Sunday, March 29, 2009

Not usually a huge fan of pink...

...but I'll make an exception for the cherry blossoms. My pictures really don't do justice to the blooms - walking around the Tidal Basin (with hordes and hordes of tourists, of course, which pulls some of the Zen out of the experience...but also adds an air of festivity...), surrounded by the shades of pink and white in every direction...just beautiful. Next weekend is actually projected to be "peak bloom" time, but given yesterday's nasty, rainy, blah weather, I thought I should take advantage of today's sunshine and mild temperatures and go enjoy nature. Oh, weather powers that be, please let it stay spring!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Attacked by beasties

This computer I'm typing away on is a bit of a lifeline for me. Connecting with you fine people via blog and email, typing up scintillating summaries of assorted state tax legislation, utilizing the power of the Internet to track down everything from weather forecasts to life is tied to this little collection of electronic pieces parts. My collegiate computer investment is a little slow on the uptake these days and severely lacks portability, so the work laptop and I spend quite a bit of time together, whether it's in the fluorescent-lit confines of PwC or just chilling on the couch at home.

When Dell (yeah, I think I just nicknamed my computer after its manufacturer - utter lack of creativity on my part, but let's roll with it) started exhibiting minor symptoms of illness, I was a little concerned...but not overly worried. I mean, if I had typed these systems into the WebMD symptom checker, it would probably return a diagnosis of "Ebola virus" or "terminal liver cancer," but it also returns those results if you're suffering from a minor paper cut that happens to be combined with a slight cough. Dell's problems started out small - Internet Explorer windows would randomly close, system seemed to be running a little slowly, so on and so forth.

My concern grew when Dell and Google began to disagree with one another.

Dell: Google, please return search listing for "state tax amnesty programs."
Google: (reply tinged with slight hint of sarcasm) Dell, shouldn't you be using the vast resources available through your PwC internal resources and numerous external subscriptions for a search like that? I'd really prefer to look for something a bit more exciting.
Dell: (small sigh of frustration) You're right, Google, you really are, but sometimes it's just easier, more efficient, and often more effective to see what you have to say on the matter. Come on, help me out, please?
Google: Good point, Dell, I am pretty awesome...ok, here are your search results.
Dell: Thanks so much! Hmmm, this one looks promising...(click)...ummm, Google? You seem to be directing me to crap! What is this, sending me to a random search engine instead of the URL listed in your results?!? Let me try another one...(click)...yipes, this one isn't working either! What's going on??
Google: (mollified tone) Uh, Dell, I don't seem to be feeling so well. Gosh, maybe you shouldn't rely on me until I get over this...seems to be a pretty nasty bug.
Dell: No, Google, noooo!! I was doing ok with the other little quirks I've been experiencing over the last few days, but I rely on you far too often! For EVERYTHING! We're going to the doctor right now!!

Not having developed the deeper levels of trust with PwC DC IT folks (enough acronyms for you?) to trust them with Dell...who holds my entire iTunes library and 30.4 GB of digital pictures, which is not exactly in compliance with firm policy...I turned to my techie friends and the vast resources of the Internet for a possible solution. I mean, busted Google?? You can't function with busted Google. No more of this "redirect search results to crap website" business.

Long story short (actually, long story long with the Google/Dell dialogue up there), a nasty beastie had infected my computer from who knows where and decided to wreck havoc on the technology in my life. Fortunately, I found my savior, and Dell has been restored back to its functional glory. When my techie rescuer scanned some crazy log report I ran and responded with "ok, that identifies the beasties," I just felt like I was in good hands. Skip all the techno-babble and refer to viruses as "beasties" and you're good to go in my book. I highly recommend the Tech Support Forum gang if you ever find your computer on the fritz and haven't the faintest clue how to restore it back to health. Glad you're feeling better, Dell.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Never hurts to always have your highly portable camera on hand. As much as I would love to invest in a ridiculously awesome camera and the lenses to go with it, it's hard to pass up the handy size of my current device. I try to always have it on hand so I can capture whatever might come across my path during the day. I mean, you really never know. I've spotted some interesting/amusing/probably-only-funny-to-Erin signage along the way, and it's time to share a few:

Parked outside the Judiciary Square metro stop. Now, does the FBI really need "police?" I mean, they are the FBI....why don't they just put "FBI" on the side of the car and be done with it? I guess they have to distinguish between the truly intimidating folks and the ones who push paper all day.

Spotted near a security checkpoint outside the White House. Do they intend for the dogs to throw away their trash? "Now, Bruiser, you throw away that greasy wrapper from your street vendor hot dog!" Maybe it has something to do with training vicious attack dogs, fierce canines who sniff out drugs and would-be terrorists...

Snapped this picture while driving through Georgetown. Tons of diplomat plates all over this city, but I don't think I usually see them on a Hyundai Azera. Cost cutting is everywhere!! Actually, this car probably sets you back more than I think it would. I really enjoy the pretty shade of blue that distinguishes a diplomat plate from all the commoners on the road.

This won't comfort Mom and Dad too much, but I snagged this picture while stuck in traffic about a block from the only Target actually in DC. Logically, shouldn't this particular warning be in effect no matter where you are? I'm guessing this area is known for something more than the fairly recent opening of large chain stores...

And continuing with our stuck in traffic photo opportunities...grabbed this one while winding my way down Constitution Avenue, and I knew when I laughed out loud at the bumper sticker under the brake light that I should snap a quick picture and share it.

More to come, I'm sure - there are all kinds of crazies in this city and signs to go with them.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

To market, to market

To Eastern Market, that is. When I first heard the name and had no idea what it was, I pictured run-down vendor stalls manned by Eastern European immigrants, hawking their rusty wares. Isn't that terrible? If that was really Eastern Market, odds are I wouldn't have known about it in the first place. Instead, it's DC's oldest public marketplace, operating in the Capitol Hill neighborhood since 1873. I'm really a sucker for anyting labeled "market," immediately knowing I need to pull out $x, place in pocket, and spend no more than that no matter what. It's dangerous enough when there's only food at stake, but on the weekends they also have a flea market with everyone from the button lady... the tile guy... the man with tub after tub of pickles and assorted other pickled things.
How cool would it be to be the pickle guy? Since this was more of an exploratory trip than one filled with excessive purchases, which I'm sure I'll have in the future, I stayed away from the bread and butter pickles. Trying to spend that $x carefully today.

A ton of vendors in the main hall with the usual market offerings - fruit, veggies, fish, meat, poultry, bread (oh, rosemary bread, I must stop buying loaves of you and bringing you home - you're just too tasty and I lack the self-control to eat just one slice in a sitting), fresh pasta. I came across both andouille and chorizo, so I'm pumped about going back and stocking up when I want to embark on some spicy kitchen adventures. I've also found the place to go if I need wacky proteins. Pork brains, $2.99/lb. Fresh croaker, $2.95/lb. Chicken feet, price undetermined because I didn't really want to go anywhere near them. I had to go look at cupcakes and pretty flowers to get that one out of my head. Ick.

I'm a little bit in love with the Capitol Hill neighborhood. History at every corner (ok, just like everywhere in this city), so many interesting little shops and restaurants, and just ridiculously cute. Expensively cute, too, like Georgetown. I had a feeling I might enjoy my explorations today when the weekend Metro gods smiled down on me and eliminated absolutely all waiting times. I even transferred lines, for crying out loud, and no waiting. We're talking walk into station, immediately proceed onto waiting train, change platforms at L'Enfant Plaza, and again immediately proceed onto waiting train. It was a thing of beauty. Truly amazing. I was even prepared with book in hand. After browsing Eastern Market and picking up as much as I could on $x, I grabbed a crabcake sandwich from Market Lunch and started walking my way home (rather than tempt my fate with the Metro gods). Lunch on a park bench next to the Capitol makes for some great people watching, and the cherry blossoms are also starting to come out, so it's pretty much gorgeous out there. Must remember to throw some sunscreen into my tote bag when setting out in the morning. Darn fair skin.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Boozy cupcakes

I think it's possible that my future bakery might need a liquor license. This way the boozy cupcakes and potent pastries can be served alongside their namesake. I'm kinda not kidding. My future business partner and I have discussed this concept somewhat thoroughly, and we think it could be a hit. Anyone interested in throwing in some start-up capital? Ok, ok, we'll put a little more thought into the business plan, test some more recipes, and think this thing through a little bit more.

Oh, the Irish car bomb. Classic St. Patrick's Day beverage when you've moved past straight Guinness. The thought of dropping a shot glass filled with Jameson and Baileys into a glass o' Guinness and chugging the whole thing down sounds less than appealing to me, but...the thought of a Baileys buttercream frosting is intriguing. As is adding some Guinness to a chocolate batter. Oooh, and maybe a splash of Jameson in a chocolate ganache filling would round the whole thing out. I'd love to take credit for the baking brilliance myself, but I hijacked the idea from Deb at Smitten Kitchen instead. This recipe is amazing. Caution: you may find yourself swiping excessive amounts of batter from the mixing bowl directly to your mouth instead of dropping it into the liners.

All in all, a fairly excellent way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. They're even work appropriate. Maybe not for the teetotalers out there...but I just didn't tell them about the cupcakes. Everyone else was warned about the slight potency of the frosting and filling, and when their eyes lit up with glee, I figured it would be ok. Basically a big hit all the way around, plus I had entirely too much fun sprinkling green sugar on top to add that extra dash of festive.

I mean, what better way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day? Except, of course, for dumping some green dye into the fountains at the White House for the first time ever.

They were going to stay green until the dye ran out, so I went by on the 18th just to see if we were still in shamrock stage or if the waters had worked their way through the color. Slightly sad to report that the fountains showed no trace of green on the 18th.

May the luck o' the Irish watch over ye'...on March 20. Yes, I'm a wee bit late in posting this one, but I figure I can get by with it because of my name. Erin always works for the Irish, and for a short time in March I claim "O'Bryan" for yet another dash of festive.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bracket mania

The whole world's gone bracket bananas!! Ok, not the whole world, but you can be certain that productivity levels for America's remaining employed citizens took a bit of a nosedive today, to be continued tomorrow. I adore the NCAA tournament, even if my move to DC does mean that regional CBS coverage here gives American University precedence over any Bix XII team. Just one pool entry for me this year, and I never expect to win, but it's always fun to keep up with the games and root for the underdog, even if it blows your bracket to bits.

A couple of websites I check fairly regularly also seem to have caught bracket fever, or at least provided handy links to other websites with symptoms of the disease. I present for your entertainment/amusement/disbelief:

  1. Which meat deserves the title? Divided into regions of red meat, poultry, seafood, and pork, 32 meat products battle it out for the title of...well...greatest meat. I'm amused and also putting down some early money on bacon. Come on, what else would have my support?

  2. Following off the meat vibe introduced in #1, Washingtonian magazine is putting together its own burger bracket to find the best hamburger in DC. I look forward to working my way through the city in this way as well. Hmmm, maybe I should do that with a lot of, ice cream, Chinese, Tex-Mex (if there were more options!!), cupcakes...stayed tuned for Erin's Food Bracket Challenges.

  3. And just to toss in something not related to food (or more specifically, MEAT!), Mental Floss is throwing its own Tournament of Genius into the mix. I mean, who else is going to have a first round matchup featuring #2 seed Ben Franklin, genius and innovator extraordinaire, against #15 seed Pat and Harry Olivieri, creators of the Philly cheesesteak? Haha, I did bring it back to meat! Go vote in this one, or at least go flip through it - good for a laugh while also potentially thought-provoking.
Tomorrow = more score checking, bracket highlighting, etc. going on...and yes, I'll be at work. Saturday = basketball, beer, and good times with new friends at a local bar. All day. You have to take March Madness seriously.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sightings of (minor food) celebrities

I may have seen some talking head or congressperson around town....and just not realized that I was in the general vicinity of someone I should probably know, someone who's guiding the direction of our country. However, when Spike or Molly crosses my path, I notice. Ok, so they didn't exactly cross my path - I kinda sought them out. But still, only one was a guaranteed sighting with actual interaction, so I'm going to go ahead and place this in the "sighting" realm. Spike? Molly? Who are these people, Erin, and first name basis, really?

In desparate need of a really delicious burger (I miss you, patio at Jake's...and barstools at Twisted Root...and cheddar fries at Spanky's...) and intrigued by the fact that I could eat at a restaurant opened by a former Top Chef contestant, I recruited Dana for a trip to the SE quadrant of the city, a formerly unexplored territory. Anyone remember the guy with the hat from season five? Oh yes, Spike! Also known for being a bit of a jerk to go with the hat, but turned out enough decent dishes to redeem himself somewhat. Good Stuff Eatery is his latest culinary endeavor, right here in DC, so I figured I'd give it a shot...for both the food and the potential of seeing someone who's been on TV (there I go, contributing to the American fascination with "celebrity" assured that I was more excited about the possibility of good food, but a little Spike sighting wouldn't hurt things).

The burger was tasty...but not the most amazing burger I've ever had. The rosemary and sea salt fries were a brilliant idea...but it was a little tricky to dig through the batch and find one that wasn't completely crispy. Even though the food wasn't quite as amazing as I had hoped it would be...we did get our Spike sighting, which I think raised the quality of the food in our minds! Funny how that works. We didn't harass him for a picture - it was a litte busy, and he seemed perturbed by the perky blonde collegiate types begging for a photo op, so we didn't want to push our luck. Oh, and it's possible that my hands were covered in grease...which is not entirely a bad thing. Please see highly posed Top Chef photo to the side for visual.

Earlier this week I was pretty pumped about taking a mid-day break to walk over to the Borders about five blocks away to attend a reading and book-signing by Molly Wizenberg. Who?? Well, hence the "minor food" caveat in the title here. She started a food blog a few years ago, Orangette - it took off, she had the chance to write a book, now zooming around the country greeting fans and promoting said book. I adore both food AND writing, hence my immediate purchase of said book and excitement about actually meeting her. It was great to hear a little bit more about her and why she writes, how she got into doing the blog, and just the great big roller-coaster ride her life is taking.

I'm going to take her sentiment quite literally and take "enjoy it all" to mean "enjoy all of the recipes in this book" - I'd really like to make it through the whole thing before splattering it with assorted ingredients as it makes its way into the kitchen, but it's going to be tough. It was so great to meet her and hear a happy, successful story in the midst of the current doom and gloom dominating the headlines. Go food!

Monday, March 9, 2009

So that's where they put them

You know how people want to do demonstrations at the White House? Make bold political statements and all? I mean, if you're trying to make a point to Mr. President, your message comes out a lot stronger when you're at his home. Anyone who's strolled in front of the White House before might not have noticed the lack of their presence, but these people exercising their "freedom of speech" rights aren't exactly making a big display at the front of the White House. Pennsylvania Avenue is reserved solely for some security officers in the street and hordes of tourists who want their picture taken with those famous columns. The demonstrators aren't visible there because....our nation's leaders have seen it fitting to assign them posts at the back of the White House. Here's the can-can girls:

I say "can-can" because they were dressed up like can-can dancers, complete with feather boas and heels, handing out bright pink flyers sporting the slogan "yes we can-can stop the war!!" while twirling around on the sidewalk. I give them props for their enthusiasm.

There was also a rather old man with a rather odd large sign containing indecipherable script...who was singing rather loudly...with bits of English and perhaps gibberish thrown in. I opted not to go for a picture of that one since I had no idea what kind of statement he was trying to make. And also because I was maybe a little bit freaked out.

We also have tent lady demanding peace. She's been stationed out there for quite a while and has a pretty decent set-up:

I think I'll head back periodically to see what kind of statements people are making. Just a guess that the statement-makers might pick up once summer tourist season rolls around. If we get another snowstorm, I'll go see just how many enthusiasts brave the slushy mess.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Fresh off the farm

I'm less than patiently waiting for the April 2 opening of the Penn Quarter farmers market so I can walk over and find awesome produce and cool farmers-markety kinds of things. Somewhat sadly, it's only open on Thursdays from 3-7 PM, so I'm guessing I'll shift my walk home from work and make that a stop on the way. I kinda miss my weekend-friendly Dallas farmers market that was just as close as this one will be. Anyway, as a substitute, this morning I hopped on the metro for a quick three-stop ride to Dupont Circle - the farmers market there is open year-round, hooray! After a stop at Starbucks to caffeinate myself (after all, I did get shorted an hour of sleep last night - ugh), I headed over to the tents and tables to check out the offerings. There was quite an assortment of vendors - the mushroom ladies, creameries (cheese samples!!), random folks frying up crab cakes and empanadas, buckets o' flowers galore, purveyors of fine meat products (I was tempted by the chipotle buffalo sausage...maybe next time), bakeries, and of course the fruit and veggie gang. I felt like the selection in the fruit and veggie world was actually a little lacking, but maybe I got there a little late and missed out on the good stuff. Not wanting to weigh myself down too much or spend an obscene amount of money on fresh things I won't manage to eat before they go bad, I kept it small and went with some apples, pears, and a loaf of rosemary focaccia bread. Hopefully the healthiness of the fruit intake will offset some of the non-nutrient-bearing white flour that went into making that delicious bread. Inspired by the mild temperature and generally gorgeous day, I brought home my goods and made myself a rooftop picnic. Sliced up an apple and pear, grabbed a little chunk of cheese, ripped off a piece of bread, called it lunch, and sat up on the roofdeck for an hour while I read. Oh, you know, with a lovely view of the Capitol. Not bad for a Sunday afternoon.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Let it snow

This morning, my eyes popped open when my alarm went off, and I gleefully rose from bed. At 6:45. On a Monday morning. Ponder that for a moment. Have you recovered from the shock? Yes? Ok, I'll continue with my tale. You know that giddy feeling you get when you think something kinda wonderful is about to happen? Not quite the "oh my gosh, I think I could win a million dollars on that next lotto ball!!" feeling but a little bit better than "ooh, maybe we're having chocolate cake for dessert!" - we're talking that kind of feeling, the one that can be brought on by....a potential snow day. I would be pleased to work from home in my pjs, thank you very much! I went to sleep Sunday night with predictions from the weather people of 6-8" of snow and the sight of snow flurries drifting down from the sky. Could it be??

Well, we got the snow, but not quite enough to convince the federal government to shut down offices for the day. Since good ol' Pdub follows government policy rather than the more rational minds that lead pretty much every school district in the area, "delayed arrival" it is! I threw on those warm, furry boots (they're cuter than they sound, I promise!) that were made for just such a day and traipsed off to work in the swirling snow. Really, it wasn't too bad. Just slow going to make sure I didn't bust it in the middle of the street, and I personally find snow much more pleasant to travel in than other forms of precipitation. There's something peaceful about it as long as it's not smacking you in the face too hard.

DC is a place that's prepared for snow. We have the snow routes (get your car out the street or they'll tow it away!) and seemingly massive armies of people/machines that are tasked with getting rid of the snow. Well, not really getting rid of it, but just shoving it out of the way. Oh, I didn't realize that ice-melty stuff they spread over sidewalks comes in different colors! This morning I passed by and crunched over brilliant displays of pink, green, and blue in aforementioned boots. Who knew?

I was going to snap some pictures of pretty snow scenes on my walk home from work, but by tonight most of the snow had been shoved into nasty piles and lost some of its beauty. Good thing I stuck my camera out the balcony door this morning! Please see below for National Building Museum, balcony ledge, and the corner of 5th & G with some snow action going on.