Monthly Archives: June 2012

One Afternoon, Two Sisters, and Three Bakeries

A few months back, my sister sent me an email mentioning not one, but two bakeries in Georgetown that she wanted to visit.  I had hoped to have a pre-wedding sisters’ excursion in the spring, but our schedules didn’t allow that to happen.  That turned out to be okay though, because a couple weeks ago I received a second email from Em about a macaron shop that had just opened up: “ANOTHER bakery in Georgetown? Wtf?  It will be a busy day.”

And so the First Sister Bakery Crawl was born.  Whether there will be a second is not yet determined.

We came prepared: sensible walking shoes, loose-fitting pants, and a map outlining our route.  We also paced ourselves.  The nice thing about Georgetown is that there are a lot of shops to wander around in while giving your digestive system a break before the next round.  The nicer thing about Georgetown is that the shops are above the affordability range for a graduate student, so it’s a fun browsing experience without the temptation to purchase anything.

Stop #1: Baked and Wired.

So. Many. Cupcakes.  Not to mention cookies, bars, and pies that also looked amazing.  But the array of cupcakes lined up along the entire length of the counter was too hard to resist.  After eying flavors like Chai Tea Latte and Flapjack (maple with candied bacon), I settled on the “Pretty Bitchin” (chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting).  I do not regret my decision.  Em got the Elvis Impersonator (banana cupcake with peanut butter frosting) which was also delicious.

Baked and Wired also offers a wide range of coffee drinks and a sense of humor that clicks quite well with mine, as exemplified by their bathroom art:

We determined that we’d swing back in on the way home to buy some cookies for the husbands. (Okay, and maybe for ourselves.)

Stop #2: Pie Sisters.

We decided to seize the opportunity to take a break from sugary things and share a couple small savory pies: a Country Tomato and a Chicken Potpie.  The tomato pie was filled with chopped tomatoes and topped with just enough cheese, all encased in a flaky, tender crust. Yum. Halfway through, we swapped plates.  After a couple bites of wonderfully-fresh vegetables and chicken I realized there was no way I was going to get through the whole thing, especially since this was not our last stop.  As much as I hate to waste food, I put my fork down and prepared for the next round.

Stop #3: Macaron Bee.

This was a bit of an (uphill) walk from the other places, but that probably wasn’t a bad thing as it gave my stomach some time to process all the amazingness it had just received.  Still, as we walked up Wisconsin Avenue, I questioned whether I was going to be ready to eat anything else.  As soon as I saw all the colorful rows of petite macarons, I told myself I could do this.  I’m glad I did. The milk chocolate and passion fruit macaron was interesting, though not my favorite.  The pistachio, on the other hand, was so good.  I think I’d be happy with just a bowl of the filling and a spoon.

After that second macaron, I’m pretty sure my stomach turned its sign over to “Closed.”  I was done. So done, in fact, that by the time we circled back around to Baked and Wired, I couldn’t bring myself to go back in, even if it was just to buy cookies for someone else.  Sorry, husbands.  Next time.

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Shameless Spouse Promotion

When I was fourteen, I dreamed of eventually owning a huge house- an estate, really – with lushly-landscaped gardens, a pool, and a separate little cottage I could make into an art studio.  And somehow, that seemed totally obtainable.  Oh, how things change.  Not only do I now have a better idea of what is realistic given my career aspirations, but I also just can’t imagine wanting to maintain such a large property.  My dream house now has these stringent criteria: more than one toilet; enough rooms that Nick and I can each have a designated area of our own; sufficient closet space; enough of a backyard to grow some vegetables and herbs, but not so much that there is a huge lawn that has to be mowed; and a place for the litter boxes that is not in a room that we frequent.  Okay, and a kick-ass kitchen.

When I was fourteen, I also dreamed of marrying a musician.  (An architect was the runner-up because, hey, that might come in handy when designing that dream house.)  But in contrast to the totally-reasonable expectation to take up residence in a historic estate, marrying a musician seemed pretty far out there.

It’s funny how things work out.

There are things that fourteen-year-old Sarah didn’t really anticipate about marrying a musician: it means a lot of spouse-less Friday and Saturday nights (which turns out not to be such a bad thing when you’re a graduate student), walking into the bedroom and finding not another woman, but a guitar, on your side of the bed (okay, this happened once), having to repeat more than half of what you say (thanks to your quiet voice and your husband’s hearing loss), and discovering guitar picks under the couch, in your shoe, or wherever else the cats batted them.

Still, I have to admit, it turns out that at thirty years old, having a man write a song about you is pretty much just as awesome as you imagined it would be when you were a teenager.  Not to mention how cool it is to spend your life with someone whose talent and creativity never ceases to amaze you.  I mean, in the course of an afternoon, while I’m sitting in our living room studying, Nick will be downstairs in the basement of our apartment building, where he carved out an area of our storage space to set up his recording studio. And a couple hours later, he’ll come up and play something that he wrote and recorded in a couple hours.  As in a full song- with multiple instruments (all of which he played) and vocals and everything. Which brings me to my point for this whole rambling…

Nick knows a ridiculous amount about music, and has lots to say about it. I’ve been encouraging him for quite some time to consider writing a blog.  And as he has been working on and getting ready to complete a solo album over the last few months or so, he finally saw a good reason to start writing, and started his blog, overcompressed.  He’s starting to post entries about creating this album and has a link to the first song.  If you like 80’s music, you’ll probably like this song.

Nick’s endeavor is obviously quite a different focus than my blog: expect more music, more obscenities, fewer vegetarian recipes, and probably a comparable amount of cats.  However I’d like to think that a good number of people who stumble upon my blog have diverse enough interests that they might be intrigued by what Nick has to say as well.

For the record, I’m not the kind of wife who passes out flyers for her husband’s gigs or tries to convert people into fans.  Despite the fact that I referred to this as shameless spouse promotion, I’m really sharing this with you because I am so proud of him for putting this together and I just want people who might like it to have the opportunity to check it out.

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Spinach, Basil, and Plum Salad

Do you remember when I told you about the time Nick and I had an argument about stuffing chicken breasts with bananas and covering them in bacon, after tucking them into a bed of corn and white beans?  I was skeptical.  But it turned out to be pretty awesome.  Since then I’ve been more open to flavor combinations that seem a little unusual.

And I can honestly say that I never would have considered pairing spinach with basil or plums, let alone combining all three together.  But it kinda made sense to me: I’ve had spinach salads with strawberries and I love strawberries and basil together (especially with some balsamic vinegar). And plums are kind of similar to strawberries… right?

Perhaps that logic isn’t perfect, but that’s okay. Because this salad is good, even if it defies logic. The citrus-y dressing is super-light but incredibly flavorful. I might consider upping the plum quantity in the future- I had to cut the slices into small pieces in order to get some plum with each bite of spinach and basil. So, reflect on your personal preferences regarding greens-to-fruit ratios, and proceed accordingly.

The original recipe was supposed to yield 8 servings. I halved the recipe (and kind of skimped on the spinach) so it made a nice amount to split between two salad bowls- more than a first course salad, but not enough to be a complete dinner.  (We supplemented with a modest amount of brown rice and sautéed mushrooms.)

Spinach, Basil, and Plum Salad (adapted from Food & Wine; 2-4 servings)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp orange juice

½ tbsp balsamic vinegar

½ tsp grated lime zest

½ tsp grated orange zest

Coarse sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

5 ounces baby spinach

1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn

1 red or black plum, pitted and sliced

Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, orange juice, balsamic vinegar, lime zest, and orange zest.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, combine spinach, basil, and plums. Add dressing and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.

(Don’t you love recipes that can be completed in five sentences?)

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Cocoa-Date Truffles with Pistachios and Orange

I don’t think I’ve ever compiled a list of my favorite foods (although now I am considering it) but if I did have a list, I know there would be at least one chocolate item in the top ten.  Like a sea salt brownie, or one of those fancy-schmancy chocolate bars that mixes in orange peel or cracked black pepper or bacon. Yes, bacon.

I’ve learned that keeping some high-quality chocolate items stocked around the house is a good idea.  If it’s 8:30 at night and I realize there is no chocolate around, the most convenient solution is running to 7-11 for a pint of ice cream.  But having just a couple squares of a really good chocolate is (usually) just as satisfying and (mostly) curbs the late-night ice cream runs.

Still, I’m always open to even healthier chocolatey items, so the recipe for Cocoa-Date Truffles in the June issue of Bon Appetit was interesting to me.  While typical chocolate truffles usually rely on whipping cream and chocolate with some amount of refined sugar, these truffles rely on dates to provide sweetness and something for the raw cacao to bind to. Yes, raw cacao… apparently there are some people who believe that raw cacao has more health benefits than roasted cocoa (I guess the roasting process also changes “a’s” into “o’s” and vice versa).  I have not done enough research to be an advocate of raw cacao, but since I needed to purchase cocoa/cacao anyway, and the recipe called for raw, I decided to go with it.

A couple disclaimers/warnings: 

First, just a heads up- these aren’t going to taste like those typical truffles with chocolate ganache centers.  “Well, of course they’re not!” you might reply.  To which I would respond, “Hey, there might be some people out there- intelligent people seeking graduate degrees who usually aren’t fooled by health foods masquerading as indulgent treats- who see the words ‘cocoa’ and ‘truffle’ and envision something rich, creamy, and decadent.  And said people might be shocked to discover that pureeing dates doesn’t magically transform them into something resembling ganache.  But after the initial shock wears off, said people can appreciate these date-based truffles for what they are.  Chocolatey and chewy with the perfect amount of sweetness. So… let’s not judge, okay?”

Second, if you don’t like getting your hands sticky, you’re probably not going to enjoy this.

Third, when working with a powdery substance like cocoa- ahem, cacao- powder, you might want to make sure the ceiling fan isn’t on.

Have you ever noticed that, at least in America, we seem to like things that are individualized, personalized, and customized?  If it wasn’t for this need, I don’t think we’d see vanity license plates, monogrammed L.L. Bean backpacks, or personal checks with dolphins on them.  And so these truffles are perfect, because there are a number of mix-and-match flavoring (coconut, orange zest, or espresso) and coating (more coconut, sesame seeds, pistachios, or hazelnuts) options.  So you can make these truffles your very own.

Cocoa-Date Truffles (from Bon Appetit, June 2012)

Makes about 20 (according to their website, a serving size is 2 truffles)

3 tbsp raw cacao powder

1 1/2 cups Medjool dates, pitted

3 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut (you can substitute 3 tbsp quick-cooking oats)

Pinch of sea salt

Flavoring: 1 tsp finely grated orange zest (you can also use 1 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut or 1 tsp instant espresso powder)

Coating: 1/2 cup crushed lightly toasted pistachios (you can also use 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut, 1/4 cup lightly toasted sesame seeds, or 1/2 cup crushed lightly toasted hazelnuts)

Confession: I didn’t toast my pistachios… I know toasting nuts is supposed to deepen the flavor, blah, blah, blah… but I’m too lazy for that. And I think the raw pistachios taste just fine.

Puree cacao powder, dates, 3 tbsp coconut, and salt in food processor until almost smooth, adding water by the teaspoonfuls if too dry and crumbly, and coconut by teaspoonfuls if too wet and sticky.  Add orange zest (or coconut or espresso powder) and pulse to combine.

Scoop date puree by the tablespoonful and roll into 1-inch balls. Roll truffles in pistachios (or coconut, sesame seeds, or hazelnuts) to cover.

Can be stored, covered and chilled, for up to a week.

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Summer Fun List: Progress Report #2

I can’t believe how quickly the last few weeks have gone by, but somehow, we’re already a week into June. It’s taking me a little longer than I hoped to get into a groove of productivity, but I’ve checked some things off my Official (aka, Important School Stuff) To Do list as well as my Fun (and Just as Important) To Do list.  Here’s an update.  Don’t worry, I’ll just share the fun stuff with you.

Eat dinner at Charleston: In progress. Nick and I finally coordinated our schedules and claimed a day to celebrate our first wedding anniversary.  As it turns out, our actual anniversary was the most convenient day.  Reservations have been made, and I am obsessively stalking Charleston’s menu.

Go on a road trip: COMPLETE.  Over Memorial Day weekend, my friend Katie and I drove down to Mooresville, North Carolina for our friends, Lindsay and Jeff’s wedding. It just happened to work out that neither Nick nor Katie’s significant other could go, so we took advantage of the opportunity to split the cost of a hotel room and have some quality friend time.  The weekend had all of the quintessential components of our friendship: hours (we’re talking as much as seven hours) of nonstop conversation, wine (not during the seven-hour drive, of course), research on obscure topics (did you know that the Great Smoky Mountains are home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country?), and thousands of tiny toads.

We were told that we had to get hushpuppies and milkshakes from here. The milkshakes were delicious, but it turns out I’m not a big fan of hushpuppies.

Okay, the last thing isn’t usually part of our times together, but walking with Katie through a nature trail while trying to avoid stepping on thumbnail-sized toads is a memory I shall treasure forever.  Especially since Katie is about to move across the country and we will likely have fewer opportunities to create such memories.  It was also an incredibly beautiful wedding and it was awesome to see Lindsay, since I haven’t seen her in several years.  Plus, now I can say that I’ve been to The Official Stock Car Capital of the World.  So, all in all, it was a great weekend.

Lake Norman State Park: home of approximately five million baby toads

Do yoga at least 25 times: 5 down, 20 to go.

Read at least two books that have nothing to do with school: 1 down, 1 to go. And I will likely be reading more than two since a group of my fellow students have started a summer book club.  By the way, I highly recommend The Fault in Our Stars, but should warn you that it is a serious tearjerker.

Retroactive addition to my list:

Travel to New York to see a show on Broadway: COMPLETE. Just before my road trip to North Carolina, my dad and I took a bus up to New York for the day to see Porgy & Bess. Great show, and a pretty good day: good food, an opportunity on the bus to be “forced” to watch a movie I secretly wanted to see but probably never would (in this case, “We Bought a Zoo”), and an inspiring visit to the International Center of Photography. Which reminds me that I can check something else off my list…

Visit National Gallery or another art museum: COMPLETE. The International Center of Photography is very cool.

In other news… when I got back from North Carolina I found that three of the four nasturtium seeds I planted had sprouted! And they seem to be pretty happy, despite the fact that Matilda thinks their leaves are pretty tasty.

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White Bean Gratin and a Wild Salmon Chase

I’ve been experiencing a bit of a cooking rut, at least in terms of being inspired to test out some new recipes worth sharing. But finally I found some inspiration when browsing The Food Matters Cookbook yesterday. I have to admit that at first, “White Bean Gratin with Sliced Salmon and Dill” sounded kind of odd. In my mind, “gratin” means potatoes and cream and lots of cheese, and it was tough to see how that could translate to a dish with beans and zucchini and absolutely no dairy to be found.

But I was intrigued and up for the challenge, and the idea of a one-dish dinner with lots of fiber, protein, and healthy fats was too good to pass up.

But first I had to find salmon.

After rounding up the rest of the necessary ingredients at the grocery store, I drove a couple blocks down the road to the awesome seafood market where they check your ID before letting you through the gate. As I started to pull my driver’s license out of my wallet, the security guard glared at me and said, “They’re closed. It’s after five.” It was 5:01.  Seriously? All I wanted to do was run in, get 8 ounces of wild Alaskan salmon, and go home.

While I awkwardly three-point-turned my car away from the gate, I contemplated my options. I could drive past my home and continue on to the next town where there’s a seafood market.  In rush hour, from the point where I was, that would probably take at least thirty minutes.  Or, I could go to the supermarket and get some salmon that is always oddly mushy and smells more like an aquarium than fresh fish.

So I sat in rush hour traffic to get to this second seafood market. I finally get there, look in their display case, and discover that all they had was farm-raised Atlantic salmon.  At that point, in defeat, I said a silent apology to the sustainable seafood gods, and ordered a half pound of the salmon.  Yes, I could have considered alternatives for dinner, but I was in too deep (as in I was excited about cooking this recipe) to back down.  I told myself that this one time wouldn’t hurt.  But when I was eating dinner later (which was delicious) I still felt guilty. Lesson learned: if I want to adhere to the guidelines for responsible seafood consumption, I should start grocery shopping a little earlier in the day.

And that’s a good lesson to keep in mind, since I loved this and will be cooking it again in the future.

I followed the recipe directly, and overall I was happy with it, but I think next time I might mix in just a little grated onion or garlic with the zucchini, so you might want to consider trying that as well.

White Bean Gratin with Sliced Salmon and Dill (from The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman)

Serves 4

3 tbsp olive oil

3 cups cooked or canned cannellini beans, drained, liquid reserved

2 zucchini, grated

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Salt and black pepper

8 ounces salmon fillet, thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped dill, for garnish

Lemon wedges

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 2-quart baking dish with 1 tbsp olive oil. Combine the beans, zucchini, and lemon zest in the baking dish, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with lemon juice and a little of the reserved bean liquid. Cover with foil and bake until zucchini is tender and releasing juices, about 20 minutes.

Uncover gratin and continue baking until it is nearly dry, about 25-30 minutes more. Remove from the oven.  Turn on the broiler on medium-high, with the rack as close to the heat as possible.

Top the gratin with the salmon slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with remaining 2 tbsp olive oil. Broil until salmon is just done. (This only takes a few minutes, so watch it closely!) Garnish with dill, and serve with lemon wedges.

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