Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Sabbatical

“Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap

So, yes, someone has had a lengthy absence away from writing. I suppose you could say that I have been otherwise prioritizing my time. I do almost regret not documenting some of my DC “firsts.” I emphasize the almost because I am trying to make it a practice to never regret any one of my experiences or actions. The latter is much more difficult to accomplish, and requires constant practice and reminding.

To sum up the rest of my first year in this beautiful capitol city, I experienced what I was constantly told was a mild winter; it deceitfully eased into a blisteringly hot summer, with skin that glistened the moment you stepped outside. Each day I’d hear the warning: “It’s going to get hotter, mark my words.” Nary a person was able to convince me that I was finally back on the East Coast and no longer in the temperate desert by the sea that is also known as Los Angeles. But the short perfect spring breathed its final windy sigh, and the notoriously selfish summer shouldered in, heaving its thick humidity the likes of a sauna with a trail of flying insects that ruled from noon to night. The level-eyed looks of “I told you so” deservedly followed the flying insects, and al fresco dining turned into a rite of passage if you dared, but most people did not.

Mr. Weather aside, I continued to enjoy peeling back the layers of this city full of workaholics, group houses, closet hookah addicts, and bourbon lovers. I moved into a classic gray rowhouse with a brick wall, high ceilings, and wood floors. I also experienced my first steeplechase, the Gold Cup (wealthy northern Virginia’s pouty answer to the Kentucky Derby, replete with its own version of the mint julep, wide-brimmed hats, pretty girls in sundresses, and drunken fraternity boys in madras print pants). I discovered coat checks, late happy hours, and made-to-order cocktails by intelligent and snarky bartenders.

And just as the summer was finished going through my closet of inappropriate clothes, ruining each of my favorite blouses with over-applied deodorant, it up and disappeared leaving a picturesque autumn foliage in its wake. The change was that sudden, too. It seemed to happen in one weekend…unlike the beautiful autumn season which kept hedging its bet and would record daily temperatures differing sometimes by as much as 20 degrees. But it did follow the summer, and now, exactly one year later, I am experiencing one of the coldest winters DC has had in decades.

With freezing temps and a brutal windchill, I was sure that people would hole themselves up either at home or in the office. But, to my welcomed surprise, everyone is still out and about, overflowing local pubs, shopping with purpose, and generally continuing to pump this city with a pedestrian lifeblood that is only possible in a town such as this.

I’m now settled comfortably at a back table in a busy coffee shop complemented by a full bar, happily lapping up a warm glass of mulled wine. This coffee shop is quid pro quo for the city, too, with interesting home-grown urban artwork hanging on the walls and servers dressed with a touch of hipster (skinny jeans with bright seams, hair tied up in scarves, and sporting Converse All-Stars). The music bounces back and forth from obscure indie rock to obscure indie hip hop. Large comfy armchairs are squeezed around small tables full of patrons, some with laptops, many just enjoying good coffee, laughing over a table of bread, mint leaves, and Greek yogurt.

A Jamaican eatery opened up a couple of blocks from my place, and I think I’m going to try it for dinner tonight. Downstairs burgers made from odd meats like goat and bison are served, and upstairs deejays spin Jamaican music. This effort was born from the same owners of several of my favorite establishments in the city; I have high expectations (and hopes) for it.

So, I believe this hastily patches up my lack of blogs for my first year here. My recipe will hopefully be following the blog soon. It’s a really delicious spaghetti recipe; it is really that good!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Francophile in the City

"Jardin d'hiver" by Keren Ann

It is no secret that I am a little bit of a Francophile. I love the food and wine, the clothes, the attitude, the borrowed words…like connoisseur, rendezvous, décolletage, faux pas, patois, soiree. French words just exude this self confident sense of sassy, disguised as flirty little tongue-twisters that tease when they stumble through your teeth and lips, unhurried and impudent, sometimes clumsily, daring you to take that small mental leap into the inappropriate.

The inappropriate….

Without revealing my sources, mind you, this brings to mind a recent, thoroughly enjoyable, French experience that I happened upon…after several missed opportunities…and wearing what looked like an Hermes orange scarf (so said my friend as she espied our covert planning in the corner, all smiles, all double entendre). It was the last night of a string of happy, celebratory days and nights. I was on a high, from too much wine perhaps or from the momentum that had slowly built up over the night's activities even or maybe from the fact that this was the last time to take advantage of a very willing, and very qualified, advocate for the selfish arts of indulgence and gratification. I honestly wasn't sure which. I just know that a cab ride and two glasses of Makers-rocks later, I had arrived at the door of sheer and utter, beautifully inappropriate disbelief.

I do feel like lately I have been enjoying that kind of delicate balance, the one between instant reward and…dancing around it tauntingly. There is something deliciously conscious, purposeful, and patient about it, like a foreplay. It's become this intriguing game of self discipline and self discovery. How long can I keep myself at bay, hold myself at arm's length, how long…with anything? At what point does it turn into a self imposed punishment, of sorts of course? I do know that as long as I am enjoying this slow, patient game of wills, I'll continue to play it.

Back to my Francophilia, there is this French song that I've recently fallen in love with, fittingly called "Jardin d'hiver" (which means "Winter Garden"), and I keep playing it over and over again (every version that I own). It puts me in that soft, unhurried mood. Makes me want to…dally a little, enjoy that extra glass of something, slip into anything comfortable, and lengthen my acute experience, prolong it, whatever it happens to be.

It also makes me want to...enjoy a digestif, one that by its own flavor combo I am forced to drink slowly, almost gingerly. Like a classic cocktail.


The Original from Harry's Bar - Paris

1 1/2 oz. Brandy
1/2 oz. Triple Sec
1/2 oz. Lemon or Lime Juice

Combine all the ingredients in a shaker filled with ice, shake well and strain into a cocktail glass.

Monday, December 15, 2008

For Goodness' Sake

“It’s Amazing” by Jem

No tree, lights, or decorations up in my place, and not because I’m a Scrooge. I love the holidays at this time of year, all of them (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, etc.). My time has just been otherwise prioritized (i.e., work). This is also my first holiday in a while in a new city, one that is known for being breathtaking and brightly lit during this time of year. Preparations for the approaching history-making inauguration have somewhat muted the regular round-the-town holiday fare, I’m sure, but I can still see glimpses of it in store fronts and on street corners. The city still seems to sparkle.

I can also tell it’s the holiday season by the weather.

We have actually already experienced a few flurries, wispy ones that don’t stick to anything, but could tingle your tongue if you allow them to. And we have had some rain.... Just a few nights ago I was making my way home from apre-late-worknight-drinks, and there was this cold and heavy rain that I had to battle my way through with a small, inadequate, but better-than-nothing, umbrella, bracing myself against the faintest wind that would every now and again sweep the rain sideways and turn my inadequate umbrella into a completely ineffective one. I soldiered on, with my inexplicable (some might even call “idiotic”) half-smile, while others shouldered past me purposefully in appropriate early-winter attire, oblivious to what they would hardly call a sprinkle. Silly southern California girl.

Of course, there are other telltale signs of the holiday season. Everyone around seems to be more positive, more polite, friendlier. Granted, I could be subconsciously feeding into a proverb in the Bible: “He who seeks good finds goodwill.” Regardless, I’d rather be a misguided reveler than any alternative. There’s an insurance company with a commercial that starts out with one person helping someone else out, and another person seeing it and in turn helping someone else out, which is then witnessed by someone else, and so on. The idea of the commercial is not foreign to me. A few years back I remember this movement that promoted random acts of kindness (a popular coffee table book was published on the topic, I'm sure even Oprah touted it, etc.). I remember trying it, a random act of kindness; I sent a “thinking of you” note to an old friend that I knew was very sick and hadn’t been able to be out and about in a while. We hadn’t really been in touch either (in large part my fault because I’m horrible at keeping in touch with anyone). Her response to my note couldn’t have been more warming or more appreciative. I was startled at how my little amount of effort produced such a fountain of positivity and good energy. If I had the discipline, I’d practice it more often (gift-wrapping at a Georgetown bookstore for donations to a not-for-profit doesn’t quite seem as satisfying as working a soup kitchen in South Central Los Angeles on Thanksgiving day, but it was still really fun, and the intention was there, no?).

This past weekend, on my long walk home with a friend, from the best fried chicken in the city (i.e., The Hitching Post), I was bundled in two scarves, thick mittens, and a long jacket. We were actually passing a garden shop full of what looked like a massive group of carolers inside. I turned to my friend after I noticed that they were all men, and mouthed, “Are they the Gay Men’s Chorus?” since every major city has one (LA’s is one of the best I’ve ever heard). She, one of my trusted DC locals, shrugged uncertainly, so we walked inside to listen to them, and asked who they were. One of the singers responded proudly: “We’re gay.” A round of laughter followed by a: “Yes, we are the Gay Men’s Chorus.” And then they proceeded to share their beautiful, simple gift; they sang carols, lovely, heartfelt, harmonious carols. We were able to stay for two before we had to leave because my friend had a train to catch.

So, all this to say that while my little place doesn’t have any decorations or lights up inside, I still feel the blister of winter approaching as well as the hope of a long break over the anticipated holidays and the sparkle that this city is letting off (another idiotic smile), whether altruistically or intentionally. This is the closest I’ve come in a long time to feeling like it really is that “time of year when the world falls in love.”

Now be good to yourself and fall in love with these holiday cookies courtesy of Bridget Klein from Louisville, Kentucky.

Princess Tea Cakes

To make ahead: Prepare the dough (Steps 2 and 3), cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Roll in the second coating of confectioners' sugar just before serving.

3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white whole-wheat flour
2 cups confectioners' sugar, divided
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup very finely chopped nuts, such as pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Pour oil into a medium bowl. Whisk all-purpose flour, white whole-wheat flour, 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, cornstarch and salt in another bowl.
3. Mix half the dry ingredients into the oil by spoonfuls. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add vanilla. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients by spoonfuls until thoroughly combined. (The mixture will resemble creamed butter and brown sugar.) Stir in nuts.
4. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls; place about 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet.
5. Bake the cookies until just set, being careful not to let the bottoms get too brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on the pan for 2 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly.
6. When the cookies are still warm, but no longer hot, roll them in the remaining 1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar and place them back on the rack to continue cooling. (Reserve the sugar.)

When the cookies are completely cool, roll them in the sugar again.

Makes 3 dozen cookies

Saturday, November 08, 2008

New in DC

“Dreamworld” by Robin Thicke

Moves are never short of a few hiccups. Mine should have had me at wit’s end, but with my refreshed vision (my relocation to the east coast largely to blame), I’m tending to take hiccups much less seriously now. My priorities seem to be more in the order that I would ideally like them to be in, and I find myself wearing this constant smile. In short, I feel renewed and alive, and I’m eagerly and pleasantly surprised as I look underneath each new rock in this gloriously different city. As is my nature with almost all things new and unknown to me, my curiosity is near unquenchable. And this city is not disappointing me at all.

This city has got me hooked. From the moment I wake up, slowly uncoil myself from bed, and realize that I’ll be stepping out into a completely new neighborhood with refreshingly brisk weather, lined with cobblestoned sidewalks, trees with changing leaves, shiny Vespas, and parked cars that are settled in for the week waiting to be used for weekend trysts... From the moment that I smell the brewing coffee delicately wafting into my bedroom from my cozy, little kitchen, enticing me to gingerly crawl out of bed and endure the cold slate floor so that I can pour a steamy mug to leisurely enjoy while I ease into my morning… From the moment that I know that I will have to wear a jacket and a scarf to wrap up in while I indecisively pick my way through the neighborhood streets to work, passing ivy-covered row houses, international embassies, the National Geographic Society, at least eight coffee houses…

From these simple, yet new and cherished moments…to that moment when I discover a soon-to-be favorite quasi-hidden watering hole full of interesting people chilling to an interesting deejay nestled in between shelves of dusty books in a small alcove spinning interesting music… Or that moment when a tall, mysterious stranger walks past me with his serious and penetrating eyes, thick wavy hair, pressed dark suit, and dangerously deep dimples, and his fragrance faintly reaches my senses, tickles my skin, and makes me blush. And then that moment when suddenly he appears behind me at the door of that dark lounge and follows me in, with a mischievous smile, escorts me up the stairs, and buys me an extra dry, completely dirty, martini… But this is not about him. This is about me, and I cannot devote my attention to any one person or thing because my attention span does not allow it. Let alone some handsome stranger with an exotic accent and an exotic name. Instead I tuck away a business card with an appreciative nod…and find myself drawn to that moment when I’m seated at a cozy dark wine bar that is walking distance to my place and I discover that it serves my favorite varietal of wine, Montepulciano, by the glass. And as I take my first sip, I feel like I’m suddenly moving in slow motion, and arriving at this comfortable nook in my mind where I can sit for a while and mentally pontificate over silly little nothings.

I am falling for this city, completely falling for it. Others have mistakenly compared it to much larger, more impersonal cities. I myself come directly from one of those. But I am not making the same mistake. DC is very much created in its own image with its own personality, and has its own problems with its own glorious moments (i.e., election night, with an energy that I will never forget; I’ll save that experience for another blog). This city is not trying to be anything else, not that I have seen so far. And while it heavily suggests of the northeast, in many respects it also hints of the south. And that is how I’ve come upon the following recipe. It’s an old dish that I loved and enjoyed years ago, and since moving to DC, I have had the hallowed experience of revisiting this dish, rather multiple updated variations of it because, oddly and pleasantly enough, it is served in so many places here.

Ah, yes. Welcome to DC…or as I find myself feeling more and more like saying: welcome home.

Shrimp Grits

Grits, instant or otherwise

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium white onion, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

1 pound andouille or spicy Italian spicy sausage, cut in chunks

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups chicken stock

2 to 3 bay leaves

2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on

Pinch cayenne pepper, adjust to personal preference

1/2 lemon, juiced

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

4 green onions, sliced

Follow the instructions on the package for the grits. Place a deep skillet over medium heat and coat with the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic; saute for 2 minutes to soften. Add the sausage and cook, stirring, until there is a fair amount of fat in the pan and the sausage is brown. Sprinkle in the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to create a roux. Slowly pour in the chicken stock and continue to stir to avoid lumps. Toss in the bay leaves. When the liquid comes to a simmer, add the shrimp. Poach the shrimp in the stock for 2 to 3 minutes, until they are firm and pink and the gravy is smooth and thick. Add the cayenne pepper, Tabasco and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper; stir in the parsley and green onion. Spoon the grits into a serving bowl. Add the shrimp mixture and mix well. Serve immediately.