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Attacked! (and Mystery Food Week 8!)

4 Aug

Every once in awhile, I think that our bodies decide to do something in order to remind us that they are in fact, in charge. Once the defeat of the great Perl Dragon was completed, I thought that the knot in my stomach would unwind peacefully, but alas it was not to be.

Starting out last Thursday with coffee on an empty stomach was probably mistake number one. I’m guessing that mistakes 2 through 4 were salad with at least a cup of raw, cruciferous vegetables, another cup of coffee, and a peach with the skin still on. I tried (in vain) to make it to the Capitol South Metro after work in search of yogurt at the Penn Quarter farmer’s market, hoping that would calm what I thought was just bad indigestion. (Again, I was mistaken). By the time I got to the corner in front of the Library of Congress, the $20 in my wallet was destined not for delicious yogurt, but rather for a cab to Joe’s office, where I’d parked the car that morning. We weren’t even out of the city before I admitted to Joe that yes, I thought I needed to go to the hospital.

I don’t feel like my readers need the graphic details of what a gallbladder attack feels like, suffice to say that it is the worst pain I can recall since dislocating my elbow (and I’ve had surgery twice since then). Anyway, I spent Thursday night and most of the day Friday stuck in Alexandria Hospital not allowed to eat, drink, or leave. A CT scan showed an inflamed, gunky gallbladder that was clearly not pleased. Oh well, a little anti-nausea medication and some antibiotics and I was back in action. The gallbladder gets to stay as long as it behaves, but at the remote sign of crankiness, out with it!

The weekend wasn’t all bad though. My parents had planned to come visit us this weekend, so it was nice to have them around when I wasn’t feeling great. We still had a lot of fun, actually! Friday night after I was released from the hospital we went and got a bite to eat at Legal Seafood and then picked up Dioji (who was at Roger and Lynn’s house because Joe was at the hospital taking care of me.) Saturday, I got to take them to the Arlington Farmer’s Market. I was so excited because I knew they would love all of the vendors there. Sure enough, they left with granola, heirloom tomatoes and these little baby peppers that looked irresistibly sweet and colorful. I got my usual haul minus meat because I placed an order with Polyface Farms to try out their products. Pick-up is this Saturday and I am really looking forward to it.

Our other venture on Saturday was to Agraria Restaurant in Georgetown. I originally saw them listed on Slow Food DC’s website as an area eatery that supported sustainable agriculture. Joe mentioned to me that his office frequently takes members there for a meal and after our experience, I can certainly see why. I think that fate was being kind to me because we missed our Friday reservation at Nora’s and I managed to get a table for Joe, myself, and our parents. The harbor was packed and lively, and we had an excellent meal. The dishes weren’t overcomplicated or pretentious, which I really liked. I had the pan-roasted chicken with lemon, thyme, and rosemary. It was accompanied by this really fresh corn, bean, and pepper salad and some whipped potatoes. The portion was just perfect, too. Joe tried one of their pizzas. Wow. The combination of fresh dough, heirloom tomato sauce and fresh made, hand-stretched mozzarella fired in an 800 degree oven created what may be the best pizza I’ve ever tasted. Joe says it was better than Otto, but I dunno…that might require a blind taste test for me to say for sure!
After dinner, we watched boats in the harbor and chatted for awhile. It was so relaxing and refreshing to see everyone having a good time. There are few things better than good company AND good food together. Pictures are good though!


Sunday, we had coffee, a leisurely stroll around Shirlington (with the requisite stop at Cakelove…mmm), and then lunch at Luna Grille before my parents packed up their cooler full of goodies and headed back to Pittsburgh. It was a very relaxing weekend, which was honestly just what I needed after the gallbladder excitement.

Ah yes, and even though I’m banned from eating them raw, I’ve still been enjoying my CSA treats from Wednesday.

Yay! A tomato! And potatoes, green peppers, corn, broccoli, ground cherries, peaches, and apples. All in all, a very good week. There were several fine frittatas to be had. I got some really big blackberries at the Arlington market and I think I’m going to bake them with the peaches for dessert later tonight. I basically make a crust-less pie and then toss toasted honey-cinnamon granola on top of it for a little bit of texture. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pie crust, but anything requiring a lot of butter just doesn’t seem like the brightest idea right now.

Oh well, at least being laid up gave me some time to get into the meat of Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run. Here’s a quick blurb about it from the Washington Post. I’ll post my own review and thoughts once I’ve digested it a bit more. So far though, it is really engaging.

McDougall’s subject is the Tarahumara, a tribe living frugally in the remote, foreboding Copper Canyons in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The Tarahumara are legendary for their ability to run extreme distances in inhospitable conditions without breaking a sweat or getting injured. They are superathletes whose diet (pinole, chia seeds, grain alcohol) and racing method (upright posture, flicking heels, clear-headedness) would place them among elite runners of the developed world even though their society and technology are 500 years behind it. It’s a fascinating subject, and the pages of “Born to Run” are packed with examples of McDougall’s fascination….The book flows not like a race but like a scramble through an obstacle course. McDougall wends his way through the history and physiology of running, occasionally digressing into mini-profiles of top-tier racers and doctors, spinning off into tangents about legendary races like the Leadville Trail 100 Ultramarathon, while always looping back to the main narrative. Back on course, he describes his pursuit of the bashful, elusive Tarahumara and their secret to success on foot; his befriending of an eccentric gringo who became part of the tribe and is the key to McDougall’s communication with it; and the realization of the eccentric’s dream to pit big-name, corporate-sponsored American marathoners against the near-primeval Indians in a super ultra-marathon in the Copper Canyons. A race to end all races, in other words.

That’s all from me for now…I’ve got to get back to work!

-Neen

Clean BBQ? It’s True…

28 May

When Joe and I decided to have folks over for Memorial Day this year, I decided that I wasn’t going to prepare a bunch of food that I couldn’t eat. For one thing, I knew that there would be leftovers and I wasn’t tossing away my grocery money on food that wasn’t in my plan. Furthermore, I thought my guests deserved food and not “food-like products.”

Here I am hanging out with Mr. Stripey ready to grill, so what was on the (mostly) clean menu?

Clean Eating Magazine’s Caramelized Onion, Spinach, and Artichoke Dip served with Trader Joe’s natural corn tortilla chips, chopped carrots, toasted whole grain bread, and sugar snap peas (from Westmoreland Berry Farm—so delicious!).

Dry rubbed chicken legs grilled to perfection and then glazed with a natural BBQ sauce.

Grilled portabella mushrooms, green peppers, and tomatoes tossed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, kosher salt, lemon-thyme, pepper, and garlic.

Not pictured: Dry rubbed smoked spare ribs that I had hanging out in our freezer for awhile. I was saving them for a special occasion. I warmed them over low heat in the crock pot for a few hours with a bit of cider vinegar and sucanat in the bottom. It made its own sauce and tasted absolutely fantastic!

Chocolate sour cream cupcakes, modified from Clean Eating’s recipe. I replaced the skim milk with unsweetened chocolate almond milk the second time I made these and never looked back. Best chocolate dessert ever.

I also made classic and in no way clean vanilla ice cream using the base for Cliff’s ice cream recipe from the Top Chef cookbook. It was some really great stuff. I used heavy cream and milk that was practically fresh from the dairy and the rest of the eggs that I gathered from the farm. Joe is still savoring the final container of it.

Sunday evening I realized that my berries from Westmoreland were on the verge of over ripening. Not wanting to let them go to waste and having cold/sweet stuff on the brain, I made some frozen yogurt. That vanilla ice cream might be decadent, but this stuff is sweet, tangy, cool, and 94 calories a serving.

Fresh Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

2 cups good quality low-fat plain yogurt (I buy mine from Blue Ridge Dairy Co.)

1 cup pureed fresh strawberries

1/3 cup raw, natural honey

Pinch salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender and then chill in a lidded container in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. This really improves the texture and flavor quality of the final product, so don’t skip the rest period!

Churn for approximately 25 minutes in a countertop electric ice cream maker and then transfer to a lidded container and freeze for at least 3 hours before serving. On his show Good Eats, Alton Brown often says, “Your patience will be rewarded.” Listen to these wise words.

(Makes 6 servings)

I really would have taken a picture of it’s awesome pink color, but it didn’t last long enough! I guess I’ll just have to make it again soon…

Stay local!

-Neen

Cherry Blossoms Then and Now

31 Mar

This time last year, I was seeing the cherry blossoms bloom for the first time.

I can’t believe that Joe and I have been in our new house with Dioji for nearly a year now. I still remember the feeling of terror that came over me as I sat on the hard wood floor in our living room staring at the dog’s expectant face…

“Now what?” he seemed to ask.

With a slight frown I sighed, “I don’t know…puppy.” (We hadn’t decided what to call him.)

It was a bright, sunny afternoon after what had been a fairly gloomy and grey morning. Sore and achy from moving in the day before, I was hunched over on the floor surrounded by mountains of boxes waiting to be unpacked. Joe and his mom were off collecting toys, food, and bedding for the new addition while I thought about what to do. I couldn’t believe that in the space of two days I’d acquired a new house and a new dog. While I considered that extremely fortunate, I was very nervous about all of the new responsibility on top of a job I’d only been at for a month. Oh, and did I mention I was applying to graduate schools too?

Tap. Tap, tap, tap. The dog was slowly pacing around what would become our living room.

“I bet you’re scared too.” He looked scared. What had I gotten myself into? Adjusting to a new city, new job, new school, and a new dog was perhaps too much to take on at once. Nevertheless, that was the situation.

The dog laid down in front of me, his eyes warily scanning the strange room.

“Why don’t we sit somewhere better?” I asked him. Even glued down (he was being prepared for the show ring before we adopted him), I could see his ears perk slightly. Slowly, so as not to startle him, I moved to the couch and patted next to me. He hesitated, but then eased himself next to me and let me pet his head.

“We’re going to be okay, puppy.”

I hoped that I was right. Joe and I are a very strong couple. Anyone who was close to us in Boston knows of the great “Riccardo saga.” Basically, we lived in a nightmarish, constantly flooded apartment for a year while fighting a crazy landlord the whole time. Afterward, I moved away for two months to study abroad in England and Joe went through shoulder surgery and physical therapy. Needless to say, we know how to get through tough times together. Still, even with the best teammate in the world, I felt overwhelmed at the prospect of everything before me.

But the bulletin board beside my desk is proof that things are different now. There are ticket stubs from the inaugural game at Nationals Park, a Wizards playoff game, and a Redskins v. Steelers game. Hanging among those are newspaper clippings from several local papers following the Steelers Super Bowl victory. Next to those is a list of Michael Phelps’ races (and a few pictures of him…mmm) during last summer’s Olympics. Each one has a red checkmark next to it, which I added after he won each gold medal. Scattered throughout the newspaper clippings are cards from Joe and Dioji, and pictures of my family. All just reminders of what a whirlwind, wonderful first year in DC we’ve had. There have certainly been some growing pains and trials along the way, but we’ve come out stronger and happier. (Really, can you ask for more than that?) These days, Dioji needs little more than to hear my keys jingling before he (clumsily) rushes down off of the couch to greet me.

And the future? I’m learning to live in the present, but my bulletin board certainly shows hints of the joys yet to come. Above the ticket stub from the Nationals game is my “save the date” card for Michael and Jess’ wedding. Also lingering among the newspaper clippings is one announcing that Billy Joel and Elton John will be playing the inaugural concert at Nationals stadium…on my birthday. Yes, I have tickets (courtesy of an awesome boyfriend who thinks I deserve such a rad birthday gift)! Commence girlish screaming.

I can’t describe how incredibly different I feel now than I did this time last year. For the first time in what seems like forever, the things that I hope and dream about don’t feel clouded by anxiety. For someone with a tendency to over think things, it is a great relief to think and consequently feel more positively. One day at a time, right?

They cherry blossoms are blooming again. The branches are full of white and pink buds that were never even a dream this time last year. They are brand new, and a welcome sight to eyes tired of winter’s barren appearance. I appreciate these flowers in a way that I’ve never felt before. The trees endured the long winter months to be in bloom for maybe two weeks. Maybe.

The flowers are a moment. Outside my window right now exists a moment that will never be again. That tree will never bloom in the same way. Right now is the moment for those cherry blossoms.

That’s what I mean by trying to live for today. I want to live for what is happening around me right now. It could rain hard or get terribly windy tonight and those flowers would be gone tomorrow.

So I’m going to go get a better look while I can!

A Sixburgh Celebration

6 Feb

So, I’m sure you can all guess that I’m still coming down off of the high from the Steelers winning the Super Bowl. I want to extend my congratulations to the Rooney family, the coaching staff, administrative staff, and (of course) the players for giving the fans such an amazing season. Pittsburgh just got its own personal stimulus package!

It was a really exciting game. Afterward there were the usual complaints about refereeing, but in all honesty, I thought this one was pretty square. Both sides got called for the ever-so-blatant holding on most occasions, and the two “questionable” plays were reviewed and confirmed. Yes, you heard me right. To the thousands of people on the ESPN boards claiming that the final play was not reviewed, it was, and Al Michaels said that they determined it was a fumble. I certainly understand the tuck-rule argument, but if you watch the tape you can see that Lamar Woodley clearly strips the ball before Warner’s arm begins to go forward. Once he was making the passing motion, he no longer had complete control of the ball.

As for Mr. Santonio Holmes…listen, if you can’t accept that his game-winning catch was stunning and an incredible athletic effort then you’re kidding yourself. Yes, his right foot was behind his left, but there is in fact a point (and I think it’s the AP photo that shows it—I may be wrong) where both toes hit and drag.

What I didn’t agree with? Well there were a couple of things. Personally, during the review of Big Ben’s touchdown (which was overturned), I could see a shadow under his knee. It may have been my imagination, but I think that one should have been six points. I was also disappointed in James Harrison’s behavior. Defensive Player of the Year or not, he should know better than to let his temper get the best of him during the biggest game of the year. I’m actually a bit surprised that Goodell hasn’t fined him for his actions.

At the end of the day, the Steelers made plays when they needed to and went home with the Lombardi. They certainly earned it, but I have to give credit to Kurt Warner. He now holds the number 1, 2, and 3 spots for most Super Bowl passing yards. Larry Fitzgerald was incredible as well. He made me hold my breath every time I saw him going deep. Anguan Boldin may be out of the picture in Arizona next year, so Fitzgerald should have a real opportunity to take a leadership role on the team. I read today that their offensive coordinater Todd Haley agreed to coach the Kansas City Chiefs next season, so it’ll be interesting to see how things change. If Kurt Warner retires (I doubt it), then Fitzgerald will really need to solidify himself as a leader on the offensive unit.

What more can I say? It’s been a great season that ended with the one thing any fan of any team really wants. I’m proud to be a fan, and I can’t wait until next season.

A Pleasant Observation…

16 Jan

(Late) Lunchtime! I thought I’d share an observation…

It’s been bitterly cold here in DC the past couple of days. Well, since most of my dear friends and readers are in Pittsburgh and Boston, I suppose it’s even colder for you. I won’t complain too much, I promise. It’s not even the cold that I mind so much, just the wind! Brr!

Anyway, I have to say that while the arctic chill has made me reluctant to go outside, I am absolutely amazed by the clear skies. When I lived in Boston, winter (particularly mid-January and February) meant cold, wind, mounds of snow, and GREY. It was always grey. It drove me nuts. There was one day last January so grey and cold (-20 with the wind chill) in fact, that I called into work sick because I couldn’t stand the thought of going out in it. (In fairness to me, being really anemic made it difficult for me to keep warm.) Here in NoVa/DC however, it’s still freezing, but the sun is shining! I wish I could express how good that is for my mood. It makes more of a difference than I previously thought.

Outside my window right now I see a powder blue sky and the bright sun gleaming off the dome of the Capitol. The trees are mostly bare, but the Capitol grounds and the Library of Congress campus are green and meticulously mowed to a perfect evenness. I’m sure that’s mostly because the Presidential Inauguration is on Tuesday, but it really does look great.

The whole city is buzzing with excitement. I saw some rehearsals outside of the Capitol earlier this week and watched some of the set up. Lots of street vendors are stocked with Obama merchandise (Obama lunchbox anyone?) and the city is preparing itself for the onslaught of people expected to attend the festivities. Restaurants are featuring some very cool specials as well. I particularly like Good Stuff Eatery’s Obama Burger. If you are a fan of Top Chef, that’s Spike’s (from Season 4) burger joint and I think it’s a pretty tasty place.

Joe and I (along with most area residents) will be watching everything from home. We’re both off both Monday and Tuesday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the Inauguration, respectively) and we’re welcoming the mini-vacation. They’ve closed off most of the roads/bridges leading from Virginia into DC, so we plan to hibernate and enjoy some quality relaxation time at home with the dog. To anyone planning to get to DC, I’d say good luck—it’s going to be packed!

Oh, and as for this weekend, I have this picture from my mom that says it all:

Go Steelers!

Have a lovely weekend, all.

A New Day

7 Nov

Hi all! I haven’t been able to write in awhile due to a massive overload of schoolwork. Today, however, I wanted to share with all of you an excerpt from my journal written earlier this week. I hope everyone out there is doing well and I promise some pictures from a trip to Pittsburgh, an anniversary trip to Baltimore, and a Monday Night Football game very soon!

My best to all of you,
Neen

November 5, 2008

Nearly my whole life, I have been told that I am naive. I concede that I prefer to seek out the good in people, but refute wholeheartedly that it blinds me from reality. Yesterday, I saw my country come together in a way that I’ve never witnessed before. I remember distinctly how we clung to one another fearfully following the events of September 11, 2001, but I have never seen so many of us unite in jubilation.

Across the nation, I saw videos of citizens dancing in the street with tears streaming down their faces. I saw men and women of every race, many of whom who realized for the first time that the American dream can be real for them. Future history books will remember this election as one where the American people denounced the politics of fear and voted instead for hope.

Yes we can.

I do not deny that the road ahead is rocky, but a step has been taken in a positive direction. One day at a time, we must rebuild our economy and repair our relations with the rest of the global community. We awake today to new responsibility. We must not become complacent. It is time to hold our elected officials accountable, remembering that these civil servants represent all of us.

In a speech earlier this year, now President-elect Obama said, “We are the change we have been waiting for.” Our moment has at last come, and we look toward the future with a new kind of hope–one that is almost tangible. I have confidence in our newly elected leader and hope that our nation can come together regardless of party affiliation, creed, sexual orientation, or gender. We are ONE country, and can no longer define ourselves by what divides us. Instead, we must choose to remember what unifies us. We are all Americans and we are all in this together. We can either fight that and crumble from within, or we can decide to embrace it and make this nation stronger than it has ever been.

In his speech last night, Obama encouraged the American people to “summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.”

I truly believe it’s possible. Let’s face this new day together. Let’s be a better future.

Let’s be that change that we’ve been waiting for.

Yes we can.

Yes, we will.