Saturday, October 20, 2012

Wisconsin Wooing

I had so much fun in Wisconsin last year, I decided to make it an annual trip to visit my dearest friends in Madison. It was a whirlwind weekend, but some of the best fun I've had in a long time. This is a long post. Like, really long. But I want to remember every detail.

I arrived Friday afternoon, and we immediately commenced what we do best: eating. Elisa took me to the Old Fashioned, where we had salads (mine had salmon, bacon, cucumber, an amazing deviled egg, and tarragon vinaigrette) and shared a plate of shoestring fries with garlic aioli-- this fries and aioli thing definitely became a theme of the weekend.
Our next meal was a late dinner on Friday night at Graze. We went there last year, and I put in a special request to go again, since I still dream of that soft pretzel and cheese board. We ordered the same appetizers-- I made sure to get a picture this time and Matt snagged the cheese list for me. Our cheese board included the Moreso (goat), Pleasant Ridge Reserve (cow), Marieke Golden (cow), Bandaged Cheddar Reserve (cow), and the Little Boy Blue (sheep). I favored the Moreso and the Little Boy Blue. Our entrees followed: light and crispy fish and chips for Elisa, grilled sausages with truffle mashed potatoes for Matt, and top sirloin with cauliflower puree and mushroom leek hash for me. Yes. It was as amazing as it sounds. That sirloin was the most meltingly tender little thing.


The next morning, the weather was so moody, with a lovely mist settling in on Lake Minona. We began the most delightful brunch at Sardine with croissants and pain au chocolat, which will never fail to whisk me back to 7th grade French class. The pastries were flaky and airy, delicate while impossibly crisp on the outside.
So . . . brunch is super troublesome for me. I am an ardent supporter of waffles, french toast, and pancakes-- any carbohydrate delivery system for pure maple syrup, basically. But I just can't handle that amount of sugar before 6pm. I always end up ordering a savory, protein-heavy dish at brunch, and then I feel disappointed. So, when perusing the Sardine menu, I realized, hey! I'm on vacation. I get to do whatever I want! So I ordered two meals-- one to entertain my sweet tooth, and one to keep my pancreas in check. This was an outstanding decision on my part, if I may say so.

My sweet brunch was a buckwheat waffle with cinnamon orange butter, maple syrup, and fresh berries. Buckwheat has that King Midas effect, only more like cardboard instead of gold. Don't you find that when you try to be healthy by ordering buckwheat you feel a little sad inside while you chew that stuff? Not so with these waffles. These were light, fluffy, and airy. A flavorful and delicate crumb with the slight crispy exterior. I never knew buckwheat could induce visions of maple syrup-laden clouds. And the cinnamon orange butter was divine, creating a warm, Christmas-y vibe. Joy to the World!

I alternated bites of waffle with my second brunch: crab, bacon, and rock shrimp cakes in a chipotle beurre blanc sauce. Often seafood cakes are weighed down with Old Bay seasoning, and then mounded in a sort of soggy fry. These were honest-to-goodness fried little cakes, crisp and crunchy without even the slightest trace of excess oil. The inside was a perfect blend of the three stars, each flavor hitting individually and finishing with a perfect harmony of flavors. And the flavors were never overpowered with any particular spice, though perfectly seasoned. The dish also came with an egg, which I ordered over-easy on the waiter's recommendation. Perfect! And a lovely little salad with a bright and punchy dressing over mixed greens, fresh corn, tomatoes-- I wish I had room in my stomach for more than a few bites. This entire plate was my absolute favorite of the entire weekend.
(Numerous reports state that Sardine does nearly everything perfectly. So if you find yourself in Madison, this is my first and foremost recommendation.)

 Dinner that night was such an event. Matt, Elisa, Amanda, Spencer and I ventured out to Nostrano. It is nestled in this tiny little hip space-- we had high expectations. Our waitress was a hipster blonde version of Bryce Dallas Howard, and super helpful describing dishes to us-- it actually made me want to be a waiter, interestingly enough. You can help these people decide what to eat, and describe the food to them. Then, you get to see their joy when they enjoy the food. Clearly I am romanticizing this. At first the simple menu was intimidating me-- definitely took me back to my Mesa Grill experience where I had to remember that I was at a really nice place, so everything would be incroyable. First, one of the small plates was called Little Gem Salad. I think I had to order it based on name alone. It had candied olives and beets which is actually gross to me, but I couldn't not eat something called Little Gem Salad. The olives were not my thing, as predicted, but the beets combined with the softest goat cheese and perfect greens was positively delightful.

I was in the mood for something light as my entree, so I passed up the pastas, ragu, sausage, etc in favor of the Red Snapper, which I had never eaten before. It came with mussels, clams, and squid in a tomato broth with chile oil. I had just finished telling Matt earlier in the day that mussels did not appeal to me in the least. But I want to broaden my culinary horizons, and this seemed a safe place to do it. It was all wonderful. The snapper was perfectly cooked: light, flaky, with the crispest skin. I totally rocked those mussels and clams without a hint of squeamishness. I was pleasantly surprised by both the taste and my courage. And inspired by my air of gluttony earlier in the day, we all shared the orecchiette with housemade fennel sausage and brussels sprouts. And, I will never fail to be wooed by brussels sprouts, so even though I enjoyed my snapper, maybe I wish the orecchiette had been mine, all mine? We all shared three desserts in the end, and interestingly, none of them stand out. We all agreed they were just average. Kind of a let down at the end of an incredible night, particularly because the two owners are husband and wife chef, and the wife is a pastry chef, so we were prepared to be wowed.


 Sunday was the day for us to all come together and cook. We snacked on a beautiful cheese plate (arranged by Matt) for most of the day while Matt and Elisa worked on braised short ribs and mashed potatoes (mashed in a food mill! why have I not done this before??). I made lemon garlic and gruyere brussels sprouts (no such thing as too many brussels sprouts). Amanda brought over a delightful butternut squash puree and sauteed (I think?) swiss chard fresh from the farmer's market.


And thanks to Jessie, we had a perfect idea for dessert: Mississippi Mud Pie-- a flourless chocolate cake layered in an oreo crust with homemade dark chocolate pudding, topped with whipped cream. The six of us ate nearly half the cake, and I have thought about it at least twice a day since coming home, wishing I were at Matt's apartment with a fork, finishing it off.

Monday I had to return to reality. Elisa and I stopped at an awesome Indian buffet and Fromagination before heading to the airport. I picked up a nice little chunk of Humboldt Fog, which I've been dying to try since I read about it in Immortal Milk. I'm eating it now with a fresh baguette from the farmer's market, and that sharp chevre is seriously hitting the spot. 

Lest you think all we did was eat, we also went to two movies. And we talked a lot. I can't believe such a high number of my favorite people ended up in Madison, of all places. But I'm not complaining about having a reason to visit! Until next year!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Taqueria Poblano

When my sister Lindsay visited in March, we happened upon Taqueria Poblano in Del Ray. Just last week we needed a mid-day family outing, and remembered how much we had loved it.

Both times we've gone, Sam and I have just ordered a couple tacos each, so I can't speak for the rest of the menu, but the tacos arrive simply-- no frills. And the frills wouldn't be necessary; the tacos speak for themselves. Sam has tried the pork adobo, mahi baja, carnitas, and some of the specials. I've gotten the crispy "L.A. Style" veggie tacos and a crispy crab special, but the best is certainly the shrimp taco. Among all the tacos we have tried, we've yet to find a way you can go wrong.

Plus, there are two bonuses: the house chips and salsa are muy delicioso, AND Taqueria Poblano is across the street from Dairy Godmother, so you know you're all set.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Big 3-0

This was a big birthday for Sam. He doesn't really want to talk about it (too much, anyway), but he has moved on to a new decade. On the Fourth of July, Sam turned THIRTY. It's very exciting (at least I think so!). For years I've known this needed to be a big deal (but birthdays are always a big deal to me). The tricky part of having a holiday birthday is that everyone leaves town and has their own plans-- it's not particularly conducive to partying. But I knew I wanted to have a small fete for him, so I schemed. I toyed with several ideas before settling on a last-minute, Saturday-before gathering. It had to be small because our apartment is miniscule, but it would be awesome.
So now comes the exciting part.  On Friday night before the party, there was a storm. I didn't even know it was supposed to rain until . . . oh hey! Our power's out!! It was about 10:30 pm, Sam was at work, and I was just happy I had already baked the cupcakes. I went to bed assuming the power would be back on when I woke up. But I was wrong. The next morning our power was still out, and the apartment was getting warmer by the second. The high for the day was over 100. Our cell service kept cutting out, but through a couple sneaky texts, my dear friend katie offered to let us bring the party to their powered house. That's a good friend who will offer up her house for a party with only two hours notice. (And not only that, we hung out there all day until our power came back on that night.)

Now, onto the spread.

Watermelon, strawberries, chips and salsa, and now the exciting things:

Fresh Corn and Avocado salsa

Chocolate malted cupcakes, the same as last year.

Ultimate fluffer-nutters: Sam has been dreaming about creating these for years. I want to Le Pain Quotidien and cleaned them out of brioche, then created a triple-decker of peanut butter, nutella, marshmallow fluff, and fresh strawberries.

Grilled Corn and Crema Mexicana Crostinis: sliced baguettes toasted then topped with crema mexicana, grilled corn, lime, cilantro, and chili powder. I'll post the recipe soon.

And, finally, 30 different root beers and sodas in glass bottles, for sampling.

My original vision was 30 root beers, but this proved difficult, as it is challenging to find single bottles of root beer, and I wasn't about to buy 30 6-packs. So I found all the root beers I could (which did include buying a couple 6- and 4-packs), and then I supplemented with other sodas in glass bottles. I found the most success at World Market, and then supplemented with finds from Giant, Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Harris Teeter. And it was a huge hit! I had small plastic cups, and people just started opening bottles and sampling. It was such a fun way to party. One of the favorite root beers was called Pop Shoppe (though Virgil's and Sprecher were also favored), and some of the more interesting sodas included chocolate, cucumber, key lime cream, and coconut. Bria was on cloud 9, since even she got to join in the fun. She actually favored some of the darker root beers (I should not be surprised). We are still swimming in root beer (from those handful of 6-packs), but Sam is not complaining. It was a huge success!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Sushi Chefs

 We've been lucky to make some great, new friends in the last year, all of whom share my enthusiasm for a fine meal. When my friend Katie suggested we make sushi together sometime, I knew we would get along just fine. So we got together one night to roll ourselves some sushi. Katie and Glen prepared the sushi rice and the nori, and we used their mats as well (I totally need my own!), and we all brought a wide variety of fillings: smoked salmon, cucumber, shrimp, cream cheese, avocado, sweet potato, carrots . . . and plenty more. They modeled their rolling techniques for us, and soon we were pros. In the end, we had way more than the 4 adults and 3 kids of us could ever eat, even after stuffing ourselves to the max. Now my mind is reeling with possibilities for fillings I can't wait to try!

(Of course after playing long and hard [putting every possible clip in her hair] with her friend Ada, this old soul was thrilled to chow down on some sushi.)

*did you know this is my 200th post? I'm amazed this blog even continues to be alive. thanks to all, oh, four of you who read. you're the best.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

food truck fest

 On Cinco de Mayo we celebrated by heading into a food truck fest in DC. We took a quick round of the trucks, examining lines, and stopping for a quick photo-op by a Hawaiian BBQ truck before settling in on our choices. I noticed some of the more well-known trucks and was a little bummed by the TaKorean truck that was a million miles long. I was jonesing for a treat, so Bria and I chose the Orange Cow for some ice cream cones. Sam needed a meal, so he chose Dangerously Delicious. He had the most amazing potato pie and chocolate cream pie. (The brick and mortar location is now at the top of my to-dine list.) Of course as we were winding down, Bria declared she was suddenly but overwhelming starving, so she chose an apple and gruyere grilled cheese from the Big Cheese. Overall we were very pleased with our choices-- I'm not sure we could have gone wrong. Now I need to hit up the next truckeroo to get another sampling.

(The only downside of the day came several weeks later when I received two speeding tickets in the mail from a photo radar on 295. Apparently I consistently sped on the way to and from the fest. So was it worth the $275 in speeding fines? Now that is a good question. Probably not. But I learned my lesson: next time I will metro.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Time to Party

So my darling girl turned FOUR years old last month, and we had a party. It was delightful little event with plenty of Bria's friends running around. I tried to keep the food simple, since life was a little crazy last month, and it turned out just right. We had watermelon and strawberries, chips and salsa, pigs in a blanket, and sandwiches. I made the same ones as last year: cream cheese & cucumber and roast beef with horseradish mayonnaise, with the additional ham with brie this year. And at 10:30pm the night before the party, I decided to scratch the homemade bread and use baguettes from Target: one of the best time-saving decisions I've ever made.

The cake went much better than last year. Bria and I brainstormed the perfect cake, which mostly means she came up with crazy impossible ideas, and I steered her towards something I thought I could pull off. I used a vanilla buttermilk cake recipe (take a look at that thing-- you don't cream the butter and sugar first and then add the eggs. I double and triple and quadruple checked that thing before proceeding very cautiously. but it worked!). Then we layered it with vanilla pudding and macerated strawberries, all topped with a strawberry cream cheese frosting. And it was totally, completely awesome.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Once Upon A Time I Was A Book Worm

Remember last year when I posted about the books I read as a 25 year-old? I had the same goal last year-- to read as many books as I was old-- and I fell quite short, again. But, hey! I actually read one more book than the year before.

In chronologically read order:
1. Bossypants, by Tina Fey
2. Tortilla Flat, by John Steinbeck
3. Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
4. Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese, by Eric LeMay
5. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
6. Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger
7. Julie & Julia, by Julie Powell
8. How to Be Good, by Nick Hornby
9. The Kind Diet, by Alicia Silverstone
10. Persepolis 2, by Marjane Satrapi
11. The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht
12. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, by Mindy Kaling
13. Brick Lane, by Monica Ali
14. High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby

My least favorite book was probably Water for Elephants or Her Fearful Symmetry. My favorite book was definitely The Poisonwood Bible. I remember my roommate Audrey recommending it back when we lived together-- that's how long it's been on my to-read list. At first it seemed daunting, and I wondered if I could get into it, but I once I settled in, I was so, completely absorbed. There were a couple chapters that I sat sobbing on the couch while I read. Some of the themes and messages were so poignant and perfectly articulated, addressing questions and doubts and fears that are very real to me. I am actually glad I waited this long to read it, because I don't think it would have meant as much to me had I read it when I was 19.
I already have a stack of books to read-- some gifted, some borrowed, some from the library-- yet I still always love recommendations. I'm starting on only my second book this year (Everyday Zen), which means I need to get a move on. So, yes, I will again set the goal. While I am 27, I aim to read 27 books. Sam is going back to working nights soon, so I think the goal could even be attainable this year!