Thursday, June 24, 2010

In case you were wondering about the cheese... know, the anniversary, thanks for all your hard work, here's what five years gets you cheese?  You probably weren't wondering about it, actually, but I figured the cheese review should go ahead and make an appearance here on the blog.

And yes, I've been a little blog-absent over the last week and a half or so.  I promise there's a total crap good reason for this - I was volunteering evenings at a local animal shelter, assembling care packages for our troops overseas, putting in extended evening workouts to burn off things like strawberry pie ... obsessively watching the first three seasons of "Friday Night Lights" thanks to the evil geniuses at Netflix who made it available on instant viewing.  Consider yourself warned.  Also consider yourself warned from catching the first three episodes of season four on Hulu and the remaining season four episodes through Comcast On Demand so that you're completely caught up and ready for tomorrow night's new episode.  Yipes.

Anyway, back to the cheese.  I received a shipment of the Cowgirl Collection from Cowgirl Creamery, thereby discovering from a quick trip to the website that my five years of service add up to $55 plus shipping and taxes.  Hmmmm.  Although in today's trying times I suppose I should be happy to receive anything at all.

Back to the cheese again.  I decided to practice for my trip to Spain and have a tapas-ish dinner, celebrating the glory of the cheese with a few olives and piquillo peppers and crusty bread and cured meat.  Not the healthiest of dinners, I realize, but I'm an adult and can eat whatever I want for dinner.  So, when all was said and done, I ended up with this (and yes, I realize how organized it is - have you met me?).

See that cheese in the very middle of the plate?  Notice how it's not quite as organized, and how it's missing its rind?  Yeah, that's the incredibly smelly cheese that actually comes with a warning label regarding its smelliness:

Thanks for the warning and all, but...dang, this was a smelly cheese.  In fact, I'd left all of the cheese sealed up in the styrofoam container it came in just to prevent the smelly cheese from smelling up my entire refrigerator.  And when I finally cracked open the smelly cheese, its appearance and even stronger smell wasn't really doing much to appeal to my taste buds or olfactory senses.  But I bravely cut a wedge...and hacked off the rind to try to get rid of some of the offending material...but I just really couldn't get past it.  It smelled horrible, and I just couldn't handle that when trying to eat it.  Red  I had to wash that smell off my hands so I could actually enjoy the rest of my meal.

Come to think of it, anything wrapped in nettles doesn't exactly look promising, either.  St. Pat cheese over there to your left.  Smelled a thousand times better than the Red Hawk, which already had it off to a good start in my book.  And it was edible!!  Not the most amazing cheese experience I've ever had, but I didn't have to pinch my nose to try to get it down, so let's consider that one a success, even if it does look a little scary.

And then...and then I didn't have to try to look past the Day-Glo orange smelly rind or the nettles reminiscent of mold.  And then...I found a winner.  Mt. Tam.  A "smooth, creamy, elegant, 10-oz, triple-cream - made with tasty organic milk from the Straus Family Dairy...firm, yet buttery with a mellow, earthy flavor reminiscent of white mushrooms."  Now THIS was tasty cheese.  Not as squishy as Brie, just a touch firmer, and crazy tasty.  This cheese is gone now, and not because it met an untimely end in the garbage...ahem, Red Hawk.  I just couldn't do it.  But Mt. Tam I could do.

Maybe I should have gotten that crystal bowl after all.


Then my taste buds would have been bored.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Time keeps on ticking away

Monday night.  Monday nights are not exceptionally exciting in any particular way.  It's time to recover from the shock that you, once again, must face the fact that another weekend is over and work must happen.  This time of year, there's not even Monday Night Football to soothe your pain.  Or even "Dancing with the Stars" or "How I Met Your Mother" (and just when is this mother going to show up?!?  I'm losing patience).  Yes, I often turn to mindless television at night.  It's a nice escape mechanism.

So what do you do in order to jazz up a Monday night?  Find a new TV show...or take a tour of the U.S. Naval Observatory.  Granted, this may not sound very exciting, but it's definitely a step above re-runs.  And besides...I have a fascination, some might even say an obsession, with organization and scheduling out my entire life day.  Mom even says my first word was "clock," which frightens me a little bit - hard consonants, really?  Probably scared her, too.  So, what better place for me to visit than where they keep official time?  Fascinating!!

This is one of those random "hey, you should do this in D.C.!" things I discovered, and about three months ago I submitted my name for a tour.  Three months.  There are apparently a lot of people out there just as fascinated with clocks as I am.  I mean, when you're promised "a presentation of the mission and history of the Naval Observatory, a view of USNO's timekeeping responsibilities with a presentation/explanation of the Master Clock System, and (weather permitting) viewing of celestial objects with the 12-inch Alvan Clark refractor with an astronomer," and they only happen on Monday nights, then I guess you get a backlog of nerds people really interested in this kind of thing.

Stephanie and I met up after work last week to embark on this DC adventure, and after being mildly admonished by security from walking straight up the driveway instead of through the scary pedestrian gate, we proceeded to make it through the rest of our security checkpoints without incident.  We then spent a little too much time in a room with thirty-five other people while our fearless leader proceeded to tell us pretty much everything you'd ever want to know about how time has been kept (remarkably precisely, I might add) over the years while waiting for the sun to set so we could see cool things through the super-old telescope (built in 1892!).

I could go into a fantastically long diatribe on time right now, but I'll refrain - the much cooler part of the night was looking through the telescope.  Just know that the USNO Master Clock (currently a system of dozens of independently operating cesium atomic clocks and a dozen hydrogen maser clocks) ensures that the USNO time scale's rate does not change by more than about 100 picoseconds (0.0000000001 seconds!!) per day.

Fortunately, the weather was cooperating (exceptionally well, actually - it was freakishly cool after about a few too many steamy days that felt like August AND the sky was clear!  woohoo!), so we made our way over to the crazy-old, super-cool telescope and saw Venus and Saturn.  Rings, moons, everything.  Sciencetastic!

Stephanie checking out Venus

Apparently I was on the "Al Observatory Tour" - nice work, thumb

It's the government - of course they take this tour business very seriously

After some quality telescope time, we shifted over to the other end of the building to check out another crazy-old telescope and pay a visit to the James Melville Gilliss Library, home to a smorgasbord of old and impressive stuff )other than just old and impressive books and journals), including a selection of clocks, engravings, globes, and an adorable fountain in the middle that helped serve as temperature/humidity control back in the days before good ol' central air.  We saw a copy of Newton's Arithmetica Universalis, flipped through the 2010 Nautical Almanac, and got a quick lesson in how to use a sextant (you know, in case any of us end up lost at sea but just happen to have this handy device around).

After a little bit of science overload, we thanked our guides for the evening and headed toward the gate...and were nearly attacked by a deer.  Ok, perhaps a little dramatic, but seeing as how the USNO is surrounded by forest and it was dark on the walk back, the smallish deer that made a brief scamper in the general direction of the path was enough to provoke a couple of girlish squeals and gasps.  Little touches o' nature, right here in the city.  With the telescopes.  And the time ball that drops at noon.  And oodles of atomic clocks, enabling us to use things like GPS.  Science is cool.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Museum hopping? Not so much, says Mother Nature

Last Sunday I set out with grand plans to fully explore the Dupont Kalorama Museum Walk and hit up some of the museums that I didn't see last year on this same freebie weekend.*  I mapped out my plan of attack (literally - pulled up the map online and figured out my best walking path since I didn't want to deal with waiting in shuttle lines), which involved Anderson House - The Society of the Cincinnati, Dumbarton House, Fondo del Sol, and possibly another stop at my favorite from last year, the Phillips Collection.  Operation Do-Something-Kinda-Cool-Instead-of-Wasting-Away-the-Weekend is a go!

However, I got a bad feeling when I popped out of the Dupont Metro stop and was greeted with a sky that looked something like this**:

Hmmm...looming stormclouds don't exactly bode well for going from museum to museum.  Spending time inside a museum, yes, but I really didn't want to do more than quickish stops at each one - this was not going to be some Louvre experience.***
I had just made my way to Anderson House, headquarters of the Society of the Cincinnati, when the first raindrops began to attack.  I did at least have my umbrella, but flip-flopping around wet sidewalks, getting caught in errant rainstorms, and admiring beautiful gardens from indoors wasn't exactly what I had in mind.  So...I made the most of Anderson House.

Minor history lesson:  The Society of the Cincinnati was founded at the close of the Revolutionary War by the American officers and their French counterparts basically as a reason to get together every now and then and hang out to preserve the rights and liberties for which they had fought and to foster the bonds of friendship that had been formed among them during the long years of war.  At some point along the line they needed a fancy headquarters, and Anderson House, a Beaux-Arts mansion that was originally the winter home**** of an American diplomat (and member of the Society of the Cincinnati) and his wife, fit the bill in 1938.

Some additional tidbits for you:
  • George Washington was elected the Society's first president general, a position he held until his death in 1799.
  • The Society of the Cincinnati is the oldest private patriotic organization in the United States.
  • Anderson House is filled with all kinds of crazy-cool art, including four hundred year old tapestries they're restoring, a large collection of Asian art, and painting of every shape and size, including a particularly impressive in scale painting by José Villegas - The Triumph of the Dogaressa Maria Foscari - depicting a fifteenth-century coronation in Venice.  I was in awe.*****

  • Want to join?  You'd better be an eligible descendant of commissioned officers of the Continental army and navy and the French army and navy who served in the Revolutionary War. 
Oh, and you know what I realized after the fact?  Anderson House is always free.  Too bad I didn't get my freebie's worth on the typical $8 admission to the Dumbarton Oaks gardens or weekend $10-12 (free - with suggested donation - during the week!) at the Phillips Collection.  But I did get to see a pretty old house! 

The raindrops persisted, so I treated myself to a BGR burger (burgers are known to cure many ailments, including rainy day blues) and Metro'd home to watch the raindrops instead of walk in them.

* Why is it that we're drawn to things when they're advertised as "free free FREE!!" even though we wouldn't mind shelling out the $10 or so for what would likely be a more enjoyable experience since said experience would likely be less filled with all those other people who came just because it was free?  Just a thought.

** Ok, it didn't look something like that - it looked exactly like that.  Isn't that one reason to haul the camera around?  This way I don't have to come home and draw pictures and get out watercolors to approximate storm clouds.  Geez.

*** And, with a slightly ironic twist, my adventures in the Louvre with Carrie and Jason a couple of summers ago...extended by a rainstorm!  If it hadn't been for that rainstorm inspiring us to stay indoors just a little while longer, we might have missed the Code of Hammurabi and cool Egyptian things.

**** Again with the irony - a winter home in Washington.  What's wrong with Key West??  Oh, fine, you're a diplomat and need to hit up the hot social scene in the nation's capital between New Year's and Easter and host people like Winston Churchill and a couple of presidents.  Gotcha.

***** In case you can't tell what I'm in awe of, it's that giant painting behind my head.  It really was very impressive.  Here's a closer shot of the middle that my head is actually blocking:

Those empire waists really do wonders for the lower body!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ten years already?

My ten year high school reunion was last weekend - yeeps.  Making me feel a little old.  Just a little bit.  Did I attend?  No, I did not.  As much as I would love to see...well, my parents more than anyone, I wasn't really in the mood to shell out the dollars for an Amarillo trip given that I've been bleeding a little cash lately.  Would I have attended even if I still lived in Amarillo?  You know, I don't know.  I keep up with anyone I really want to keep up with.  Carrie, Kerry, Darcy - we're all still very close and always pick up right where we left off.  And as for everyone else, that's what Facebook is for, right?

I haven't even cracked open a yearbook for nostalgic flipping through those formative years.  And there will definitely be no pictures to accompany this post.  Those were some unfortunate years for me in the bangs department.  Among other things.  Just take my word for it.

All of that said, I think I did embrace the spirit of reunion weekend by booking a reunion of my own - with Darcy.  Only not in Amarillo.  In SPAIN.  Into Barcelona on September 5, fly out of Seville on September 17, and it's basically going to be amazing.  I've already added the countdown clock over on the side there just so I can continue to be excited about it as the days tick away.

Now THAT is how you do a reunion.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Small mountains of food

Two weekends ago I had some Texas time, courtesy of a work excuse to show up at the office on Friday and spend the rest of time with dear friends.  And while my furchild has grasped the meaning of a small mountain of food and that rolly-case-thing, he doesn't totally understand why I feel compelled to leave him on his own for a few days - but I do.  I needed my own small mountain of food.  I needed it so badly that I didn't even take pictures of it, which should tell you something.

Drinks on TABC patio (spacious, spacious patio - oh, DC and its rooftops), soul-warming Chuy's, more patio time and burger deliciousness at Jake's, soul-warming Gloria's, soul-warming Urban Taco, change of pace at Zorba's (next time we're soooo getting that cheese-on-fire thing), soul-warming and perfectly amazing in every way brunch at La Duni.

I really should exercise more (at all...) to justify what I eat.  Or start some miracle regimen of pills to slow down the damage.  But this was "vacation" dining, which doesn't count...

Work was a little less soul-warming. I'm so glad I still have my girls there, because there are definitely some changes going on that makes me wonder just a little bit what I'm getting myself into when I head back.  Ready to just roll with it...

And not a picture one from the weekend!  Yes, I surprise even myself sometimes.  Although I wish I had gotten some pictures of my friends.  And possibly my new haircut.  And the adorable cookies Sarah and I iced...yes, we like that kind of thing.  But I'll live.  Just know that much quality time was spent in the company of wonderful, wonderful friends, especially with this one both in (aforementioned cookie icing, wining and talking, Gilmore Girls-ing, etc-ing) and out (how did I acquire multiple ginormous mosquito bites in a mere ten minutes of backyard time??  those little buggers are drawn to me) of her adorable new-ish home.  And that, more than anything, was the soul-warming I really needed.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Culinary adventures, street (and restaurant and kitchen) style

Last Friday for lunch I ate food from a truck.  A street vendor.  Dallas doesn't have these.  Fojol Brothers of Merlindia.  They play crazy music, make a delicious chicken curry and stewed pumpkin with basmati rice, and throw out blankets on whatever green patch happens to be nearby their temporary parking spot to encourage patrons to sit and stay a while to enjoy their food.  It was really tasty.  I didn't take any pictures of this experience because (1) I was really hungry, (2) the only camera at my disposal was contained in my Blackberry, which tends to be a little subpar, and (3) no one besides me really cares about that.  So...I bring you a shot from the depths of Flickr, courtesy of Dave Kleinschmidt, just so you can get an idea of the food joy those Fojol Brothers emanate.

Saturday I found myself in the depths of Virginia (ok, not exactly the depths, but enough in the depths that a shopping center composed entirely of Vietnamese offerings presented itself, which isn't necessarily a "depths of Virginia" experience, but really, how else am I going to describe this?), and when I found myself remarkably close to Eden Center, I had to drive around for 20 minutes to find a parking spot and have a lunch adventure.  I got a little scared.  I kinda felt like I might actually be in Vietnam, given my general paleness and speaking of English in comparison to the general crowd around me.  After a near miss where I ducked into a bakery in search of bánh mì and discovered that I could probably only order things by pointing at mystery objects, I found some comfort - the Washingtonian "hey, this is a good place to eat!!" sign of approval hanging in the window of Huong Viet, so I went in and grabbed myself a spot for one.  I ordered a coconut water thing and something involving rice noodles and a pork egg roll with other assorted stuff strewn about the bowl (apparently including something that generally frightens Westerners, because my waiter expressed some concern over my menu choice, but I assured him I could handle whatever he brought out - I'll try anything once!).  It was really tasty, especially once I added enough vinegar and soy sauce and sriracha to bring it to an Erin-level of spice.  I could really get into this "we're going to bring you something and you season/garnish away" thing.  I captured a couple of shots with my old camera because it's what I had on hand.  And it made me love the fancy camera that much more. 

Oh, and Sunday I busted out a strawberry pie to share with friends for Memorial Day festivities involving smoked meat.  I can assure you that the pie is completely gone at this point.  Jazz it up with a chocolate shell inside the crust and a chocolate drizzle on top and it disappears even faster than you thought possible.  Behold the power of chocolate.

You know how I love food.  Deal with it.