Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday I'm in Love

Yesterday I fell flat on my face while walking. I was crossing a park to meet T at our neighborhood Metro station, and a slightly uneven brick hit my foot in just the right way, and... splat. Kind thanks to the homeless men who hurriedly rushed to my assistance. Oh my. So today, my knee is the size of a softball and the opposite foot is unable to bear weight. I'm feeling pretty graceful heading into the weekend... how about you?

SIGH.

Let's hurry up and make it 5 p.m., okay? Here are three things that made me smile this week (I've missed you, Friday I'm in Love!):


The Partisans: Birth Control Hearings (Redux)

This is the best response I can possibly imagine to the brain-exploding lunacy that is a bunch of men on Capitol Hill talking about birth control. Thank you, Andy Cobb and Second City, thank you...


U.S. Interstates as a Subway Map

Subway art will always be my favorite, but I'll give a nod here to the Interstate System as well... even if its existence is responsible for the sprawling of America. (getting off my soapbox now...)


Friends with Kids

You know those movie previews you see and in the first five seconds it's completely obvious that you will watch said movie and love it, due mostly to the fact that you love everyone* on screen? This movie is that [latest] movie for me. 


Have a great (and graceful) weekend, folks!

*Megan Fox excluded (obvs)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Girl power

I might as well be carrying around one of these this week. It's a girl power kind of time for me.


Last weekend was one of my favorite weekends of the year: folk art and prom dresses. How in the world do these two things combine, you're asking?

First up: the annual Folk Art Show at Fearrington Village. I love this show. I love the art and the energy, how down-home it feels, while still being (for me, on a budget!) absolutely aspirational. I had a blast at the Collectors' Preview with my mom and my sister.


Another reason I love the Fearrington Folk Art Show is watching my mom work the room - painting, pottery, textiles, she does it all. She's been collecting Danny Doughty's work for years, and picked up these gorgeous geese this year to add to her collection.


On Saturday, my favorite girl gang - my three cousins! - arrived to shop for their prom dresses. Two prom attendees, with older college student sis acting as shopping consultant, plus me, my mom, and sis = too much fun for one 12-hour shopping day! We were successful, by the way - both girls ended up in amazing dresses that suited them perfectly - and were perfectly different. I've said it before and I'll say it again: my cousins give me hope for the universe. I love these girls like mad.


As if this wasn't enough, I had a very special lunch date on Sunday with my oldest pal in the world, Allie, and her brand new baby girl! Baby L was born in December and I can't wait to watch her grow up to be as amazing as her mom is.


Just two days later, my dear friend Kate had her baby girl, too. I get to meet this new Baby L in Austin next month, and I'm counting down the days to see those cheeks in person!


Okay, okay, I still like boys... but for a few more days, I'm just going to soak in all this girly goodness. Can you blame me?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Red chile and chocolate... need I say more?

I've said it before: I'm not a baker. I'm imprecise and I improv flavors. I don't level off measurements a knife. Sometimes I don't even measure. Baking has always seemed too scientific for me. I don't understand chemistry. Or physics. Or... space. But I can, it turns out, bake a flourless chocolate cake.

Is this a good time to also issue a reminder that I don't have a big sweet tooth? It's true, and probably why I've gotten away with not being interested in baking for so long. Thank goodness T is the same way. We like to drink our desserts around here.

On the rare occasions that I do order dessert, they're almost always in the earthy/spicy/fruity category, save for one lone chocolate entry: flourless chocolate cake. Maybe because it goes so well with red wine? Hmmm.

In keeping with our vow to make something new every Valentine's Day (nope, yesterday's simple goat cheese sauce doesn't count), I decided to go crazy and get out the springform pan. Insanity! I found a dead-simple recipe for a flourless chocolate cake from Gourmet, and then decided to add one little "me" twist: some red chile from Chimayo. Now we're talking. Now this is feeling like my kind of dessert. And guess what? It was delicious with a glass of port.



Red Chile Chocolate Flourless Cake
Adapted from Gourmet

I love spice, and easily could have added twice as much red chile to this cake and been happy. If you do that, I'd suggest adding some sugar to your whipped cream for serving. For this version, I didn't add any sugar to my whipped cream, and enjoyed the way it helped cut the richness of the cake.


Ingredients
  •  Two 8 oz bittersweet chocolate bars, chopped
  • Two sticks unsalted butter, chopped
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon red chile powder (I used hot Chimayo red, but use your favorite... chipotle, Ancho, whatever you like)
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Directions
  • Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a large springform pan (or use butter spray). Line the bottom of the pan with a wax paper cutout, and spray that with butter spray, too.
  • In a double-boiler or modified double-boiler (I just use a metal bowl over a saucepan), add the chopped-up bittersweet chocolate and butter. Stir until melted and remove from heat.
  • Add sugar and whisk it in. (At this stage, transfer to your mixer if you like, or continue to do it by hand.)
  • Crack the eggs one at a time and whisk each in separately, until they're all incorporated.
  • Sift in the unsweetened cocoa powder and the red chile. Whisk until just combined.
  • Pour into the pan and cook for 45-50 minutes. (I'd start checking it at 35 minutes - my oven runs a little cool.) 
  • After the cake cools to your liking, serve with whatever strikes your fancy. I used fresh-whipped cream (only vanilla added, no sugar - see note above). Berries would also be delicious. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I heart ravioli.

You probably thought I made our Valentine's Day heart-shaped lobster ravioli from scratch, didn't you?


Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha....... One day I will do that. But this not day.

However, the ravioli does represent why I love my neighborhood so much. Our work schedules didn't allow for a labor-intensive dinner on Tuesday night, so I walked over to Eastern Market to visit the fresh pasta counter, source of many quick and delicious weeknight meals at our place. I knew going in that I was interested in their lobster ravioli, which is typically square with orange stripes. But look! The pasta gods got cheeky! Big pink puffy hearts! Okay then.


Next I had to consider what type of sauce to make. I considered a brown butter, a lemon butter, but it finally hit me... it's Valentine's Day. Be decadent. (That's right: in this scenario, brown butter isn't decadent enough. Go with it) I happened to have lots of leftover goat cheese in the fridge from our party Saturday, and so a dream was born. A deliciously rich dream. One that made me oh so happy.


Here's the (easy!) sauce I made with ingredients I had on hand, which I might add was also delicious as a dipping sauce for steak that night. I reheated the sauce last night and it wasn't quite as good, so I'd just make what you need for dinner that night and enjoy it fresh. You could probably cut this in half if you're just cooking for two, depending on how you're using the sauce.


Goat Cheese Cream Sauce
An accompaniment for lobster ravioli, steak, and more

Ingredients
  • One extra-large shallot (or three small shallots)
  • Two tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • Dash of dried thyme (or better yet, fresh thyme if you have it)
  • Dash of white pepper
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 of a small log of goat cheese (use the rest for your salad!)
  • Dash of smoked salt if you have it (if not, just another dash of salt to taste at the end)
Directions
  • Saute the shallots in butter until soft, being careful not to burn them, 3-4 minutes
  • Add white wine and simmer until the mixture is reduced by 2/3
  • Add a dash of dried thyme, white pepper, and salt
  • Add 1 cup of heavy cream and stir in the goat cheese
  • Reduce the sauce by half again
  • Sprinkle in some smoked salt to taste

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Meal of Love II

Remember last year when we made Valentine's Dinner at home together? Remember me talking about how much I hate going out to eat on V-Day, and how much more romantic it is to stay in? Remember our curried mussels and the first date that never was? Remember the pact we made to cook together every Valentine's Day, to make something new to us?

Here's last night's menu. Recipes to come the rest of the week!


We had so much fun last night.


How did you celebrate?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

All you need is love

I've always liked Valentine's Day. Not because of romantic relationships, but because of the sentiment. Love, laughter, smiles, warmth... these are good things. There should be more of these things in the world. And so however you choose to honor love, laughter, smiles, and warmth... just do it. Do it today. Do it every day. Honor love in all your relationships.

Honor it in your friendships.


Honor it in your family.


And yes, honor it in your romances.


Sarcasm can only take us so far, after all. It feels so much better to smile than to roll your eyes, don't you think?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Party hangover

Subtitle: Advice I Should Have Asked for Last Week

'Twas a good party. And like many big events, as fun as it was, I'm happy it's over. I adore hosting, but now that we've had our intimate 40-person (!) gathering, I can settle into the type of entertaining I prefer: small group gatherings or having another couple over for dinner. Hosting lots of folks means lots of pressure. It's loud, silly fun, but it's pressure. Saturday night was also, by the way, one of DC's most blustery nights to date. At times there were whiteout conditions outside - not exactly conducive to partying on the back patio with the keg, twinkling lights, and fire pit. And so our house was bursting to the seams. Of course, one could argue we asked for such weather:


So on the heels of successfully hosting a big crowd (well, big for our small house!) on a truly fun night, here are a few things I'm happy we don't have to do again any time soon:
  • Have glassware on hand for 40+ people (but can you believe not a single glass was broken?)
  • Quickly open new bottles of wine and prosecco (too much pressure when someone's watching and waiting with an empty glass! ps: Can you tell I was never a waitress? )
  • Not have enough time for everyone (I hate barely getting to talk to folks I haven't seen in ages)
  • Make quick introductions (I prefer more natural introductions where folks who don't know one another can ease into conversation. That's much better than "X meet X, you have X in common - bye!")
  • Stress about food (there's either too little, too much, or too something, but there's always stress about it)
What a night... capped off with a very loud Whitney Houston tribute courtesy of our friend Alex at 2 a.m., of course! (Apologies to my in-laws who were sleeping upstairs.)

I'd love to know... what are your lessons learned from hosting big shindigs? Any tips to manage food, drinks, and the delicate social balance that is tons of people you know in various ways all thrown together in your living room? You probably know me well enough if you're reading to understand that I have too much yuppie guilt to hire caterers or people to help out, so while I appreciate those suggestions, I'm especially interested in hearing from fellow I-Can-Do-It-All-ers. We are a stubborn crew, aren't we?

PS: I still have lots of dish-washing to do. Yesterday was our lazy recovery day, and I have no guilt about that.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mission accomplished

In an uncharacteristic move, our downstairs projects are done with time to spare. Finishing Wednesday night as opposed to Saturday afternoon, at the last possible second before folks come over? Impossible! But true.

The details: Wall torn down, closet reframed and rebuilt inside, some new pieces acquired, and existing art rearranged.

The view coming down the stairs (and here's the view before):


I painted the inside of our front door red on a lunch break Monday (this is how one gets a massive To Do list accomplished before a rushed party deadline, by the way). I love it so much... why didn't I tackle that project ages ago? I also finally threw out the awful entry rug left behind by the previous owners, which I'd yell at for being ugly at least once a week but somehow never got around to replacing. Also, I think we can all agree that our next lighting project needs to involve a dramatic pendant light for the entryway, right? Framed in that gorgeous light coming in from the transom? It's a must-do. As for the console table, it works as a cozy space for us to drop keys and mail without being too obtrusive for passersby or the stairs.


Allow me introduce our two new beauties (which are not new to you at all if you follow me on Instagram)... the Dolly twins! We found these as floor models at two different stores and never looked back. Floor model acquisitions were the only way we could quickly furnish the "new" room, and at a steep discount to boot, so I'm thrilled that we struck gold with Dolly I and Dolly II. We've been trying to get away from how low and bulky our existing furniture is, so our goals with chairs were for them to have legs and not be squared-off. The rounded backs work great for the entryway function of the room, since they don't create the effect of being a new wall. That would be silly, since we paid someone to remove the wall for us and all... (PS: When is Fanny going to get a job modeling furniture and start paying rent?)


Bonus regarding the Dollies: super-comfy. Right, Fanny? We're going to eventually replace our trunk coffee table behind her with something leggier, and likely put in a storage bench or two square storage ottomans under that painting... but not this week.


Here's the view back to the fireplace wall, where I finally tackled another project that's been on my list for ages: painting the interior of the little shelves the same green as the wall. Everything looks much more composed right now (although that sprawling pile of firewood: maybe not so much... at least it's cold again!). We also redid the cords for the unfortunately sized television, which resulted in a freak accident where T got five stitches and then removed them at his office desk, but that's another story. This, however, I can say quite literally - we put blood into this room re-do!


I'm going to save our nerdy hall closet rebuild for next time - get excited!! Hee hee... thanks for playing along, folks. Show and Tell is way more fun this way.

Now, let's all say it together: CROWN MOULDING!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Two-year report (and a chandelier)

We had a friends over for dinner this weekend, and it was a night of great food and greater laughs underneath our new chandelier. It has just the right amount of rustic appeal (read: burlap) to make me happy, and couldn't be any cozier with dinner. It was a great night.

Yay dining room! Now just imagine it with crown moulding...
(nope, the projects never end)

This weekend was special for another reason, too: it marked two years since we moved to Washington D.C. Time flies, folks. It seems like not long ago at all that we arrived here during a freak snowstorm and then the movers from hell turned us into campers for three weeks. Buying our house a year and change after that? Feels like yesterday. But here we are, two years later. DC residents. Homeowners. Adults.

One thing is clear: DC has become home. Here's why:
  • Personal. I love living in a city alongside so many smart, engaged people. I love the friends I've made in DC, all of whom the District is lucky to call their own. Does DC have its fair share of idiots? You bet. (Do some hold elected office, too? No comment.) But DC's large percentage of citizens committed to public service, doing top-notch research, building campaigns for people or for issues, and trying their best to make the District or their country great... it's energizing. Ideas and passion are currency in DC, and that's exactly what I most wanted from a place I'd call home (not to mention necessary for a place where so many associations, organizations, and advocacy groups are based). I love the history in DC, especially the way that history juxtaposes with current development. My favorite places are ones where past and present brush against one another in interesting ways; this is DC in a nutshell. I'm eager to start digging into more of my Leslie Knope-style interests on a personal level, too... why not attend public meetings for fun as well as for work, right?

  • Geographical. T and I live basically in between our families. Does it get more perfect than that? For two folks who've wandered all over the country the last ten years, living within driving (or train-ing) distance of our hometowns is huge for us. Since moving here, we've been able to spend more time with our families than ever before, which has been so special after going without that for so long. It's also fun living in a place that's a pretty good draw for scheduled or impromptu visits from loved ones. Being back on the East Coast just feels right; it's who I am. Those New Mexico sunsets will never leave my heart, but at its core, it's the waves of the Atlantic (DC is driving distance to my beloved Outer Banks!) that matter most to me. From an urban form perspective, DC works for me, too. Walkable neighborhoods, a wealth of transit options, cultural amenities, businesses and residences jumbled together in dynamic ways... these are not just talking points, but components that I need to feel great about calling a place home. DC has them, and my ruined heels from old, uneven cobblestone sidewalks can attest to that.

  • Professional. It's a misnomer that everyone in DC works for the federal government - most do not. Neither T nor I do, although our work interfaces with government in important (and very different) ways. I maintain a strong separation between the personal and the professional on this blog, and that can be difficult for me, because sometimes I just want to chat about it online. (Some days I'd pay big money to be able to Tweet/respond to media/correct false statements/interject in work-related online conversations/columns/blog posts.) This is a biggie, though: I'm content with my professional workload for the first time in years. It's crucial for my brain and sense of self that I feel like I'm contributing to something bigger and making a place better. The project I work on is going to change how people live and move around DC, and that's humbling. Being part of a team that's doing its best to help make DC a better place to live matters to me quite a lot.

So that's the two-year report card. Life is good. I wonder what I'll say in another two years. I wonder if DC will ever get the vote. I wonder what's next.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ding dong, the witch is dead...

I am perhaps over-estimating the impact the dreaded wall had on my psyche. But I really do feel like we removed a life-draining force from our house on demolition day. See for yourself:

Before

After

I know, right? You can see that we completely removed the angled wall and we cut down the closet wall by about one-third. We still have to rebuild the interior of the closet and obviously, re-furnish and re-decorate the empty space. We bargain-shopped some new pieces already and have one more on the way, but I'm also looking forward to the challenge of reusing some of our old favorites in new ways. Stay tuned on that front.

We really lucked out with the floor underneath the wall. We had no idea what kind of shape the wood be in, and we were thrilled when they pulled everything up to see only the faintest outline of where the wall was. You can spot the outline in the above photo, but here's a closer look. Note that we haven't had time to do anything to the floors yet - not even a simple cleaning! Life has been sort of madness around here - don't even ask what the kitchen looks like right now. So I expect the floors will look much better when they get a little TLC.


Speaking of needing some time to breathe, here's the kicker, and I expect you all to shake your heads at me: about a month ago, we planned a party at our place for next weekend. Let me rephrase: because I'm a crazy person, I put an insanely short deadline on this room's re-furnishing and re-decorating schedule. You know I can't have folks over with everything all undone, right?

So the next week should be interesting. I'll be the one hitting all the suburban HomeGoods with a timer attached to my belt loop. Not that I have anything else to do besides room decor, right?

[headdesk]

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Zen-less

When I mentioned we were having some electrical work done, I didn't go into detail because, you know... it's electrical work. But one thing I had the guys do was install a new electrical outlet in the little basement-stair nook where we feed the cats. The nook is pretty nondescript, save for some tiny shelves where I collect ponytail holders, a bare lightbulb (ack! must cover that thing!), and this great print from one of my great-grandfather's runs for the State Legislature.

Yuppie alert: We wanted an outlet in this nook so that we could plug in a fancy watering system for the cats. (Whatever... you already knew we spoiled them.) Besides keeping their water fresher, we thought they'd love this because they're always intrigued by dripping/running faucets and such. So we were pretty smug that we were about to rock the cats' world with this thing. The choice of the actual watering system was harder than anticipated. You know that problem of scale when you're shopping versus when you're at home? It's how we ended up with a ginormous tv, when a "very large" tv would have sufficed. In the pet aisle, I had the opposite perspective problem - all of the watering systems seemed huge. Surely this isn't going to fit in the nook! We won't even be able to walk by this thing! And so we brought home something far smaller than necessary... but whatever.

After unpacking and repacking every watering system in the store, we selected "The Lotus." (Note: we did not pay anything close to full retail for this product.) It's small and discreet, there's not a big tacky logo on it, and because there are multiple water openings, they could both use it at the same time. Done.

So we brought home The Lotus and set it up, and the cats basically give us this expression for a few days:


No respect for the care we took selecting it, the hourly fee we paid to the electrician, or our concern for their health... nada.

Worse, though, is that another problem has surfaced: The Lotus drives me crazy. Our entire downstairs has been taken over by the sound of, at best, a fountain, and at worst, someone peeing down the basement stairs. I've tried to get in the Lotus mindset and tell myself to be Zen about it, but the feng shui in our house must be off, because that pep talk is not working. Allow me to demonstrate:

video


I hear that all day long. From the couch, that's what I hear. From the kitchen, that's what I hear. My only refuge is upstairs. 

Which leads me to ask: am I a bigger sucker because I installed an electrical outlet solely for my cats, because I bought a ridiculous item, or because I dislike said ridiculous item after all the effort that went into procuring it?

Oh, and it goes without saying: #firstworldproblems.
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