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Recipe Megapost: FRACAS 2012

6 Dec

Each winter I go completely overboard and cook a bizarre amount of food in the span of 2-3 days for the Folger Recycled Arts and Crafts Annual Show (FRACAS). The Green Committee holds the event each December and displays creative art pieces made from recycled objects by Folger employees, family, and friends.

After I’m home from the first ingredient run, I have a brief “you are out of your mind” moment, get that five minute panic out of the way, and then move forward. Once prep lists are made and I’ve worked out what needs to be done when / how things should be stored, it’s go time.

I may not be a trained chef, but I’ve been cooking for groups since I was old enough to reach the counter. One of the benefits of being the location of choice for most family holidays was / is getting to spend days in the kitchen working on party food with my family. We put on music, everyone picks a task, and sometimes a bottle of wine even starts floating around. Sometimes grandmothers or aunts even appear, ready to help. We’ve been a pizzelle factory, ravioli assembly line, cookie shapers, manicotti fillers and just about everything in between.

It’s different to do it alone. Fortunately, I never feel alone, because when I’m in the kitchen my family is with me whether they’re physically there or not. There may be several less pairs of hands, but all of their experience sticks right with me. So when this once-a-year madness comes around I go at it with everything I’ve got.

This year, the FRACAS tasting plates were primarily influenced by dishes from France and the Mediterranean. I was inspired by the spirit of our Green Committee to think about being a responsible steward of the earth and used each ingredient in as many ways as possible. I also considered the sustainability and seasonality of what was planned and consulted with friends from the local Arlington County Farmer’s Market in order to prepare a thoughtful, respectful group of dishes. My most sincere thanks go to those purveyors for making available the many local herbs, meats, vegetables, and preserved foods (i.e. dried cherries and strawberry jam). Special thanks to the fine folks at Smith Meadows, Cibola Farms, Toigo Orchards, and Twin Springs.

We begin with the plate of tapenades, spreads, and rillettes…

Smoked Salmon Rillettes
adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 8 oz. wild salmon filet, bones removed.
  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Juice of half of one lemon
  • 2 tbsp. fresh chives, chopped.
  • 4 oz. of smoked salmon, cut into thin strips and then diced.
  • ¼ tsp. smoked paprika

Season the fresh salmon lightly with salt and steam for 8 minutes or until cooked through. Set aside to cool. In a medium-sized bowl, mash together the olive oil and butter until very smooth and then stir in the lemon juice, chives, and smoked salmon.


Remove the skin and flake the cooked, fresh salmon over the top of the mixture then fold it in gently until well combined. Season with chili powder and salt if needed. My smoked salmon was quite salty and so I did not add any extra salt.

Cover and chill for at least two hours. Allow the rillettes to come to room temperature before serving them. They will stay fresh covered in the refrigerator for up to three days or tightly wrapped in the freezer for up to two months.

Pork Rillettes
adapted from Michael Ruhlman

  • 3 lbs. fatty pork shoulder
  • 8 oz. rendered pork fat (lard)
  • 1 leek, thoroughly washed and split lengthwise, leaving one inch intact at the root end.
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 5 cloves
  • 2 qt. water or veal stock

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Dice the pork into 1 in. cubes and place in a pot. Cover with water by 2 in., bring to a boil, and drain the pork. Return the pork to the clean pot.


Stuff the thyme and bay leaves into the split leek. Take the celery stalk and put it alongside the leek, then tie everything together with a piece of cotton twine. This is called a bouquet garni.

Stud the onion with the cloves.

Add 2 qts. of water or stock to the pot with the pork in it, add the bouquet garni and clove studded onion, then bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook until the pork is very tender and falls apart when poked with a fork.

Remove the pork from the cooking pot and transfer it to a plate to cool. Strain the cooking liquid into a bowl and set aside.


Once the pork has cooled to slightly above room temperature, put it in a mixing bowl and mix on low speed, adding reserved cooking liquid as needed until it is a smooth, spreadable consistency. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.


Put the spread into individual containers and refrigerate until chilled.


Melt the lard over low heat and then pour a 1/8 in. layer of it on top of each container of rillettes. This seals the containers and keeps the rillettes fresh. Put the rillettes back into the refrigerator and chill until the layer of fat has solidified. Remove from the refrigerator two hours before serving.

Covered, they will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week and in the freezer for up to a month.

Mediterranean Olive and Vegetable Rillettes
adapted from Michael Ruhlman

  • 1 zucchini, cut into ½ in. discs.
  • 1 yellow squash, cut into ½ in. discs.
  • 4 oz. mushrooms, quartered.
  • 2 medium sized tomatoes, quartered and seeded.
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, pits removed.
  • 1 onion, diced.
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced.
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup basil, chiffonade cut.
  • Salt and black pepper

Broil or grill the red and yellow peppers until the skin is black all over. Put them in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow them to cool.


Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin, core, and seeds and then ½ in. dice.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, and tomatoes with ¼ cup olive oil, spread on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes.

Saute the onion and garlic in 2tbsp. of the olive oil until soft, but not browned and then set aside to cool slightly.

Process the olives, garlic, and onions into a puree. Fold in the balsamic vinegar, roasted vegetables, peppers, and basil.


Season to taste. Cover and refrigerate for up to a week.

Fig and Olive Tapenade
adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 1/2 cup dried black mission figs
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup nicoise or kalamata olives, rinsed and pitted.
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tsp. stone ground mustard
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled and smashed.
  • 1/2 tablespoon capers, rinsed and patted dry.
  • 1 tsp. finely diced rosemary
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and black pepper

In a medium-sized pot, simmer the figs in the water until they are soft and the cooking liquid becomes syrupy. Remove the figs from the water with a slotted spoon and reserve the excess cooking liquid.


In a food processor, pulse together the olives, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, figs, capers, rosemary until a chunky paste forms. Add the olive oil until the mixture is spreadable.


The reserved liquid from the figs can be used to thin the spread if needed. Season to taste. Refrigerate for at least one day prior to serving. Covered, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Roasted Garlic with Marinated Dried Tomatoes

  • 1 cup dried tomatoes
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 heads garlic
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Salt and black pepper

Combine the tomatoes and olive oil and set aside for at least 30 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened slightly. If you have trouble getting the tomatoes to soften, you can put the mixture over very low heat for 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Split the heads of garlic in half horizontally and drizzle olive oil on each half. Put the garlic back together and bundle tightly in aluminum foil. Roast the garlic for 40-45 minutes or until soft and lightly caramelized. Set aside to cool.

Squeeze the softened garlic out of the peel and mash in a bowl. Drain and roughly chop the tomatoes, then mix them into the garlic with the lemon juice and thyme. If you like a chunky texture, stop and season here. If you prefer more of a spreadable consistency, you can puree this in a food processor. Season to taste. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


…The second plate was full of cured pork tenderloin and parma ham accompanied by a few young cheeses and special condiments to brighten everything up. Everything here mixes and matches pretty well, but my favorite was a toast topped with the cured tenderloin and mustard fruit. Salty, sweet, and a little tangy, yum!

Sage and Thyme Cured Pork Tenderloin

  • 4 lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and sinew.
  • ½ gallon water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 5 tbsp. DQ Cure #1, also known as pink salt or Instacure
  • 1 cup sugar (you can use a mixture of brown and white)
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 bunch fresh sage

Combine the water, herbs, salt, curing salt and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Set aside and chill until cold in a container large enough to hold the tenderloin.

Add the pork to the container of brine and place a plate on top of it to keep it submerged. Allow this to sit in the refrigerator for 48 hours.

Remove the pork from the brine, rinse and pat dry. Set it on a wire rack over a baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roast the pork until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees, rest, and then wrap and chill. Slice thin on the bias to serve.


Ancho Chile Spiced Ricotta

Follow the recipe found here for making homemade ricotta. Once the curds have drained, add 1 tsp. ancho chile powder and mix thoroughly. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.


Queso Blanco with Roasted Piquillo Peppers

Follow the recipe found here for making homemade queso blanco. Prior to pressing the cheese, fold in 1/3 cup diced roasted piquillo peppers. Store well wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


Mustard Fruit
adapted from Michael Symon

  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup stone ground mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 pear, peeled, cored, and chopped into ½ in. cubes
  • 1 dried sour cherries

Place the dried cherries and chopped pears in a clean, quart-sized mason jar and set aside. Cover and shake to mix.

Combine the wine, sugar, vinegar and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the mustard until thoroughly blended and then mix in the mustard seeds.

Gently pour the hot liquid over the fruit in the jar, cover, and shake gently to distribute the liquid. It should generously cover the fruit. Store in the refrigerator for at least two days and up to one month. The longer it is stored, the more pronounced the flavors will become. The dried cherries will also plump up a little bit and they are delicious.

adapted from Michael Symon

  • 1 pound celery, peeled and sliced thin.
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, cut into thin rings.
  • 2-3 cherry peppers, diced.
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced.
  • 1 red onion, quartered and sliced thin.
  • 1 tsp. ancho chile powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. toasted, ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped.
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Pack into a 1 quart mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month, shaking gently every so often to redistribute the liquid.


Strawberry Jam Tart with Walnut Crust

Follow the recipe found here for making a strawberry jam tart, but replace the cornmeal with ½ cup finely ground walnuts.


Chocolate Hazelnut Tart
adapted from the Noble Pig

Tart shell:

  • 12 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Zest of one large orange


  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup Nutella or other chocolate-hazelnut spread
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Chopped hazelnuts to garnish

Preheat the oven to 325o F.

Melt the 12 tbsp. of butter in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat and brown just a touch. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sugar, vanilla, salt, and orange zest until the sugar is mostly dissolved.


Put the flour in a large bowl and add the butter mixture. Mix until a soft dough forms.



To form the crust, roll the dough into a ball and then press it into an ungreased 10 in. tart pan with a removable bottom using the heel of your hand. Push the crust approximately ½ in. up the sides of the pan.


Freeze the crust for 15 minutes and then bake it for 25 minutes or until the edges are just becoming golden. Set aside on a wire rack to cool slightly. Unlike many tart recipes, the crust does not have to be completely cool before the filling is added. It can be warm, but you should be able to touch the sides of the pan.


Whisk the cornstarch with ¼ cup of the heavy cream. Make sure the cream is cold when you do this.

Combine the remaining 1 ¾ cups cream, chocolate-hazelnut spread, vanilla, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the cornstarch mixture and mix thoroughly.


Whisking constantly, bring the filling to a boil and boil for one minute or until it thickens considerably.


Pour the filling into the tart shell.


Top with chopped hazelnuts and refrigerate until set for at least two hours before serving. Chilling it overnight is ideal for the very easiest cutting serving. Covered, the tart will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.


Here’s the whole spread waiting to be enjoyed in our photography department. As you can see, I was not the only one contributing delicious goodies. We have a very talented staff, what can I say?


And that doesn’t even include all of the truly special artwork that was created for the event. Tote bags, planters, wreaths, mobiles, frames, dioramas, models, origami…you name it, my colleagues thought of a creative way to make it. A personal favorite was a giant paper crane made out of a proposed engineering plan. He was pretty cool looking. For my own FRACAS piece I wanted to find a way to save all of the beautiful greeting cards Joe and I received at our wedding, so I made this wreath out of those, fabric scraps left over from making a skirt, a bow from the groomer which Dioji no longer cared to wear, and a broken embroidery ring:


Well, I hope that this post will sustain you through December, since I’m fairly sure that I’ll go MIA during Christmas baking season. (Dare I try to break the record of 114 dozen treats?) All I’ll say is that a certain grandma gave me a pizzelle iron at my bridal shower and that it’s been calling to me from the cupboard ever since I deemed it acceptable to begin thinking about Christmas.

Warmest holiday wishes to all of you. Remember that what you always have is what you carry in your heart and head, so make it something fun!

Ciao for now,

Childhood Candy Becomes a Grown-Up Tart

28 Aug

When I was growing up, I spent nearly every day of the summer at our community pool. In part, this was because I was on the swimming and synchronized swimming teams, but it was mostly because I just loved being there. My friends and I would swim for hours and then play long card games while we ate snacks in the warm sun. It was a pretty sweet life.

One of the best treats at the pool snack bar was the frozen candy. Especially frozen Twix bars. There was a treat worth digging through your bag for 50 cents. I didn’t get them very often since weekly allowance was a precious thing, but when I did I savored every last crunchy bite (well, as much as one could before the chocolate started getting all melt-y).

I was asked to make a dessert for a recent dinner party and thought fondly of that summer treat, so I decided to play with those flavors. I came up with a decadent tart that most certainly tasted like that childhood favorite got all dressed up. Get out your tart pans people, this one’s most definitely worth the effort.

Chocolate-Caramel Tart

Super-duper no-fail tart crust:

No shrinking, no cracking, no problem!

  • 6 oz. unsalted butter (1-1/2 sticks)
  • 2 cups flour 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Chocolate filling:

  • 3/4 cup whipping cream
  • 6 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped (I used 70% dark and the sweetness was spot on.)

Caramel filling:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Preheat an oven to 325 degrees F.

Melt the butter for the crust over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt, stirring until smooth.

Blend the butter mixture into the flour with a rubber spatula and then press the dough into a 10 in. tart pan with a removable bottom.

Freeze the crust for 15 minutes and then bake for 25 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Bring the cream for the chocolate filling to a boil and then remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until smooth. Spread one cup of filling into the prepared crust, reserving the rest. I put the remaining chocolate in a piping bag and stored it in the refrigerator.

Refrigerate the tart until the chocolate is firm, about 45 minutes.

Stir the sugar and water for the caramel in a heavy saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Then increase the heat and boil until the syrup turns amber, swirling the pan occasionally (do not stir!) and brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush as needed. This will take about 10 minutes, and the syrup will register at about 300 degrees when it is ready.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the cream, butter, vanilla and salt. The mixture will bubble up. Return the pan to very low heat and stir until the caramel is smooth and the color deepens (see the finished picture) to a rich brown. This will take no more than 5 minutes.

Refrigerate the caramel until cold, but not firm, about 20 minutes.

Spoon the caramel over the chocolate layer in the tart and smooth with an offset spatula. Pipe the reserved chocolate over the caramel to decorate and return the tart to the refrigerator until the caramel is firm. It should firm up within an hour or two, and can be made up to two days in advance (cover once the caramel has firmed up).  Serve chilled.

The crust has a nice crunchy bite, the chocolate is firm but melts in your mouth, and the caramel is creamy and rich. That little bit of lemon in the crust adds a little zing to offset all of the richness. Share with friends and be merry.

Ciao for now,



6 Nov

Okay, so I admit it. I’ve been avoiding the blog…a little. Around mid-September life got back to being crazy with school and work. Unfortunately, I ran out of hours in the day and so blogging took a backseat for awhile.

I would be lying and doing my readers a disservice however, if I did not admit that my absence was partly due to feeling a little “off the wagon” so to speak. I struggled throughout October particularly and found myself making easy, bad food choices more than I’d like to admit. I’d been dwelling on those choices and generally lazing in a “guilt-funk” that made me feel pretty grumpy.

Finally, finally I feel like I’m out of that place of negativity and getting back to feeling like Neen. It is amazing how rejuvenating it can be to stumble, recognize your own weaknesses, accept that you have them, and then resolve to strengthen them as best you can. Because honestly, while there were some food struggles, it has ultimately been a wonderful autumn thus far…Let me share some of it with you…

In mid-September, I finally joined the Energy Club gym in Shirlington so that I could keep up running during the cold months to come. What I’ve found there so far is a great community of gym-goers and instructors. Everyone is incredibly friendly and I’m enjoying the classes (particularly Flow Yoga and Body Jam) more than I ever thought I would. My goal for next year? Run the Army 10-miler.

Yoga has been particularly good for working through negative or intrusive feelings. It’s soothing and empowering all at once—a very unique blend of emotions.

October 3, 2009

I run AIDS Walk Washington (5k) and finish in around 26.5 minutes. An exhilarating experience that raised over $800,000 for the Whitman-Walker Clinic of Washington, DC. I was nervous with it being my first race, but I kept thinking of all of the people that sponsored me. That was what ultimately gave me the boost I needed during the last stretch up Pennsylvania Ave. Hearing the announcer say my name as I crossed the finish line was pretty cool too.

October 9, 2009

Joe and I take a trip to Smith Meadows Bed and Breakfast to celebrate our five-year anniversary (awww). While staying at their lovely Summer Kitchen Cottage on a 400-acre sustainable farm, we cooked a great meal, walked the grounds, enjoyed cigars and champagne by sunset, and were treated to an amazing breakfast prepared by the B&B proprietor. It was honestly the most peaceful place I have ever been in my life.

mid-October, 2009

Mystery Food 2009 comes to an end with a final basket loaded with squash, peppers, tomatoes, apples, salad greens and fresh HONEY! I was thrilled. Thank you to Leigh at Bull Run Mountain Farm for a wonderful CSA season.

October 31, 2009

I put the final touches on our fabulous Halloween costumes. Joe and I hit the town Saturday night as Batman villains The Riddler and Poison Ivy. I took most of my Ivy inspiration from how she appeared in “The Long Halloween.” It ended up looking better with less leaf-applique than I originally did. Joe’s Riddler costume was centered mostly around the amazing lime-green polyester suit that we found for a rather inexpensive price on Amazon. (Seriously, what can’t you find on that website?) He took inspiration from several comics and I did my best to bring his vision to life with limited time. I wish I’d had more time to sew more question marks on the suit, but he says he liked it simple.

A busy month and a half, huh? Somewhere in there I juggled work and a full course load and managed to get the flu (ugh). No one can say I’m (to use an Alton Brown expression) a unitasker! I’ve been doing some cooking as well and getting back into using the crockpot more now that the autumn chill seems more permanent. I’ll post some new recipes soon—stracciatella is on its way as well as a slow cooked tomato-cubanelle sauce that I guarantee will impress even your grandmother.

Until then friends, stay healthy and get out there and VOTE tomorrow.


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!


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 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.