Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Men in hats

It's possible I'm developing a thing for scruffy men in hats.  Possible...but more likely that the hat, scruffy face thing just happens to occur in two men, who makes a pretty tasty burger and wows me with his knife skills (cue sneaky photo of Spike doling out the beverages at Good Stuff Eatery, which has nothing to do with his knife skills but does provide a passable shot of the hat/scruffiness)...

...and the other who puts on a pretty great concert at the 9:30 Club on a random Thursday night (cue least-blurry low light picture of Mat Kearney from recently attended concert):

I really loved his first album, where he occasionally and surprisingly busts into white-boy rap, but his second and latest album is filled with more...well, kinda mushy, less rappy stuff, and totally non-mushy entertaining stuff,and I love it even more.  So, when I found out he would be in D.C. on his latest tour, I had to snag a ticket and go. 

I've been missing my concert time.  I'm lacking some friends here on the same musical wavelength as me, and while I did enjoy Pat Green here in the ci-tay and Josh Ritter with my sissy down in North Carolina, no one really wants to make the trip to Baltimore to see Ray LaMontagne or head over to DAR Constitution Hall to check out Snow Patrol.  So you know what I did last Thursday?  Took myself to a concert.  And I had a really great time.  He put on a great show, even coming out into the audience at one point and leading a mass sing-along.  Cue another slightly blurry photograph from said concert:

Great, great show.  Loved every second of it.  I love live music.  Pick up "City of Black and White" if you're looking for some new tunes - I'm partial to "Fire & Rain" and "Lifeline."  Or ignore me and listen to whatever you like.  That's how I find cool new music, from you people who listen to other things.

Oh, and as a side #100 on this blog thing I've got going on!  Woohoo!  And as I hit #100, I've been here in D.C. about eight months, which means...time to switch jobs and start up something new on Monday.  A little nervous about somewhat limited base knowledge in international tax, but up for the challenge and definitely ready to try something new.

Plus I have iTunes to help me through anything.  Thanks, music.

Damn you, little white ball!

Maybe not the most professional exclamation to utter during a work-sponsored networking event at the East Potomac Golf Course when surrounded by colleagues, but for anyone out there who has ever attempted the game of golf1, maybe you have some inkling of what of I'm talking about.  Now, I've played my fair share of rounds at Putt-Putt2, hit some balls at Top Golf3, and even tested the driving range a couple of times, but this obviously does not a true golf player make.  Now, I did appreciate this afternoon off to go hang out with some female colleagues and learn a little bit about the game of golf.  Don't get me wrong - escaping from your cubicle without having to take vacation time is always a blessing.  And in my own defense, the "damn you, little white ball!" exclamation did come near the end of our two-hour slugfest filled with clubs galore and a plethora of those little white balls4 when several co-workers echoed my feelings and just didn't want to express themselves quite so clearly5, so I actually think it fit in quite nicely with the day's experience.

I can see how this might be a relaxing way to spend a Saturday once you've got the hang of things.  But for someone who makes better contact with the ball when she closes her eyes6, there's a rather large mountain to climb in order for this game to shift over into the "relaxing" realm.  Now, our instructor explained that it's very common for women to overthink the game, trying to control every single motion and think it through instead of know, swinging and hitting the ball.  Make that a woman who's not just any woman but an anal type-A accountant, and you have a classic overthinker trying to will that little white ball into submission.  I think I was exercising more of a death grip than the suggested comfortable grip on the club, because after all that driving my arm still hurt three days I'd gotten a flu shot in the upper arm from an epidural needle or something.  Geez.  I did pick up some good technique and learn that my right shoulder has a tendency to tense up toward my ear rather than ease into the swing...but I just don't think I'm going to pursue this whole golf thing.  Even though our pro instructors really tried to sell us on the joys of golf, I don't want to invest in shoes with spikes and gloves and clubs and clothes and lessons and weekends gone for who knows how long while going through increasing ranges of frustration to reach golf nirvana.  I'll just sleep in, thanks.

If I'm needed on a golf outing, business or otherwise, I'd be more than happy to drive the cart7 and match you drink for drink at the clubhouse afterwards.  Please don't ask me to actually play. 

1 I'm not talking about you natural-born golf phenoms who come out of the womb hitting perfect drives and putting like a pro...not that I know any of these phenoms or suspect that you would in any way be reading this, but just in case one of you is lurking around and happens to think, "hey, it's not so hard!"
2 I even enjoyed a rather spectacular birthday party there...which one was it, family?  I think either 8 or 9.  I remember having a blast.  AND ice cream.  There was definitely tasty ice cream.
3 I think the abundantly available alcohol helped with confidence and henceforth my abilities.  And would you believe their three, precisely three, locations in the U.S. consist of Chicago, Dallas, and Alexandria, VA?  Interesting combination...maybe Top Golf is showing me the way and I'm supposed to go to Chicago next...
4 I'd also like to add that it was an unseasonably warm day after a veritable slew of pleasant autumnal weather.  Of course we would hit the golf course with sun blazing and minimal breeze.  Sigh.
5 That's what I'm telling myself, anyway...
6 Every single time.  Driving, chipping, and putting.  Eyes open = whiffs of air, weak hits, and poor contact with the ball.  Eyes closed = budding Tiger Woods-ette.  Ok, not nearly that good.  But still infinitely better than with the eyes open.
7 Which, sadly, I didn't even get to do during our outing.  That's the best part!

Love me some books

Just know that when you mention you're going to spend a decent chunk of Saturday at the National Book Festival, you open yourself up to a variety of reactions.  On one hand, you have the fellow bibliophiles who express joy and excitement, and on the other you have those who get a little less excited about the printed word and shoot you an odd look while trying to figure out why this would serve as an inspiration to actually get out of bed.  The festival was started by Laura Bush back in 2001 as a way to promote the Library of Congress, bring together authors and book-lovers, etc. etc.  I was pretty pumped about the chance to actually meet a few authors and hear what they had to say at all of the different pavilions that showcased different genres: history & biography, mystery & thrillers, fiction & fantasy; so on and so forth.

I ambitiously loaded up a messenger bag with six hardcovers, two paperbacks, and assorted other necessities (including a last-minute grab of an umbrella, which turned out to be a rather fortuitous move - sprinkles are not appreciated when you're trying to get your books ready for a signing...or when you're just walking around, for that matter), then walked off to the national mall.  I only briefly regretted the amount of books I was lugging around as I stood in an extra-long Starbucks line, desperately needed my A.M. dose of caffeine, and then came to regret the pile a little bit more when I realized just how popular some of these author signings were going to be.  You know me, I mapped out a plan of attack beforehand to catch so-and-so at Pavilion X at this time to hear to so-and-so speak, then go stand in line and wait for Author Y to sign, then over here then over here...unfortunately, since I wasn't there for the Wilson Kimeli Naiyomahs and Jane Hirshfields of the world, but rather the James Pattersons and John Irvings and Judy Blumes, I had a whole lot more line waiting as part of my day than I would have preferred.

I waited out James Patterson since he was signing at one of the earlier times, and after that hour and a half wait (I'm crazy, I know, but at least I was surrounded by mildly amusing people.  I wish I had a tape recorder for some of what was going on around me) I did at least get to have a ten second conversation with the man...about Texas, of all things.  Thank you, Austin City Limits t-shirt conversation starter.

After a successful signing and sighting, I knew I would never make it through the crazy-long Judy Blume and John Irving lines before they stopped signing, so I just played author paparazzi snagged a couple of pictures.  In anticipation of this event, I managed to track down one of my Judy Blume paperbacks from the days of old (you know, like...middle-schoolish days of old when we're all struggling with the turmoil of adolescence and Judy Blume offers some kind of outlet where you're like "yes, I totally understand how Rachel feels!!" while scrunching your socks and adjusting your t-shirt clip) for her to sign, but alas - the yellowing paperback will just have to continue on with my name scrawled on the title page.  I don't know why I thought anyone else would mistake the book for theirs, but you can rest assured that my loopy handwriting years marked that book as mine.

Unfortunately, all of this line waiting and author listening and walking from tent to tent (loaded down with books, mind you...paper gets heavy) was during on and off sprinkles, which may have contributed to my unwillingness to stand in another line for another hour and a half, but I was determined to make a go of one last signing just to see what this person's reaction would be when I made it up to the table.  You see, I don't really think of Paula Deen as an author.  I think of her as The Queen of Butter.  The Queen of Butter who may put out a cookbooks with loads and loads of recipes calling for butter and bacon and all kinds of other delicious Southerny ingredients.  Which is why I was a little perplexed as to why she was speaking in the Teens & Children pavilion for half an hour. Curious, I trooped over to catch a few minutes of her chatter before deciding to take up a place in line for her signing, scheduled to start at 1:00.  I headed over to the book signing area, scoped out the already-formed, fairly lengthy line of Paula Deen devotees, and guesstimated that I could make it through in about an hour fifteen, hour thirty.  I was willing to wait that out because I had my iPod to keep me occupied AND because I really, really, really wanted this woman to sign a butter wrapper.  Yup, a butter wrapper.  I just thought it would be fitting.

When the kind yet overly excitable volunteer at the end of the line informed a pack of us that she would only be signing "the lunch-box book!  you MUST HAVE the lunch-box book!!  it is possible she will be signing OTHER BOOKS and OTHER BOOKS only time permitting, but we do NOT anticipate that given the number of people here!," I took myself and my perfectly cleaned, beautifully flattened butter wrapper out of line and called it a day.  At least it solved the whole children's pavilion mystery.  Come on, Paula, don't force people over to the Borders sales tent to pick up your latest book!  I didn't think you would be that way!  But for those of you who might be interested, Paula Deen's Cookbook for the Lunch-Box Set is now available from Borders and other fine retailers.

Monday, September 21, 2009

In the shadow of the dome

How will I ever do and see it all?  There are only about twenty quadrillion things to do in and around D.C., and seeing as how I'm about eight months in on this two-year gig, there are only sixteen-ish months left for all of these explorations.  I've reconciled myself to the fact that I really can't do it all (let's face it, all is a little overwhelming and unreasonable), but I'm going to knock out as much as I can. 

Two times a year Cultural Tourism D.C. offers a plethora of free walking/biking tours through various neighborhoods in the city, and what better way to enjoy the early fall temperatures than setting out on a Sunday afternoon to enjoy "In the Shadow of the Dome," offering the opportunity to "travel around Washington’s most famous architectural icon, the U.S. Capitol, and the buildings of America’s legislative and judicial branches of government. You will discover that “Capitol Hill” does indeed describe a rise above the city and that its leafy green setting features historic trees, fountains, outdoor sculpture, and even a grotto. The Library of Congress, U.S. Botanic Garden, and U.S. Supreme Court are all stops, as is the home of Alice Paul, who worked tirelessly to guarantee American women the right to vote."  Next time I'm going to try to grab a spot in "Spies of Georgetown" before the online reservations fill up, but for today I think some Capitol Hill explorations fit the bill.

Our group met up outside the Capitol South Metro stop at 1:30 (or closer to 1:35 for those of us who may have been running a tad bit late and decided to walk the mile and a half to the Metro stop instead of actually riding involved switching lines from my home Metro stop, and honestly, with their weekend schedule, it probably was faster to walk...I digress...), and the next two hours of our lives were placed in the capable hands of Andrew, a political communications student at George Washington University and afficionado of all things D.C., specifically the political scene.

Our first little bit of trivia included a brief glimpse at the rowhouses where young legislators cram themselves in four at a time while Congress is in session (former residence of Barack Obama!  suddenly a truly historic landmark!) and some tidbits about the Capitol Hill Club, a rather elite little establishment where I doubt I'll ever have the pleasure of having a drink or attending a lavish wedding.

Next viewing - Library of Congress.  Did you know that Thomas Jefferson offered up his personal collection of books after those darn British set fire to the Capitol building in 1814 and destroyed the original volumes held within the Library of Congress?  I mean, he didn't just hand them over - there was definitely payment involved.  Back to the library - there's a Gutenberg Bible in there!  Also, after this fire fiasco and the "we can't buy new books all the time!" revelation, all publishers are required to submit two complete copies of all of their published works, meaning that the Library of Congress holds a ridiculous number of books, housed in three separate buildings with this really cool cart/tunnel system thing that zooms books from one place to another as needed.  I still need to make it inside and check out the Reading Room.

I'm not sure why I keep forgetting which side of the Capitol houses the Senate or the House, but I'll definitely keep it straight now that I've gotten some background on the office buildings that line Independence and Constitution Avenues and which legislators reside where.  Oh, and the Rayburn House Office Building made pretty good use of the "additional sums as may be necessary" for its construction - those additional sums far exceeded the original appropriations and were put to use for, among other things, a swimming pool and basketball court.  As you can imagine, offices in the Rayburn building are in high demand. 

We made a quick stop outside the U.S. Botanic Garden, where I learned...well, not too much, but we did get a nice little break in the shade and learn that Congressional aides are a fan of the jungle's balmy 75 degree comfort in the midst of winter - take your lunch on over to the Botanic Garden, kids, while your powerful bosses take taxpayer dollars on over to Charlie Palmer for a nice steak.

We continued our circle around the Capitol with a stop at the James A. Garfield Monument, which is a really interesting statue depicting him at three stages of his life and unfortunately is having some issues with its bronze eroding.  Garfield was assassinated pretty early on in his presidency, but actually hung in there for quite a while after he was shot - turns out they were having trouble locating the bullet with this fancy new metal-detector device because of the metal bedsprings in the bed.  Oopsie.

Did you know the Capitol dome is actually made of cast iron and painted to look like marble?  The darn thing's heavy enough as is, and cast iron is quite a bit lighter than marble, so...there you have it, American innovation.  I've shared quite a few Capitol tidbits before from the tour with the Vaughns, so let's move on to the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial stationed directly in front of the Capitol.  It's very much an homage to his time in the military rather than his presidency, which I find pretty interesting, and I find it especially interesting that the sculptor, Henry Shrady, spent twenty years of his life working on the memorial and sadly died two weeks before its dedication in 1922 - this poor guy actually joined the Army to better understand Grant's dedication and really threw himself into the job.  The cavalry sculpture to Grant's right depicts Shrady moments from being trampled to death by horses.  Talk about a stressful job if that's the way you're going to memorialize yourself in a piece of your work.

I've walked past a couple of things many times before and had absolutely no idea what they were - well, now I know that a random stone structure provided some primitive air conditioning to the Capitol back in the day, and a lovely little red brick structure is known as the Summer House and served as a response to complaints in the late 1800s that visitors to the Capitol could find no water nor any place to rest on their journey.  That hill really does people in, you know.  Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in NYC, was hired to develop and improve the Capitol grounds and make it more hospitable to visitors...hence all the trees around that strategically provide some shade during the sweltering summer heat.  The benches installed in the Summer House also had very sturdy stone armrests installed to encourage visitors to...sit upright...and...avoid certain activities.  You should have heard the older ladies in the walking group giggle and gasp at that one.

Final stop?  Some tidbits on the Supreme Court and slavery's contribution to the building of the Capitol.  It was really interesting to spend a couple of hours walking around so many things I've seen before and never knew quite as much about.  Thank you, Washington Walks!  I'll be back for Memorials by Moonlight and possibly a few others.

Again, completely in love with all of the free things to do in this city.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Malls of America

The mall.  Oh, the mall.  If there's an actual mall in D.C. proper, I don't know about it.  Yes, there is the National Mall, but to many people's surprise (you'd be surprised at the surprising number of people this is surprising to) there's not a whole lot of shopping to be done there.  Unless Smithsonian gift shops and ice cream trucks count.  And sometimes that's just not going to cut it - I need stores galore, the unmistakable wafting scent of ubiquitous food court offerings, oodles of loud children, and a constant supply of recirculated air.
So, I drove myself out to Tyson's Corner, home of the mecca of malls.  There's not only Tyson's Galleria, but also Tyson's Corner Center, just across the road from each other.  Both with a Macy's.  How many Macy's do you need in one square mile?  Anyway, you could conceivably, and very easily, spend the entire day (and an entire paycheck) out here. An absurd amount of stores. A movie theater.  On my last two weekend treks out to Tyson's, I finally saw "Julie and Julia" (LOVED it, and must attempt beef bourguignon in my own home).  With a ridiculous amount of restaurants and food vendors at my disposal, I really only dealt with the overzealous saleswoman manning the Starbucks register. No, I'm sure venti is even better, but I'll just stick with the grande, and NO, I don't want a pastry to go with that!!  Oh, I also had to get one of those Auntie Anne's pretzels yesterday with that neon cheese sauce that defies both science and nature.  And a pedicure, too?  Yes, please.  Turns out the only tangible goods I purchased were edible.  Well, that sounds about right.

Do other countries believe in the mall the way America does? I'm guessing not.  I want everything and I want it now - a very American way of thinking. So...just go to the mall. On top of the endless retail possibilities, where you're limited only by how much you want to carry around, there's also some excellent people-watching opportunities.  Talk about a cross-section of America making its way past you.  I also personally turned down at least three mall cart people who wanted to straighten my hair, thread my eyebrows, and give me permanent eye makeup.  Am I that visibly in need of beauty help, or did I just happen to time my walk-by to coincide with the remote-control car guy's break?

Next time I'm totally going in the Lego Store, just because it's there.  Watch out, kids.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Happy 9/15!

To all of you tax accountants out there who have struggled and toiled with the compliance burden known as September 15th, I salute you.  I have felt your pain, walked a mile in your shoes, and...[insert clichĂ© here].

Now, that part I don't miss.  The pain and struggle and toil part.  I've taken advantage of my reasonable D.C. schedule to accomplish awesome things like actually taking off Labor Day and watching college football instead of spending most of my waking hours in the office.  But I do miss the camaraderie and collegiality and general feelings of "we're in this together!!" that come with all of that struggle.  However, if that can only be built through working fourteen-hour days and weekends together...surely there's something more to it than that.

Go lift a glass and celebrate an accomplishment and small break in your busy, busy lives.  I'll be calling quite a few of you know, since you'll actually have time to talk on the phone and all.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Arts on Foot

Yesterday afternoon I braved the clouds and cooler temperatures (ok, the cooler temperatures didn't really require braving - that I embraced.  The clouds, though, did look a little bit menacing...) to check out the Arts on Foot festivities going on in my neighborhood.  In its seventeenth year and billed as Washington D.C.'s "premier outdoor arts festival," I figured it was worth walking the two blocks over to check the art market, restaurant samplings, and varied musical performances.

I was pretty impressed with the set-up - plenty of people offering directions and guidance, a well-marked information booth, lots of seating, sufficient trashcans, and a semi-logical traffic pattern for winding your way through all the different booths.  The weather didn't seem to deter many people - check out the crowd captivated by remarkably flexible dancing/gymnastic type people from local dance well as some older ladies shaking it with hula-hoops that maybe shouldn't have been shaking it:

My personal highlights?
  • Made a lunch out of king crab risotto from 701 and chips with spicy guacamole from Rosa Mexicano.  I realize they don't logically go together, but I was tempted by the risotto first and then encountered the chips...and seeing as how I'd spent a chunk of the morning reading a somewhat fascinating tortilla chip article in Texas Monthly, I had chips on the brain and HAD to have them.  Tasty on all counts.
  • Signed up for my library card.  Seeing as how the main branch is a mere three blocks from my apartment, I figured I might as well.  With no Half Price Books anywhere in sight, maybe this can be my back-up cost-effective book plan.
  • Caught a few moments of D.C. Shorts Film Festival offerings.  It's going on for the rest of the week, so I might go check out an actual screening one night.  With my highly limited attention span these days, short films are probably the way to go.
There were all kinds of art/jewelry/crafty things tempting me, but I resisted purchasing and just admired.  I also passed on the wine tent, which had a line snaking down the block and was quite obviously the place to be.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to some wine in the afternoon - I just didn't want to fight the crowd and/or shell out the bucks.

On my way out later in the day I also passed some stragglers who opted for more of an "Activism on Foot" rather than "Arts on Foot" approach to the day.  In case you missed the headlines, there were about a gazillion people down on the national mall on Saturday forming a rather large march/rally/protest, the general purpose of which was to beat down the Pres and Congress for everything from bailouts to health care to taxes.  They made an impression on me because they refused to obey traffic signals and caused me to sit at a red then green then red then green then red then OH-you're-finally-out-of-the-crosswalk light.  I'm all for freedom of speech, but I promise your message isn't diminished if you have small gaps in the crowd caused by law-abiding actions.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fall is in the air

You know the first whispers of fall are upon us when my reasons for getting out of bed on a Saturday morning shift to College GameDay, pumpkin spice lattes, and extra blankets.  Bring on the college football, please.  None of this NFL business (especially now that I live in Redskins country - the lifelong Cowboys fan inside of me might be a little quiet this year so I can survive the season without serious injury), just Saturdays filled with tackles, commentary, and crazy college kids from 10 AM EST until the last game on the West Coast wraps up.  Oh, throw in some beer, too - I've tracked down the official game-watching location for Tech alumni here in D.C., so I'm set for next weekend's battle against Texas (fingers crossed for crazy Coach Leach and his pirates) if I can't make it halfway across the country for the redneck football bash at the Vaughns.  Can't wait to see pictures from that event...

The latest issue of Bon AppĂ©tit is gazing up at me from the coffee table, tempting me with taglines like "cozy fall suppers" and "apple desserts - old-fashioned pie, spice cake, cheddar turnovers, flaky tart" and making my mouth water with that cover picture of slow-cooked short ribs.  Crockpot season is coming, kids!  And while it makes me feel older than my years to get a little excited about that, I love coming home to the smell of dinner just waiting for me, something hearty and comforting that gives off wisps of steam and delicious smells when you lift that lid.  Yipes, I'm waxing poetic about slow cookers.

I love love LOVE fall.  I much prefer the in-between seasons to the extremes of winter and summer.  My delicate Casper-like skin just doesn't tolerate the rays of summer very well, and who likes sweating their way through the day?  As for winter, I actually enjoy the snow and the extra layers and the snuggling under blankets, but then there are those days where you have to walk to work in the winter mess and it just feels a bit excessive.  Fall, though?  Crisp and beautiful and all you need is a light jacket.  Living here in the land of trees, I'm really looking forward to watching the leaves change.  Especially with a pumpkin spice latte in hand.  I think I might need a twelve step program to help out with that particular addiction.

I actually could have used a jacket yesterday walking to and from work - amazing!  In early September!  Of course, as soon as I write this, the sun will pop out and things will warm up again, but at least I know fall is on the way.  Time to get back to Fowler, Herbie, Corso, and my omnipresent-on-weekend-mornings cup of coffee.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Labor-less Labor Day weekend, part two

Too much laboring to get the overly-detailed Labor Day weekend into one post, so I present to you...part two.  We last left off on Saturday afternoon, fading slightly into a lovely NYC evening, as we walked the shops of Spring Street with bread and salt scrubs in hand.  After all of that strolling, of course we were craving more carbs, so what better place to satisfy that craving than at Rice to RichesDiana first told me about this place, this mecca, heaven, Xanadu of carbalicious goodness where they serve nothing but rice pudding, accompanied by delightfully pithy signage with encouraging phrases like "I'll diet when the earth runs out of food" and "eating three sensible, balanced meals a day will only spoil your appetite for rice pudding."  We just barely beat a large group of doe-eyed, naive NYU freshmen in the door, so while we did get to order in front of them, I didn't want to slow down the line by sampling every single flavor they had.  If by some miraculous stroke the place had been empty, you can bet I would have asked for a taste of everything.  I'm not usually so bold, but innovatively flavored, amazingly scrumptious rice pudding is worth putting yourself out there and inconveniencing certain culinary employees.  I made do (made do!  it was delicious) with banana and toasted coconut while Dana opted for the more traditional cinnamon with raisins.  It's good that they charge a prohibitive amount to ship this stuff around the country (but isn't it cool that they do that?), because otherwise my fridge might hold a fairly constant rotating flavor supply of this stuff.  It was so, so tasty and satisfying.

After the much needed break for our feetsies and appreciating the replenishing power of rice pudding, we continued on our walking tour of the city by exploring more of SoHo along with Washington Square Park and Dana's old stomping grounds at NYU.  Washington Square Park was a pretty hopping place in the evening hours, with at least three different street performers (errr...I guess they were really "park" performers) drawing substantial crowds with their captivating drums and remarkable feats of flexibility.  We took another break from walking on a park bench for a little while, and then continued on our quest for all things carb-heavy by meeting up with a couple of friends for an amazing Italian dinner at Malatesta in the West Village.  Bruschetta, pasta galore, grilled steak and lamb chops, panacotta...this is the stuff dreams are made of.  To take full advantage of the beautiful weather and get some fresh air after stuffing ourselves silly with all of that Italian goodness, we headed over to the Frying Pan for a few beers and Hudson River breezes.  What a fun concept for a bar - it's a large boat (with a couple of other boats attached) permanently docked on the river, complete with bar and food service and a fantastic view of lower Manhattan and assorted New Jersey locales. out for a little rocking action after you've had a drink or two.  It doesn't necessarily feel like you're docked.

Sunday we turned our attention from the city to the country, or at least as country as Long Island can get, by loading up on diner food and then making the drive out to the Hamptons.  After winding our way through trees, trees, and more trees, we found ourselves in the most adorable towns with some of the most ridiculous beachy mansions you can imagine.  When you can catch a glimpse of the property through the box hedges and fences, you'll be a little amazed.  I'll just take a guest house, please.  We're in the land of opulence and amazing wine cellars, so of course there are vineyards galore.  Erring on the side of conservatism, we just made one winery stop - at Channing Daughters in Bridgehampton.  They were pretty packed for a Sunday afternoon, so we wandered about the tasting room and patio waiting for a spot to open up.  After sipping seven wines and learning a little bit more about their vineyards, we both invested in some quality bottles and then set out to explore the sculpture garden nestled amongst the grapevines.  Let me rephrase - the "sculpture garden."  It was an...interesting...collection of carved wooden objects, complete with a treehouse of sorts, oddly shaped little men, and a sea creature featuring a plethora of tentacles.  We advised some fellow travelers to just stick with the wine, although we certainly did get some interesting pictures out of it.

Time to keep driving down the road!  We fought all kinds of traffic going through the towns, but we also managed to sneak our way onto a couple of schmancy Hamptons beaches (I swear, even the sand is rich here - it's just softer and finer and prettier than at other beaches) and feel at home stopping by the roadside stands featuring fresh produce and all kinds of baked/homey goods.  I was deeply reminded of the Monroe peach stands outside of Hedley, only these were elevated a step or two to cater to the wealthy crowd.  Surrounded by all of the fresh, healthy, vitamin-laden treats, what did we purchase?  That's right - crispy chocolate chip walnut cookies.  They were amazing and sustained us for the rest of our driving and fancy-home exploring until we stopped for dinner at Cherrystones in East Hampton, a cutesy little clam/lobster shack where you check your order off on a list (very appealing to the type A in me) and enjoy tasty selections like clam chowder, crab cakes, crispy shrimp, and french fries.  Yum.  Oh, and the beaches?  We were not deterred by the "parking by resident permit ONLY" signs - those dunes and beaches needed further exploration, and their beauty should not be limited to those with excessive $$$.  So, we basically spent a day driving through ritzy-ville, dreaming of the high life, and relaxing after our crazy city times.  I was a little disappointed that we didn't have any celebrity sightings, but you can't expect P Diddy and Gwenyth Paltrow to just hang around waiting for you to ogle them, now can you?

Monday.  Monday morning came...and I wasn't at work!  What a blissful way to actually enjoy Labor Day.  For my dear tax friends who were at work...I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry.  I know your pain.  Please forgive me for the excessive glee (speaking of glee, has anyone watched Glee on Fox?  I'm kinda in love with it, but I am a musical junkie, so...we'll see if the show lasts.  Anywho...), but I have to make the most of these moments.  After getting all of our exploring in, we couldn't come all the way to Queens without making the short drive over to the Ma and Pa Duffin residence to spend the day getting in some family time.  Well, they're not my family, but they certainly made me feel like family that day.  We bonded with the family dog, Pepper (what a sweet black Lab!), laughed our way through some old family photos, and enjoyed delicious, delicious late-summer treats known as burgers and steaks straight off the charcoal grill.  It's nice to know I have a little surrogate family hanging out on the East Coast if I need them.  We opted to leave a little later in the day to miss out on any traffic, and it paid off - beautiful sunset view of NYC, and just over four hours from Duffin door to my apartment in DC, even with a stop along the way at the Maryland House rest stop.  I find it exceptionally odd that the rest stops in Maryland are named and consist of one building with everything crammed in - pull off the road, grab some gas, and then head into a monster building with Starbucks, Sbarro, Popeye's, and random other food/convenience suppliers.  I suppose I'm just accustomed to pulling off the highway and hitting up Love's.

Fantastic weekend with a fantastic friend exploring a fantastic city and the area surrounding it.  I don't think I'll ever get tired of those.  Anyone want to meet me in Philadelphia?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Labor-less Labor Day weekend, part one

Labor Day weekend.  A traditional time for families to gather around a grill, enjoy a few days at the beach, celebrate the twilight days of summer.  For the tax accountant who does compliance work in any way, shape, or form...Labor Day doesn't exactly bring on those warm fuzzies.  For the last four years I've spent Labor Day weekend toiling away at the office, busting through all kinds of tax returns in order to meet that 9/15 deadline.  Well, not this year, folks.  Part of this D.C. gig involves a slightly less ridiculous schedule, and not only did I actually not work on Labor Day...I also took off the entire Friday before.  And work buddy Dana and I left Pdub early on Thursday to get a jump on traffic as we headed to New York City for the long, long weekend.  I mean, rush hour on the Beltway?  No one wants to deal with that.  Ever.  Look at how free and clear our path is!  Woohoo!

Now, growing up in NYC, as Dana did...albeit Queens, which is actually far more neighborhoody and suburbany than one might expect given that midtown Manhattan is what comes to mind when you think of NYC...affords you a lot of opportunities.  However, you do miss out on certain experiences.  Certain life-changing experiences such as dining at one of America's finest culinary institutions...Chick-fil-A.  I mean, how has this girl never experienced the joy of a boneless breast of chicken seasoned to perfection, hand-breaded, pressure-cooked in peanut oil and served on a toasted, buttered bun with dill pickle chips?  And I can't take any credit for that description...all courtesy of the Chick-fil-A website.  Of course, this should be accompanied by waffle fries, plenty of ketchup/honey mustard, and the Coke beverage product of your choice.  Well, I knew I had to remedy this situation, so I mapped every Chick-fil-A between DC and NYC so we could take full advantage of the situation.  Let me just say that it lived up to all of my hype.  Yeah, and we had brownies, too.  Please note the "I ♥ Chick-fil-A" sticker Dana's sporting.  Mission accomplished.  Remainder of somewhat-longish road trip spent discovering just how differently we grew up, rocking out to random dance mixes on 87.7 (much to Dana's delight), and anticipating the joys our weekend would hold.

Friday we kicked things off just the way you should start any sleeping in.  Oh, how I do love the sleep.  Sleeping in followed by an authentic NYC bagel with plenty o' delicious cream cheese?  Even better.  Einstein Brothers will still be tasty to me, but now I'm going to crave a slightly doughier, chewier, amazingier bagel.  After dragging our tired bodies out of bed and fortifying ourselves with carbs, we stopped by Dana's friendly neighborhood deli for some size-of-our-faces large sandwiches (and Diet Coke!  cannot live without the sweet, carbonated bliss that is Diet Coke!) to toss in the top of the water-filled cooler that accompanied us on a short trip down the highway to Jones Beach.  Fantastic, fantastic beach weather - low 80s so we weren't sweating the entire time, a slight breeze to keep us cool from the sun's rays, an occasional light cloud cover.  Fantastic, fantastic beach crowd - low on screaming children, no annoying music allowed, and minimal conversation with crazies.  We stretched out on the sand and enjoyed our books and splashed in the ocean waves like giddy children.  The waves were a touch on the strong side, and I, with my somewhat limited wave/ocean experience...ummm...well, I did pretty well until one rogue wave managed to knock me off my feet.  Dana at least got a good laugh at that one, and I had the presence of mind to snag my sunglasses before they were swept out to sea.  Great afternoon just chilling by the water - what a fantastic (I promise I'll find a new adjective soon) kick-off to our Labor Day weekend festivities.

Back to the apartment to remove sand and salty residue and prepare ourselves for a night of Manhattan fun.  Dana's Queens apartment is conveniently located right by a stop for the Long Island Railroad, which after a twenty-something minute ride deposits you right in the city at Penn Station.  The LIRR really is a...train.  Not subway-ish at all like I expected.  Needless to say, Dana was constantly amused by my observations on what to her is a commonplace, everyday occurrence.  Please note the photo to your left, detailing my "oooh, we're going to ride the train!" face, because it's the only photo op you're going to get from this night for multiple reasons: (1) my camera didn't leave my purse after this moment; (2) Dana's camera did make an appearance later in the evening to capture our escapades; and (3) Dana's in Greece (lucky gal!) and I don't have her pictures from the weekend yet.  I'm certain you're all heartbroken.  Well, soldier on, brave souls, and I'll just regale you with tales of dinner and dancing the night away.  After disembarking at Penn Station, we made our way over to Greenwich Village to catch our highly-anticipated dinner reservation at Perilla, restaurant of one Harold Dieterle, winner of Top Chef season one.  Dana and I are both total Top Chef junkies, so that was a draw, plus the seasonal American food is supposed to be amazing - another draw.  The first home run of the evening were some exquisitely crafted cocktails we indulged in while briefly waiting on our table, followed by a delightfully surprising crispy calamari and watercress salad, grilled hanger steak with sunchoke creamed spinach and wild mushrooms (red snapper special with shrimp and avocado for my dining buddy), and deliciously chocolatey s'mores with chocolate sorbet for dessert.  Dinner was great.  Really, really great.

We made plans beforehand to meet up with several of Dana's buddies (and Judy!!  one of my resident New Yorkers!  SO GREAT to see her again so soon!) at Aspen, highly recommended by one of her well-informed, well-connected NYC peeps.  Intriguing set-up - very woodsy, lodge-like setting in the middle of the city.  Complete with polyresin (or something like that...I'm totally making up my resin compounds here) deer heads adorning the wall above the bar.  Interesting.  Initially we were a little concerned with the DJ's selections, but then the music got better and we stayed out...late.

Saturday brought more sleeping in (much needed after our late night, of course) and more fun in the city.  We headed in for a late lunch at Balthazar, where I was quite happy that you could have brunch at that hour of the day and indulged in brioche French toast.  We also ended up with a $16 bread basket courtesy of our wily waitress who coyly asked her two starving patrons if they'd like some bread.  Sneaky, lady who sensed our deep, deep desire for carbs or really food of any kind that would arrive as close as possible to immediately.  And yes, we'll take the remaining $12-ish worth of remaining bread all packaged up to go with us.  Not that we ate it at any point during the remainder of the day, but...something about toting it around the city for the rest of the day made it a little more worthwhile.  Anyway, the bread accompanied us as we made our way up and down Spring Street in SoHo, wandering through adorable brownstones and making key shopping stops along the way.  Oh, Sabon and your patchouli lavender vanilla body scrub with Dead Sea salts, where have you been all my life?  I love you so much that you will accompany the bread as we walk about the city allllll day.  You can hang lovingly from my arm as I snap endless shots of the fine architecture, quirky signs, and curiosities this city has to offer.

This is getting a little lengthy (like that ever stopped me before?  Ok, Project Runway is about to come on, and even with the wonders of DVR at my disposal, I'm ready for a TV break), so I'm going to bust it up into two posts and pick up with the rest of Saturday a little bit later.  For the full-on photo experience from the weekend, complete with random captions, just click here.  And actually, it doesn't really cover the entire weekend because I relied on Dana's camera for a couple of key events, but you'll get the general idea.  A rather excessive general idea, given my love for punching that digital camera shoot button.