Trivia Night!

October 3rd, 2012

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There are few activities more quintessentially “DC” than trivia night. Practically any night of the week you can find at least one local bar packed with young professionals coming straight from the office to meet up with friends and show off knowledge about obscure things. Teams are made up of about eight members and the competition features multiple rounds, some of which involve audio or video clips. The winning team gets $50 off their tab, so the stakes are high. Trivia night is a thing, and it is huge.

I have never been great at trivia. Give me a category about old Broadway shows or B-list celebrity relationships and I would dominate, but unfortunately, the questions are usually some combination of word riddles and geography. Not my strong suits. Anyway, I tagged along with Elizabeth to Stetson’s trivia on Tuesday and had a great time with her co-workers. Our team didn’t win, we didn’t even place (did I mention how serious DC folk are about their trivia??); but fortunately, Suj joined us in time to provide much needed help with a nineties-music round. That’s right, my boyfriend was able to correctly identify which “Now That’s What I Call Music!” album featured Chingy’s “Right Thurr.” One of the many reasons I love him.

Fall

October 1st, 2012

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(wedding candlelight)

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(giant yacht in the Greenwich harbor)

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The shifting season has brought a lot of excitement and change. For one, the city is flush with young students returning to DC for fall semester. Suj and I are wrapping up wedding season (I love that that is a thing), so we’ve been traveling to New York, Connecticut, and Virginia the past few weeks. But the most exciting news is that Suj is officially a Washingtonian again! The past year (plus) of long distance between DC and Detroit was difficult. We spent countless hours on the phone, waiting in security lines, trying to fix FaceTime connections, saying goodbye too soon, eating dinner over gchat video, spending weekends alone, riding on the B30, texting, simultaneously watching movie, and waving goodbye at the airport. We were pretty lucky though. We had the means and the flexibility to see each other a lot. We also had the advantage of crazy technology that wasn’t available years ago. I know many people spend time away from loved ones under more difficult circumstances than we had. I am amazed by that kind of commitment. And while I don’t wish for us to ever live that far apart again, I am very aware of how much stronger our relationship is because of this huge thing we did together. So now we are in the same place at the same time. I am excited for our new season.

Personal Improvement Plans

September 18th, 2012

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Ashley and I did a little exploring in DC this weekend. We looked like major tourists as we snapped away with our DSLRs and snacked on cupcakes in Georgetown. Ashley’s been on a major goal/self-improvement kick lately, and I love it. She made us wander around the city for hours honing our photography skills (which, for me, meant taking my camera off the semi-manual mode I love so much and actually adjusting my settings).

The self-improvement day felt good and inspired us to set more personal development goals. We decided to share with one another our short (1-6 months), medium (6 months-1 year), and long (5 years) term goals. I made a huge, sloppy list of things I am dying to do. For instance, I want to get in the habit of writing more letters or cards, so a short term goal I set is to write to at least two people a month. For a medium-term goal, I want to invest in a sewing machine and brush up on my sewing skills. My long-term goals are much more daunting and will require a lot of short-term steps along the way. Examples: I want to work towards Spanish proficiency and learn to play the piano well enough to play in front of others (without feeling terribly embarrassed).

I think sharing my goals with Ash is going to be a huge motivator because she’s not going to let me quit. I learned on Sunday there is no quitting when Ash is in charge. She has a subtle way of motivating; celebrating achievements then ignoring me when I hinted about wrapping up for the day. And now I know the difference between ISO and aperture.

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Mini Tarts with Cookie Cutter Crust

September 13th, 2012

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Mini fruit tarts are a fun and easy treat, perfect for dessert or a party snack. I went the super-easy route with these tarts and used instant pudding for the filling (follow the directions on the box for the thicker pie filling version). I topped them with fruit and whipped cream, but you can get really creative with these babies.

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Cookie Cutter Tart Crust

Ingredients

1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup fine granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 teaspoons cold water

Directions

  1. Sift flour, sugar and salt into mixing bowl. Cut chilled butter into pieces into the bowl. Using your fingertips, quickly rub the butter and dry ingredients together until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine egg yolks, vanilla and water. Add to the flour/butter mixture and fold together with a fork or hands. Roll dough into a ball and chill 1 hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 24-cup mini muffin tin with cooking spray to keep the crusts from sticking to the pan.
  4. Roll out dough on a floured surface. Use flower-shaped cookie cutter to create shaped dough. Gently place shapes into the mini muffin tin so that it forms a cup with the “petals” pointing up.
  5. Bake the crusts for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to a cookie sheet and cool. Add filling of your choice and enjoy!
Original recipe from Mama’s Gotta Bake

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5 Tips for Outdoor Dining

September 11th, 2012

This month our book club read Gone Girl, which we discussed over a beautiful alfresco dinner. The book is sort of a “beach read” which was appropriate since I finished it during my last beach trip of the summer.

The weather is cooling, which made dining outside so enjoyable. Erin made coconut shrimp with pineapple salsa, which we had with cilantro rice and a ginger tomato salad. For desert, we had warm brownies with ice cream and fresh strawberries. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was very romantic. Throwing an outdoor dinner party can be very easy with a little planning.

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Tips for Outdoor Dinner Parties

  1. Scout for the perfect space. We are fortunate to have a balcony large enough to comfortably fit our dining table, but I love the idea of throwing a dinner party in a unique outdoor location.
  2. Setting the mood. Simple holiday lights went a long way in setting the mood for our dimly-lit, twinkling scene. We took mosquito precautions with this (worked great). We also lit some candles and streamed background music via a Kings of Convenience Pandora station.
  3. Planning the menu. The hardest thing about dining outside is timing—i.e., serving a warm meal on location. We didn’t have too much trouble with this since our table was so close to our kitchen. For a more distant location, I would try something portable like a steak salad with fresh berries and cheese for desert.
  4. The table. Last year I purchased a tablecloth from Target and picked up a few sets of cloth napkins from Marshalls. They were pretty inexpensive and I’ve used them over and over. I worked as a caterer in college so I love any excuse to break out my napkin-folding skills (though it is pretty easy). A nice table setting is an easy way to make a simple dinner feel special.
  5. Guests! At our house, we look for any excuse to entertain, but book club nights are some of my favorites. It is so rejuvenating to laugh, cook, and catch up with the girls. And sometimes we even manage to discuss the book!

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Perfect Pesto in a Blender

September 5th, 2012

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I love pesto. Okay, I basically love anything that involves basil, olive oil, and garlic; so pesto was an easy sell.  The sauce can be made with either pine nuts or walnuts, but I stick to the former thanks to a walnut allergy.

While in Michigan this weekend, Suj’s sister gave us a huge bundle of fresh basil from her garden.  With so much basil, we needed a recipe with instructions for blender preparation (rather than a food processor).  About an hour before my flight home, Suj prepared a delicious batch of fresh pesto sauce: a little to eat, a little to freeze, and a little to send along with me.  He made some minor tweaks to this recipe and the results were perfect.  Even Erin approved; though she said he cheated by using parmesan cheese.  But come on, cheese makes everything better!

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Classic Pesto 

Ingredients
4 cups fresh basil leaves (from about 3 large bunches)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts (toasting optional)
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste
Fresh lemon juice to taste (about 2 tsp)

Directions
Combine basil, olive oil, pine nuts, and garlic in blender. Blend until paste forms, stopping often to push down basil. Add cheese, salt, and lemon; blend until smooth. Serve or freeze for future use. Stays fresh in fridge for a couple days.

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Happy labor day

September 3rd, 2012

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Greetings from New Buffalo, Michigan! Wrapping up a weekend at the beach with a breakfast of champions.

Top Chef Challenge

August 24th, 2012

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The roomies and I love elaborate challenges and competitions (e.g., the great frugal challenge), so we were all really excited about Chris’s suggestion for a Top Chef style cooking challenge. It turned out to be a wild (and delicious) success!

The rules: each of us picked a day (over a two-week period) to prepare a meal for the house with a maximum budget of $40. We initially had a whole scoring system in place. The diners were to assign 1-5 points in the areas of taste, creativity, presentation, and difficulty. In the end, we threw out the voting system since there was a pretty clear winner.

I tried to set the bar high by cooking first and presenting a four-course menu. I started with a chilled corn soup, followed by pear salad, with homemade spinach ravioli for the entre and fruit cobbler and cream for dessert. Erin wowed us with baja fish tacos and fried ice cream. Chris made some impressive gourmet ramen with grilled kabobs. But Alex really blew us away with an eggplant starter, chimichurri tenderloin, and bananas foster flambee for desert. Seriously, when he lit that pan on fire at the table, we all knew it was over for the rest of us … until the next challenge!!

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Simple solution: jewelry dish

August 9th, 2012

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My bedside table is something of a problem area for me, with jewelry and hair pins scattered about. A few weeks ago I found this beautiful nautical soap dish at GoodWood, one of my favorite vintage furniture shops in DC. The dish serves as a perfect jewelry holder and it makes smile when I see it. Problem solved.

 

Lollapalooza 2012!

August 7th, 2012

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I’m not sure how to sum up Lollapalooza 2012. First, the music was awesome! Some of our favorite shows included Miike Snow, Bloc Party, Childish Gambino, Fun., and Jack White. I learned a lot from my first three-day music festival, and there are definitely things I will do to be more prepared next time around.

Things I learned from Lollapalooza 2012:

  1. Jorts are a thing. Seriously. Probably two thirds of the girls at the festival were rocking high-waisted jean cutoffs. I am not sure how prevalent this look is in the real world, but it definitely has not hit DC … yet.
  2. Grant park is amazing. It was such a perfect venue for this sort of event. The grounds were beautiful and easy to navigate. There are plenty of quiet, shady spots, which were so perfect for escaping the summer heat between shows.
  3. I am turning into a mom. Turns out there is something about rowdy twenty-year-olds making ill considered decisions that really brings out a maternal instinct in me. So many times I had to refrain from pleading “You’re too young!” The weekend was an exercise in chillaxing.
  4. I have an obsession with logistics. I was so impressed that everything was so seamless: the scheduling, stage layouts, restroom areas, water refill stations. I couldn’t stop talking about it. Suj could not have been more bored by these conversations.
  5. Most people do not attend Lollapalooza for the music. The mood was friendly and relaxed … but so much chatter!
  6. I love Chicago. I only got a small taste of the city, but I love it. The downtown architecture and the skyline are beautiful. The “L” was quick and easy. I had great food at local restaurants. The city felt huge and intimate and surprisingly walkable. I can’t wait to visit again.

 

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Tips for next time:

What to wear: Next time my philosophy would be 70% comfort, 30% style. There was definitely a festival look—something of a hippie/hipster/feather-wearing/retro/free-spirit vibe—but the most important dress factor for me was comfort. It was so hot! Everything I wore was ruined by the end of the day from hours in the sun. Next time I would just wear a bikini top under a short cotton dress and a hat. I wore a pair of comfortable leather sandals and would do the same next time. Easy, cute, and comfortable.

What to eat: We were less than impressed with the food at Lollapalooza. Everything was pretty expensive and Suj described his burger as “tasteless and overcooked,” which made me laugh (apparently the food at ACL is awesome so he had high expectations). On Sunday, we had a big breakfast before catching a few shows, and then we left the park during a break around 1:30 to meet up with friends for brunch. I thought this was the best way to approach the meal situation. We grabbed some food, on the way home, at McDonalds (the only open place we found). I think I horrified Suj by ordering “all” from the value menu. (I haven’t eaten McDonalds in years and I wanted to try everything!)

What to pack: We brought a backpack with only a few items and it worked great. We packed sunscreen and two refillable water bottles (they have refill stations in the park). We also brought a lightweight sheet to sit on. On the last day, we brought a small hand towel that we soaked with water to cool off our necks. Finally, hand sanitizer and travel sized wet-wipes were a must for the port-o-potties. The website said no professional cameras were allowed, so I left my DSLR at home, but we saw plenty of people with big cameras and no one really seemed to be regulating it, so next time I’d probably try to sneak mine in. Also, next time I would bring some kind of ice pack or neck cooler as well as a spray bottle to cool off in the heat.

Overall I had a great time watching some of my favorite bands with my favorite person. Can’t wait till next time!

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