Monday, August 31, 2009

Hatch chile my kitchen

The Green Chile Festival at Chuy's runs from August 24 through September 13.  Central Market has the chile roasters out in full force, accompanied by a bevy of recipes to make the most of the hot, smoky chile deliciousness.  The late summer bounty of hatch chiles, available for only a short period of time, is making its way into culinary concoctions across the southwestern U.S.

And where am I?  The East Coast.  Not exactly hatch chile land.  But what did I find at Harris Teeter last week?  Piles and piles of hatch chiles!!  There wasn't exactly a giant roaster set up in the underground parking garage in the Arlington, Virginia Harris Teeter, which is a striking difference from the vast pavement surrounding Central Market this time of year, but I decided that since I had come across hatch chiles, I'd better snatch them up and try to make the most of them.

So what did I do tonight?  That's right, I cranked up the broiler in my gas oven and roasted those bad boys.  Stuck them in a Ziploc bag to steam, peeled the skins off, chopped them up, and...well, for the moment they're hanging out in the fridge because I didn't have the patience for them to magically turn into dinner after all that roasting, peeling, and chopping.  But I have big plans.  Big plans along the line of queso and chilaquiles (say it enthusiastically!  so much more fun - I can't go to Café Brazil and order these without smiling) and just adding them to whatever I happen to be making because they are so good.

Oh, and you know what?  There was a fall chill in the air this morning as I walked to work.  Probably just a freakishly cool day at the very end of August, and while anticipates low 80s for the rest of the week, I'm really, really excited about tomorrow night's expected low of 59 degrees.  I'm a pretty big fan of fall. 

Slowing down in the city

Sometimes you don't need to go all out to have a fantastic weekend. In my world, there's a lot to be said for the joy of sleeping in, playing board games, and enjoying a glass of wine in your pjs. You know what makes it even better? Sharing these low-key times with a good friend who has known me for more than the seven months I've lived here. I'm all for making the rounds of the monuments and memorials and museums and many, many amazing things that D.C. has to offer, which definitely happened this weekend - a lap around the National Mall, moments of reflection at the Washington Monument and World War II memorial, and other quintessential D.C. experiences - but sometimes the best "vacation" moments (and these weekends where friends come to visit are definitely vacations for me - I love our times together) are those that have nothing to with where you are and what all you're doing doing doing, but who you're with and what you're sharing. I'm getting a little Hallmark-card here, so maybe I should just launch into the weekend recap.

My dear friend Judy, who packed up her life and moved to New York City just a few months ago (three cheers for big life changes - go us!), came down to hang out for the weekend. She had been to D.C. before, but in the deep depths of winter when it's somewhat impractical to really get out and do a whole lot, so we resolved to remedy that with some additional museum/monument/wandering about time over the course of the weekend.

After knocking back a couple of movies during her Bolt bus time and suffering a slight delay in arrival due to silly things like monsoon-ish downpours and the perils of traffic, I greeted her in the lobby of my apartment building with a crushing hug, followed by girlish squeals from both of us. Apologies to the night desk guy and his eardrums ensued, then we quickly dropped off her stuff and headed out for a late dinner of tapas - chistorra envuelta en patata frita (spicy chorizo wrapped in crispy potato), croquetas de pollo (chicken fritters) - paella with shrimp, and some delightful red wine at Jaleo. With rain threatening us at every move, we opted to retire back to the sheltered safety of my apartment with a little more wine and some quality "Sex and the City" time.

Cue Saturday morning. Prime time to get an early start on the day and knock out tons of sightseeing before the concrete soaks up enough heat to bake you from underneath as the sun beats down on you from up above. Ummm...not for these gals. Sleeping in? Yes, please. Massive amounts of coffee accompanied by a little breakfast? Yes, please. Oh, and repeat the process on Sunday. Only pass on the little bit of breakfast so we have plenty of room to stuff ourselves with the likes of crispy catfish, friend shrimp, grilled broccoli, sweet potato fries, regular fries, and fried green tomatoes (yeah, so there were a lot of fried foods in the there...the broccoli is slightly redeeming, right?) at Tackle Box in Georgetown, followed by some shopping and neighborhood exploring in this ridiculously quaint and historic area of town. We also discovered the Old Stone House, a crazy-old house with a really cute garden hanging out in the middle of the city. History! It's everywhere!

And for those sightseeing moments...we did hit up the Old Post Office Tower, a new experience for me, which is completely free with remarkably minimal wait time and offers amazing views of the city. We also walked around the mall and the Washington Monument and the World War II memorial and theoretically through the American History museum, although the only thing we really saw there was an amazing banana split the size of our heads that we didn't just look at, but devoured with great enthusiasm. Friends are great for sharing massive desserts.

We did work in some sightseeing here and there, but we also spent a lot of quality time chilling in air conditioning, hanging out in lazy clothes and catching up on life and discussing the life to come. You know, the conversations you have with the people who know you, the people you can really be yourself with and just enjoy hanging out with. After our sightseeing adventures on Saturday, we were exhausted and came back to home base for a power nap so we could head back out on the town on Saturday night. Except...we just stayed lazy, ordered in Thai food, played cards and board games, enjoyed "Last Chance Harvey" courtesy of Comcast On Demand, and talked about life. It was a really refreshing way to spend a Saturday night, especially in this city of appearances and perception and always putting your best forward.  How relaxing to just be yourself and not worry what anyone is thinking of you.

Also...I seem to be stuck in a bit of a food rut when people come to visit. Not that I mind terribly - this rut consists of some really great places with tasty, tasty food. But shouldn't I be trying new things? Then things can be dangerous...cue memory of neon-yellow-walled Thai restaurant with precisely five other patrons and a floor fan taking the place of my preferred central air conditioning. The food was actually pretty decent, though - phew.

"You know, it feels like we could be back in Texas right now." One of my favorite moments of the weekend. Just good times with a good friend, hanging out and enjoying each other's company.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Eating my way through D.C.

I love food.  This, of course, is glaringly obvious to anyone who has known me more than five minutes...well, hopefully a little longer than that.  I wax nostalgic about Texas food, dream about touring America's ballparks simply for their culinary offerings, and bake boozy cupcakes (need to get back on that bandwagon, by the way - coworkers have actually been stopping by, asking where the cupcakes have gone.  Do they actually appreciate them, or are they just out for an afternoon sugar rush and anything will do...I'm guessing option #2, but I'll humor them).  I tend to gaze adoringly at desserts, often without even thinking about it, and I'll order the mystery meat charcuterie platter in a Parisian café without giving it a second thought.

Here inside the Beltway, Washingtonian magazine annually entices the area population with a 100 Best Restaurants list, which covers not just D.C. but a chunk of Northern Virginia and a slice of Maryland that hangs out north of city.  Now, the list is completely subjective, and I wouldn't be surprised if several of the restaurants shell out some key dollars and over-the-top meals to the five Washingtonian employees who dictate their presence and position on the list.  However, I'm a sucker for it, and since most of the recommendations showcase an actual experience at the restaurant, I'll take it for what it's worth and try out at least a few.  I even have a +1 in these food adventures in Dana, she of the NYC dining scene who loves food almost as much as I do.

Now, it would be prohibitively expensive for me to dine at every one of these restaurants, although some of them are actually quite reasonably priced.  That's why I look forward to Restaurant Week the way fashionistas revere Fashion Week.  Fairly reasonably priced meals at the schmancy restaurants.  Sign me up, yes, please.  Last night Dana and I treated ourselves to dinner at Bistro Bis, a French restaurant on Capitol Hill that comes in at #22 on the list.  It was delicious, and I felt like they didn't shortchange us for coming in during Restaurant Week.  We could pick any dessert off the menu!!  They didn't just force some sorbet on us, for which I was extremely grateful as I devoured every last bite of my summer berry bread pudding with crème anglaise.  I'm really not sure how I managed to eat all of it since I'd already consumed the vast majority of my steak tartare (who knew raw meat could be so appealing and tasty?  It was a first for me - I'm all about trying new things), duck leg with toulouse duck sausage and a tomato concassé, and several bites of Dana's spicy mussels.

I've also made it to BLT Steak, Rasika, 2 Amys, Zaytinya, Jaleo, Brasserie Beck, Leopold's, DC Coast, Acadiana, and Liberty Tavern.  So...11 down.  Hmmm.  I really don't think I'm going to make it through all 100.  However, now that Bryan Voltaggio is gracing the airwaves on this season of Top Chef, of which I am a complete addict, I'll probably be making the journey to Frederick, MD* with fellow Top Chef junkie Dana to check out his restaurant, Volt...#15 on the list.  Oh, to be the person who gets to eat their way around town and rank restaurants.  Probably best for my arteries and waistline if I don't land that gig.

*Ok, so I just pulled up Frederick, MD on Google maps and...and this man's restaurant is 49 miles from my home.  Which in traffic could really stink.  It's on par with a trip to Baltimore.  But...maybe Frederick is adorable and worth the trip!  We'll see...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Smithsonianity...Smithsonian insanity?

I'm going to visit every one of the Smithsonian museums. I have no reason not to! They're FREE! Now, I've been to several of them multiple times, but there are others that are probably only going to get one visit, and I haven't even attempted those yet, mostly because they happen to be more than a mile from my apartment.

These guys can get checked off the list:
  1. National Museum of Natural History! Multiple visits to this one, and I'm sure there will be more - it's a crowd-pleaser. Science rocks!
  2. National Museum of the American Indian! I hope eating in the cafe counts, because I've done that three times. I did check out the canoe exhibit at the entrance of the museum...that definitely counts.
  3. National Portrait Gallery! I love their collection of Presidential portraits and the special exhibits that rotate through. Oh, and it's two blocks from my apartment, so ease of access is a big thumbs up.
  4. Smithsonian American Art Museum! It shares building space with the National Portrait Gallery, and the courtyard the two share is one of my favorite D.C. places.
  5. National Zoological Park! Although I did miss the pandas because of the I'll probably go back.
  6. National Air and Space Museum! Another one with multiple visits, and I'm just fascinated by this place - I could spend hours and hours exploring every single exhibit.
  7. National Museum of American History! Hello, Julia Child's kitchen AND Stephen Colbert's portrait? You can't keep me away from this one.

And as of today we can mark off two more:

  1. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden!
  2. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery!
We'll start where I started today - with the outdoor sculpture garden at the Hirshhorn, which is set below street level on the National Mall and is really a very peaceful outdoor space until you encounter the "sound installation" lurking in one of the corners...but other than that, some really cool pieces by Giacometti and Rodin mixed in with the more modern stuff that tends to be shiny and/or just plain odd. One thing I found pretty interesting was a wish tree installation at the front of the garden where visitors can write wishes on paper tags and hang them from a tree - there were so many different languages hanging from that tree on little tags, which helped me appreciate just how many people roll through our nation's capital.

After making my way around the sculpture garden, I headed across the street to the museum itself, which is somewhat affectionately known as "the doughnut" given its architecture - circular with a giant hole in the middle, which actually helps with working your way through the exhibits in a fairly efficient manner. The Hirshhorn showcases modern and contemporary art, and while I've had houseguests experience its offerings, I hadn't made it over there yet myself. Ummm...I think once might be enough for this one. I do appreciate the modern/contemporary take on things and respect artists' visions and acknowledge all of the work that goes into these pieces, but...

Yes, that face pretty much sums it up. I'm in the midst of the Strange Bodies: Figurative Works from the Hirshhorn Collection, wondering why there's a large, sad, naked man in one corner, severed limbs in the other, and a humanish Bedazzled Christmas-tree-like creation in the middle. Now, I did gain some knowledge and experience some artistic "oooh!" moments out of this museum visit - did you know Alexander Calder invented the mobile? Or that many of Alberto Giacometti's emaciated, roughened sculptures were inspired by prisoners liberated from concentration camps? I worked my way through all three levels and admired many a sculpture, but I also contemplated wrapping aluminum foil around objects in my home, calling them art, and selling my way into early retirement. Hmmm.

Time to move on to the Sackler Gallery, which is connected to the Freer Gallery - the two together consist of the National Museums of Asian Art, so I think I can safely say I've seen approximately half of that endeavor. One of my favorite pieces here was one of the few contemporary pieces (I know, I just went all "hmmm" on contemporary art, but when you're up against room after room of Southeast Asian ceramics and ornate saddle stirrups, contemporary starts to look pretty cool again) on display - S-Curve by Anish Kapoor, the same sculptor who created Cloud Gate...the giant bean in Chicago's Millennium Park. There's just something about those highly reflective surfaces that draws me in and compels many, many clicks of the camera button.

I did learn about the tale of Shuten Doji, the story of the conquest of the monster Shuten Doji by the hero Minamoto as told through screens, scrolls, and fans...and did you know that there is Japanese calligraphy? Check out my sneakily-taken picture from the "don't take pictures in here!" Shuten Doji exhibit (no flash, so no damage caused to ridiculously old Japanese scroll - I feel no guilt for breaking this particular rule). Major props to Minamoto for conquering the red-headed beast. There, culture!

I think I might need to take advantage of some of the docent tours to better experience several of these places. I'm quite capable of amusing myself and learning fun facts in the Air & Space Museum, but I might need a little more help in analyzing Asian pottery.

And still to come:

  1. Anacostia Community Museum. This might be exciting, but the name definitely doesn't get me all thrilled about it. I promise I'll give it its due, though.
  2. Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum - this one is actually in New York, which presents a small problem of geography. I'm going to make it there, though.
  3. Freer Gallery of Art
  4. National Postal Museum. Yes, there's a museum dedicated to the USPS. It does kinda fascinate me that mail actually gets from one place to another, so maybe this will provide some enlightening moments.
  5. Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center - it's out by Dulles airport, which is a small drawback, but...they have a space shuttle!!
  6. National Museum of African Art
  7. Smithsonian Institution Building - the Castle! This actually serves as the information center for all of the Smithsonian museums, so I might save it for last just to do the whole thing completely backwards.
Honestly, if I was going to go all gangbusters on this one, I could theoretically visit ALL of them in ONE DAY. That just seems a little ridiculous, though, so I'm going to set myself a deadline of December 31, 2010, which should be completely manageable. Phew.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sailors and ships and seafood, oh my!

Summer weekends are rapidly slipping away, so it's definitely time to make the most of them by doing things like...heading over to Annapolis for the day! Dana and I managed to wake up at a decent hour, aided tremendously by excessive amounts of Starbucks lattes, and drove over to Annapolis, a mere hop, skip, and jump away from the city. Did you know it's considered the sailing capital of the world? Me either, but I can tell you it's ridiculously cute and old and right on the water. We made our first stop the United States Naval Academy - developing midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically since 1845. I would never just say that - it's part of their shtick. The campus is beautiful, but a the same time. I mean, there's serious business going on here.

Of course, we did want to see the sailors, and they seemed to be a little few and far between on a Sunday morning/afternoon...but then we caught them all coming out of church. Score! We were slightly afraid we were going to be crushed by pods of midshipmen marching around the yard, with calls of "hut hut hut!" and serious faces surrounding us, but of course we survived unscathed. Chivalry, after all. I hope they teach them that, too.

After wandering about the campus and stopping in strategic places for a dose of air conditioning (thank you, activities hall and museum!), we headed back towards the center of the town and checked out a few historic homes along the way. We made a quick stop at the Hammond-Harwood House, built in 1774 in the Georgian style, and declined to go on their hour-long tour of the home - the crazy lady in the hat who greeted us was definitely a factor in that decision.

Still interested in learning a little bit more about the history of the area and checking out a historic home (yes, we're nerds - I accept this), we made our way to the William Paca House and Garden, yet another national historic landmark that's been restored by the Historic Annapolis Foundation. William Paca's claim to fame? Well, he signed the Declaration of Independence and did all kinds of awesome things for the state of Maryland, so he's held in pretty high esteem around these parts. I didn't know who he was...but I sure do now. We got a tour of the gardens, which were just gorgeous and very Versailles-like (only on a much smaller scale, of course), and then embarked on a tour of the house as a group of six. I felt young, very young, which was actually a pretty nice feeling, even if it did imply we were embarking on adventures deemed exciting by the retiree set. I'm personally a big fan of the Georgian style - it's symmetrical, organized, structured. Shocking that description appeals to me, right? Anyway, it was really interesting to make our way through the house and gardens and learn a little bit of history and architecture.

Our tour of the Paca house took up a decent chunk of our time, and afterwards we were so hungry that we almost ate our arms starving, so we grabbed a quick slice of pizza in the center of town and continued on our historical viewings and endeavors. Maryland State House! The oldest state capitol still in continuous legislative use AND the only state house to have served as the nation's capitol. The Treaty of Paris was ratified here! George Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army here! Yes, it's crazy old and quite pretty to boot. St. Anne's Church! Windows designed by Tiffany & Co. - gorgeous. It felt very European save for the red brick (how very New England) exterior.

After a little more town exploring and wandering, we headed down to the docks for our much-anticipated sailing adventure aboard the Woodwind, a 74 foot wooden schooner that loads up with a rambunctious crew and a crowd of people to go sail the Chesapeake Bay. Ummm....I need a sailboat. More specifically, I need to know someone who has a sailboat who has no problem taking me out on the water on weekends and doing all of the hard sailing work themselves, because if you asked me to tack and jib and do all these sailing things, we would probably tip over and die. We strategically placed ourselves to board the boat as early as possible, which was a great move - found ourselves right at the front with no people in front of us and our view. This was such a fantastic experience. So peaceful out on the water, and we had fantastic views of the Naval Academy and the Bay Bridge and the ridiculously gorgeous waterfront homes along the way.

After our sailing adventure, we were in desperate need of sustenance, and we made our way out to a middle-of-nowhere spot along the bay known as Cantler's, where we dined at the bar next to a man named George whom I'm fairly certain lives at the bar and doles out advice to anyone who happens to be near. This place is a total dive, but it came highly recommended, and after our crab dip and jumbo shrimp and stuffed rockfish, I would also highly recommend. As long as you have an actual map or accurate navigation device to get you out there. The Google Maps directions are a little lacking.

All in all, Annapolis is an incredibly quaint, adorably cute, historical little place that I very well may visit again during my time in D.C. If you want to see more, you can check out my pictures from the day here. I love the day trips! Especially up here...if you drive 30-45 minutes from Dallas or Amarillo or Lubbock...yes, there are options, but it's certainly nothing like this. Long weekend in Philadelphia, here I come.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Jazz in the Garden

Friday night I found myself at Jazz in the Garden at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. Now, I'm not usually a jazz kind of gal. You might even call me a bit of a jazz neophyte. Being my anal, structured self, I typically prefer something a little more orderly...something where you can really keep the beat, follow what's going on, tap your feet to a rhythm.

You know what? I really wouldn't care what kind of music they showcase at Jazz in the Garden - it could be Showtunes in the Garden or Solid Gold Oldies in the Garden or Throwback Jamz in the Garden - this is just a good time to be had by all. I couldn't even tell you who was playing last Friday without looking at the schedule, which is conveniently available online here. Basically, the premise is...grab some friends, a blanket, a picnic, and spend an hour or two or three or more hanging out the sculpture garden, listening to some good music, enjoying a pleasant summer evening of live music and ridiculously strong pitchers of sangria.

It was so crowded by the time I made my way there! Fortunately, I was meeting an exceptionally tall person who's quite good at providing directions in a crowded space with certain landmarks. This exceptionally tall person happens to be Carolyn's boyfriend, Justin, who was in town for the weekend visiting a friend, so I met up with them and spent some good time catching up and enjoying a D.C. summer evening. I don't think I would ever get tired of Jazz in the Garden.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Vaughns do D.C.

I know these two would visit even if I lived in a far more boring locale...say, Bismarck, North Dakota...which may be a fascinating place for all I know...but I daresay our nation's capital holds a little more intrigue on the travel front. I just think it's much more interesting for two of your dearest friends to come into town for the weekend and do cool things like tour the Capitol, visit six Smithsonian museums, and explore the Lincoln Memorial than trek around the North Dakota Heritage Center. Although if you're looking for something a little more low-key, maybe Bismarck is the way to go. I digress. Diana and Trinity came to town for the weekend!!

After making the trek into town from Dulles late Thursday night and catching up a little bit, we woke up on Friday morning with a list to tackle. Yes, a list. A list of activities. This is only one of the many reasons why I love Diana so dearly. First on the list - we headed off to the Capitol for a tour, which involved standing in a line, standing in a line, and standing in one more line before we made our way into a theater for a short film about the history of the Capitol that actually did give me some small "I love America!!" goosebumps. We then headed out in our group of twenty or so for our guided tour. It was really interesting to hear the history of the artwork in the rotunda and learn about the "whisper spot" in the former House chamber (supposedly John Quincy Adams had a strategically placed desk where he could hear, quite clearly, what the opposition was whispering on the other side of the room...something about the arch in the ceiling and acoustics and who knows what). The visitors' center is gorgeous, by the way, which is a nice feature considering how much the darn thing cost.

After soaking up some of our nation's history and checking out a pretty impressive building, we were starving, so we headed over to my default dining spot on the National Mall, the café at the Museum of the American Indian. I tried something new this time (of course), a chipotle chicken taco on fry bread (oh yum!) while Diana and Trinity both opted for the pulled buffalo sandwich. Once we refueled our tummies, we headed out for Museum Extravaganza 2009. First stop - Air and Space Museum, where Trinity and I decided to embark on the Cosmic Coaster, described as a "white-knuckled" adventure through the solar system. Diana, fearing for the lunch resting in her tummy, decided to explore a little bit of the museum while we embarked on this amazing adventure. Ummm...her lunch would have been quite fine, because this adventure was far from white-knuckled. However, the two tiny children seated in front of us had the absolute time of their lives, which did put a smile on our faces. How we managed to pick the one ride out of four that doesn't spin you upside down, I'm not sure.

After checking out the Wright flyer and giant missiles and Skylab and a few other aviation wonders, we made a stop in the gift shop to pick up some freeze dried ice cream (astronaut food!!), in part because we needed a treat to make up for the flight simulator disappointment. It was...chalky...yet...strangely ice cream-like once it hit the tongue. Interesting.

On to natural history! We were attacked by dinosaurs, mesmerized by the Hope Diamond, and fascinated by the butterfly exhibit where you can walk through a greenhouse-type thing with about sixty kinds of butterflies. We went a little snap happy in here. Feel the flutter! Oh, and is it every little boy's instinct to attempt to catch the butterflies, thereby killing them? I can't tell you how many moms had to keep exclaiming "don't try to catch them!!" Silly little boys.

And next stop...American history! The American flag that inspired the Star-Spangled Banner, Julia Child's kitchen, and bits & pieces of pop culture all over the place. Per Trinity's request, we then embarked on a comic book mission (I know, I know...but you can see for yourself just how much the comic books mean to him when you see his despair when denied his regular comic book binge) and found ourselves at Big Monkey Comics. That expedition was a little bit of a bust, but we drowned our sorrows (well...Trinity's sorrows...Diana and I could care less) in some fine German beer and ridiculously tasty pizza at Pizza Paradiso in Dupont Circle. Absolutely exhausted after walking around all day (even though it wasn't seventeen miles, as some....ahh hmm, maybe one...pointed out at the end of the day), we retired back to my place with a deck of cards and some Blue Moon on the roof. I love rooftop time with friends - one of my favorite things about city life.

Saturday we set out to tackle the memorials and monuments, with stops at the White House (front AND back, of course - we needed to find a good photo angle for the potential Vaughn Christmas card), Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. There's a lot of walking there, folks, so we opted for a quick ride on the Circulator to take us back down the National Mall to the National Archives. There is always ALWAYS a line to get in, so we waited it out with some real (not astronaut) ice cream while the sun blazed down on us. After checking out some extremely old and important documents...Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, you know, semi-important stuff...along with some cool stuff in the Public Vault (the original Texas constitution!) and the BIG exhibit (Taft's bathtub! Shaq's shoe!), we continued on Museum Extravaganza 2009 with a visit to the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian Museum of American Art. I'd already seen a good chunk of this one, so we divided and conquered, enjoying everything from crazy modern art to the presidential portraits to some quiet time in the courtyard. I love this courtyard, by the way - it's such a great space in the middle of the city to just sit and...well, sit. Thai food for dinner, and so went another great day in the city.

Sunday we continued on Museum Extravaganza 2009 with a sobering exploration of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which was high on Diana's list of to-dos. Before embarking on our serious afternoon, though, we spent some quality time perusing the offerings at both Borders (where I happened to buy four books and haul them around the rest of the day - this is how much I love books) and H&M (so cheap! so adorable!). Having fairly recently visited the concentration camp at Dachau, we were pretty well-versed in the horrors that took place before and during World War II, but the Holocaust museum is certainly worth a visit. Definitely a little crowded (weekend!), but watching a short film on Hitler's rise to power, walking through the moving exhibits, and hearing the stories of survivors made up for the early crowds as we worked our way through three levels of history. If you have the time, make a stop here - well worth it.

After just a little more ice cream (the street vendors suck you in with their amazing array of frozen options!!), we made our way home, loaded up in the car, and headed out to Dulles to drop off Trinity at the airport. Diana was headed to work in NYC for the next week, so we had time for a girl dinner at Jaleo...and maybe some sangria...and maybe a little extra sangria from the friendly, native Texan bartender...before heading over to Union Station so she could catch her train.

I had a fantastic weekend with these two. I can almost forget how much I miss these people until they show up for the weekend and remind me how wonderful they are. Check out my full collection of pictures from the weekend here. For the full photographic adventure, I'm sure the Vaughns won't be too far behind with their pictures here. Three cheers for good times with dear friends!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Maybe there is a little Texas here...

You know what? Even though I'm not in Texas, I can still find little bits and pieces of it trickling across the country and into my home. For example...
  • I found an adorable Texas cookie-cutter at Hill's Kitchen, a cutesy little kitchen shop in Capitol Hill. I'm a total sucker for these kitchen stores. I could spend hours just wandering through them. Anyway, Texas shaped cookies are in my future, which definitely reminds me of this cake so lovingly baked by Mr. Vaughn, which just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and Texan inside.
  • Homesick Texan, a food blogger I follow, fittingly has a little write-up in the July issue of Saveur because...the entire issue is dedicated to Texas - Texas food, Texas chefs, Texas Texas TEXAS. Oh, and Mom, I'll be calling you for recipes soon. All of that culinary wisdom needs to make its way onto a piece of paper and into my recipe box so I can start wowing my friends up here with things like chicken fried steak and red velvet cake.
  • I fried something last weekend.
  • I've spotted UT, A&M, Tech, and even UNT shirts adorning what I can only assume are summer tourists...but possibly locals. The footwear usually gives them away.
  • Stephanie's husband, a native Texan, often wears cowboy boots. I find this a surprisingly refreshing change from the excessive amount of lobster-embroidered shorts and/or polo shirts adoring the prepsters.
Ok, so maybe these things don't just trickle kinda have to seek them out. I'm more than willing to do so, though -- just take a look at the number of cans of Rotel I have stashed away.

And...two of my favorite Texans are making an appearance this weekend. As and in person, coming to D.C., good times in store for all. The Vaughns are coming into town tonight! Diana and Trinity, get ready for your D.C. adventures, and if you feel like smuggling some Rosa's queso through the TSA folks (it's a liquid, right? Three ounces at a time, baby), I wouldn't be opposed to the idea. Except I'm writing this as you're already at the airport. Drat. Maybe next time.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A taste of America

Last Sunday I made my first official trip to Baltimore (you almost get there when you catch a flight out of BWI and you almost get there when BoltBus drives you around the city, but just not quite!) to meet up with Dana and a couple of her NYC pals for the Orioles-Red Sox game at Camden Yards. My first impression of the area around the ballpark was general amusement at all of the signs proclaiming "THIS IS BIRDLAND." I realize your team is the Orioles and all, but couldn't the PR department come up with something a little bit better than "birdland?" It just made me giggle.

Second impression was...what exactly is in Baltimore? I-95 coming out of D.C. drops you right into the stadium area, so I didn't exactly explore the city, but...what does this place have going for it? This question wasn't really answered on this particular exploration, but I know off the top of my head that Duff bakes cakes here and Anthony Bourdain found some pretty tasty "pit beef" that might remind me of Texas barbecue, so maybe I'll plan on a Baltimore Saturday to better explore the city.
Now, I've babbled on before about baseball and how I'm generally more enamored with the food than with the game itself, but on this particular occasion I found myself flipped around a little bit. Due to some rooftop times the night before that involved grilling, card games, blueberry crumb bars (oh yes, you know that was my contribution), copius amounts of adult beverages, and Chinese food at 4 AM, I wasn't feeling quite as food and/or beer adventurous as I usually do. Oh, and the game was actually exciting. Home runs all over the place! Crowd banter between the Sox fans and the Orioles fans! I was even inspired to capture an action shot of the game!

Even if I didn't enjoy the food and beverage the way I should (I'll be back to remedy that, I promise!), the sight of Boardwalk Fries accompanied by add-as-much-as-you-like apple cider vinegar and Old Bay seasoning (which didn't sound that great, honestly - I think it was the vinegar part that was getting to me. Something about that smell...) got me thinking about great regional food offerings at America's ballparks. Where else are you going to put vinegar and seafood seasoning on your french fries? The Nationals offer Ben's Chili Bowl, Yankees have Nathan's hot dogs, the Mariners proffer grilled salmon sandwiches, and the Astros serve up a BBQ stuffed baked potato. Not only can you enjoy America's pastime, you can enjoy a taste of the area. Makes it kinda tempting to go on a ballpark tour. Also makes me wish I still had summers off.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Oh, just fry it

Some people are inspired by a farmers' market bounty to create something healthy and delicious from all of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs on display. I mean, you're surrounded by things that are inherently healthy for you - just think about all of the prominently displayed naturally occurring vitamins and cheery summer colors:

I, however, am a person that's inspired to fry things or cover them in brown sugar and sauté away. We'll call it a nod to my Southern roots.

I had a much better stop at the Penn Quarter Farmers Market last Thursday than I did back in April when there were zero vegetables to be found. It's kinda remarkable that I actually haven't made it back there until...well, almost August. Where is the summer going, anyway? I found superstar onions (I'm going to nickname them narcissistic onions) and pattypan squash and green tomatoes this time around, and of course the first thing that comes to mind (to my mind, anyway) when faced with green tomatoes is...fried green tomatoes! For some of you this may bring to mind the film version, which is based on the book version, which actually does include a recipe for fried green tomatoes. I suppose it's the Southern in me that immediately jumps to the "fried" when it comes to vegetables, although I can think of several perfectly acceptable substitutes that basically involved smothering everything in cheese. Oh, that's rather Southern, too, isn't it?

I was proud of myself for winging it somewhat and throwing together several different recipes to create the taste I was going for instead of following one recipe ingredient by ingredient, line by line -- I am an accountant, after all, and it's just in my nature to follow the rules. However, The Great Fried Chicken Adventure of 2004/2005 came to mind as I was testing the oil temperature - as it spit angrily at me, I made the wise decision to take it off the heat and cool it down just a smidge before dropping what could have been spattering oil bombs (that should have turned into beautiful fried green tomatoes) into its midst. The tomatoes turned out completely delicious and entirely unhealthy, which is just the way I prefer my vegetables. Although it's actually a fruit. Hmmm, fried fruit...I wonder what I can do with peaches...

Oh, and the squash and onions were a total experiment that turned into squash and onions with brown sugar, which is actually quite tasty. The accompanying write-up suggests that this combination "would be a success with a vegetable-averse child," so perhaps this is one way to get Trinity to eat his veggies. Cover them with sugar.