rarely memorable. While we were home for the holidays, I wanted to make a butternut squash lasagna for my sister, who's on a strictly bland diet while she's nursing little indigestion-prone Lucas. Red sauces may be out for her, but denying her the creamy, comforting decadence of lasagna just wouldn't be fair, right? I set out to find a recipe that would wow us, and the result is the best butternut squash lasagna I've ever had, hands down.

I'll be frank: making this lasagna is kind of a pain in the ass. But in the spirit of the New Year, where I for one am hoping there are some big "worth the trouble and the wait" results in store for us, I'm spreading the love. Use pre-cut squash if you'd like, but please don't skimp on the spiced roasting, resulting puree, or the completely lovely (and better the slower you make it) bechamel. All are critical to how the dish comes together. (And to be honest, most of the "pain factor" the two times I made this came from having to use a blender rather than a food processor. But would you believe I was lucky enough to receive this whopper for Christmas from my parents? Woo hoo!) Just trust me already - this lasagna is absolutely, positively worth every bit of energy you'll put into it. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash Lasagna
 Recipe found here, attributed to Michael Chiarello


For the Squash Filling
3-5 pounds of butternut squash (typically 2 large squash)
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh sage
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
15 oz ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan
2 large eggs
    For the Bechamel Sauce
    2 quarts whole milk
    6 tbsp unsalted butter
    1 tbsp sage, minced
    2 tsp garlic, minced
    1/2 cup flour
    2 tsp salt
    Freshly ground black pepper
    1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
      To Assemble Lasagna
      1 lb fresh pasta sheets (or no boil lasagna noodles)
      1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced into cubes
      1 cup grated Parmesan


        1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the tough skin of the butternut squashes. Cut off the top and bottom ends of each squash and then cut them lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and cut up the squash into 1/2 inch chunks.

        2. Put the chunks into a mixing bowl and add the olive oil, sage, half the salt, nutmeg and ground pepper. Toss to evenly coat the squash chunks. Line two baking sheets with foil and then place the squash in single layers on each sheet. Roast for about 45 to 50 minutes, or until the squash is very soft and starting to brown. Make sure to stir the squash once or twice while it's roasting.

        3. Once finished roasting, remove the squash and allow to cool to room temperature. Turn the oven down to 375 degrees.

        4. Puree the squash in the food processor until smooth. Combine the squash with the ricotta, Parmesan cheese, eggs, the remaining salt, and the pepper. You may need to use a whisk to get all the ricotta incorporated into the rest of the mixture. Cover and refrigerate the mixture until ready to assemble the lasagna.

        5. To prepare the bechamel sauce, bring the milk to a slow simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the sage and garlic to the butter, cook for 30 seconds, then gradually whisk in the flour. Slowly add about 3 cups of the milk, and whisk vigorously to prevent lumps. Bring to a boil, while whisking continuously. Add the remaining milk and whisk again. Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Adjust the heat to low to maintain a slow simmer, and cook until the sauce coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes, whisking frequently. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

        6. To assemble the lasagna: Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Pour one ladle full of the bechamel into the dish and spread to coat the bottom. Place a single layer of the pasta sheets on top of the sauce. Spread some of the squash mixture evenly over the pasta sheets and place 1/3 of the mozzarella chunks on top. Add 1 tablespoon of grated Parmesan over the mozzarella. Evenly pour 2 or 3 ladles full of the sauce over the mozzarella/Parmesan layer. Repeat the above steps until all ingredients are used (using the 2-3 ladles of sauce between each layer). Keep building the layers until the pan is full to about 1/4-inch from the top. Finish with the squash puree and mozzarella/Parmesan cheese on top of it.

        7. Cover with foil and bake in the middle of the oven for about 45 minutes. Remove the cover and continue to bake for another 15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and bubbling. Allow lasagna to rest before slicing. Serve warm.
        (Assembled lasagna also freezes really well if you want to make it ahead. Plan for a little more oven time if it's been previously frozen.)

        Tuesday, January 4, 2011

        Dreams, deferments, and detours

        So we didn't get the Pretty House. We found out on New Year's Eve, in the early evening. It took a while after we got the news for me to put on my party face and ring in the New Year. But I did. And then we celebrated.

        Not toasting another year would have been a crime. 2010 has been intense, and we survived it. In the first half of the year, the world was our oyster: we moved to the city we'd been trying to move to for years. We set up a cozy apartment. We hung out in Europe. In the second half, though, we closed our circle in a bit, holding tight to family while saying goodbye to loved ones who left this world too soon. The second half of 2010 changed me. But now that it's 2011, I know that brighter times are ahead.

        Which brings us back to the hunt for new digs. Our lease is up in less than two months, so the clock is ticking. Maybe we'll rent again, but we'd like to buy if we can find the right place at the right price in our very short timeline. The funny thing about house-hunting, I've discovered, is that it is exactly like everyone says it is:  highly emotional and completely stressful. I wrote about my concerns regarding the Pretty House here, but with each passing day, I was more and more sure that it was "the one." I had visions of renovations and a family and a life, all in that spot. Brains and hearts can so easily play tricks on us when there's a capital-h Home involved, can't they?

        Since New Year's, we're not exactly back to Square One. There are a couple of interesting possibilities out there. One is purple (eek!). One is a renovation project (gulp-yay-dependingonmood). Maybe we'll see a slew of new listings in the coming weeks. Maybe not. Maybe I just want to make a decision so that we can move on with life. Maybe, as long as we're together, it really doesn't matter at all.

        May your 2011 be filled with wonder, laughter, and joy.

        Gorgeous papercuts and screenprints courtesy of Rob Ryan, my brightest-burning paper love.
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