Category Archives: Food

Graffiato

Top Chef is kind of a big deal in my house. When KS still lived here (before he moved away and started REFUSING my invitations to hangout on google+), it alternated with The Office and Scrubs in the line-up of shows playing perpetually on our TV. So natch, when we heard twice-Cheftestant Mike Isabella was opening a new restaurant, Graffiato, in DC last week, we had to go.

Everyone has been talking about Graffiato. Besides being a Cheftestant, Mike Isabella already has a DC name for being former executive chef at Zatinya, a tasty Greek-ish restaurant that has brought me such delights as olive oil ice cream (best) and turkish coffee (worst). So when L made reservations for Graffiato, she couldn’t get a table for more than four. I was one of the lucky three to sign up first, so Wednesday night, K, KLang, L and I sauntered down to Chinatown to try it out. Still in their first week, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re still working out some kinks, because not all of my first impressions were positive:

  • There is a guy whose only job seems to be opening the door for people. As in, he just stands there looking happy to be opening the door all night for a bunch of reality TV fans. Besides being kind of degrading, I’m not sure this position is strictly necessary. The restaurant is just not that fancy. It’s got that upscale casual dining feel. Most of the staff were in jeans, and Mr. Doorman himself was wearing jeans and a black Graffiato t-shirt. I think they still need to figure out just how posh this restaurant is and adjust accordingly.
  • It was REALLY loud in there. Eventually, it died down and we could hear ourselves talk, but we also started dinner at 8:30. To their credit, the is bar downstairs and the eating upstairs, so that keeps the dinner noise down a little bit. More restaurants in DC should subscribe to this model.
  • Mike Isabella needs to work on his temperature control, because Graffiato is the coldest restaurant in the world. To make matters worse, the chairs are metal, so the second we sat down, all four of us exclaimed things like “OHMYGOD MY ASS IS SO COLD OHMYGODOHMYGOD.” Seriously, it felt like I was sitting on a chair that had just been pulled from the freezer. Mikey dear, this is summer in DC. We are city built on a swamp. It is hotter than hell here. We do not wear a lot of clothes in the summer. So while I do want to be welcomed into your restaurant by the cooling hum of modern technology, I do not want to get hypothermia of the ass from your metal chairs. Please turn the thermostat up a few notches.
Things looked up when we checked out the menus. It’s a pretty simple affair, which I love because I hate having too much choice in a menu. Maybe it’s all those years growing up vegetarian in South Carolina when all I could eat was a house salad, but too much menu choice gives me anxiety. The perfect menu has approximately three things I can eat, all of which are delicious and none of which are salad. Anywho, the drinks menu was more extensive than the food menu, but this was my favorite part:
If you’ve read anything about Graffiato, you probably know that they sell prosecco on draft (which, what?! How??! I’m confused and excited?!). But did you know that they ALSO sell champagne in a can? Bet no one mentioned that. I was torn, but of course I had to order the Champ Can, for several reasons:
  • I have been on the lookout Champ Cans in DC for a year, ever since I started reading Forever Young Adult. The writers proselytize for Champ Cans on an almost daily basis. Here was my chance at last!
  • Francis Ford Coppola makes decent wine, right?
  • KLang ordered the prosecco on tap, so I could at least try hers.
  • It comes with a straw. Oh right, and it’s champagne. In a can. How could I possibly turn that down?
Unfortunately, there’s no way to not sound like an idiot when ordering champagne in a can. “I would like the champagne in a can, please.” But it came and I was the happiest person in the world. Just look at this unbelievably awful picture K captured of me, mid-laughter with mirth:
But my happiness was short-lived. In a statement that will surprise exactly no one, turns out champagne in a can does not taste good. In fact, it tastes kind of like high-class André. Although the lovely ladies at FYA might be inclined to disagree with me:
The saddest part was that instead of getting the best of both worlds as I’d planned, KLang’s prosecco just served as a reminder of what decent alcohol tastes like. Oh well. Let’s go back to that picture for a second:
Two important things in this photo: 
  1. That rack of knives looks awfully dangerous hanging right above where people are sitting! (Clearer picture here)
  2. YES! That is Cheftestant Mike Isabella behind me!
Mike Isabella was doing the rounds, asking everyone how their food was, etc. We didn’t have any food yet on which to comment (although, if he’d been interested in our opinions on beverages, I might have asked why he was tempting idiots like myself with Champagne in a Can when it clearly does not taste good), so he might have passed us by entirely. But he stopped for a second at our table to say “Hi, Ladies,” before leaving again, possibly because L flashed him a terrifying smile and said “Helloooo” in the creepiest manner imaginable. It was enough to make anyone run away.
In due time, we ordered and received food. We started with breads and cheeses, both of which were tasty but not mind-blowingly delicious. Your standard cheese plate and breads. However, the cheese came with this bizarrely delicious garlic caramel sauce that should not have been good but was. 
Our entrées arrived strangely not at the same time (leftover habit from Zatinya, tapas place extraordinaire, perhaps). My hand-cut spaghetti came first and was fantastic. Simple, understated, and fantastic. Shortly after, K and KLang’s pizzas appeared, as did L’s gnocchi. L’s gnocchi/pork dish was supposedly very good, too, but as the rest of us are vegetarian, we’ll have to take her word for it. The pizzas were a different story. My personal pizza preference is flat and crispy (Rustik does an awesome job with this), but these were flat and almost doughy, with very puffy crusts. Some people would love this, but alas, I am not one of them. K ordered a Vermont but replaced the bacon with arugula. It mostly tasted like greens on salty bread, but I can’t fault Graffiato for that since it was K’s choice. We encouraged KLang to get a “Countryman,” consisting of black truffles, fontina, and duck egg. Intriguing, right? L loved it, but the rest of us were unconvinced. I think KLang was right in saying that it was not the duck egg that went awry, but the meeting of the truffles with the duck egg. Something was off in the flavor combination there.
Meanwhile, we waited for Mike Isabella to come back around to our table and ask how our food was. If he had any intention of returning, however, he was probably scared away by our maniacal laughter. KLang had been doing a spot-on impression of L declaring her love for the Countryman Pizza, and L was accusing us of driving Mike Isabella away with our lack of enthusiasm. We also had had several awkward run-ins with our waiter by this point, where he would sneak up behind us whenever we were saying/doing something not strictly restaurant-appropriate. He might have tipped off Mike to keep away.
Dessert arrived. We ordered raspberry gelato, nutella cookies and a chocolate tart with sea salt gelato. The raspberry gelato was delicious, though sorbet-like, the nutella cookies were ok, and the chocolate tart… oh, sad little chocolate tart. Like many things that night, the chocolate tart suffered from Weird Menu Syndrome. WMS is an affliction suffered by foods which you see on a fancy menu and think, “Wow, that is so weird sounding! But I bet it’s good, because why else would they put such a weird food on the menu? I must try it!” And then you try it, and unlike the olive oil ice cream at Zatinya or the garlic caramel sauce, it’s not good. It’s just weird. Such was the case for the chocolate tart with sea salt ice cream. I have had sea salt ice cream before, and it was awesome. This one was almost too salty and had a strange aftertaste. The tart was not quite sweet enough to be coupled with the salty ice cream, but also not bitter enough to eat on it’s own. On the whole, it was kind of “wah wah.” I don’t think we even finished it, while the raspberry gelato and nutella cookies were gone in a flash.
We sat around for a little longer, finishing our drinks and chatting. Eventually, we had to face facts. “Guys, I have bad news,” said L. “I think Mike Isabella went home.” She was probably right. It was already 10:30 or so. We paid and followed suit.
Overall, I’d give Graffiato a B. It had a nice atmosphere, and I’ll wager they change many of the things I disliked after it’s been open more than a week. The food was hit or miss, but the hits were really delicious. I’d definitely go back, but I’m not dying to return, either. If you go, take my advice: skip dessert, order the pasta, avoid the pizza and whatever you do, don’t get Champagne in a Can.

Eat Your Heart Out, Starbucks

via @anhptran

One of the cool things about my job is knowing cool people. Take my coworker S and her husband T, an extremely fun and gregarious Ethiopian couple. Not only are they inherently awesome, they are also starting a B-Corp coffee company very shortly.

As any Ethiopian will tell you, coffee originated in Ethiopia. I guess a goatherd and a goat discovered coffee after the goat didn’t come home, but I can’t tell you what happened after that because I always get distracted before the end of the fable. But my point is this: people in Ethiopia have been cultivating coffee longer than anyone else in the world. It’s a vital part of Ethiopian culture, history and economy. And it’s delicious.

Coffee is such a fixture of Ethiopian life that people roast it themselves. I have witnessed S do this on several occasions with very tasty results, and last Christmas S&T hand-roasted more than a pound of coffee for me to take home to my dad (!!!). That went down like this:

A: Hey S, I really want to get my dad some Ethiopian coffee for his Christmas stocking. Where is the best place to buy some?
S: I’m not sure, let me check with T.
A little while later…
S: Ok so I checked with T, and we don’t trust anyone to use the right kind of coffee. We’ll just roast it for you.

And then they spent like a day roasting coffee for someone they’ve never met, simply because they’re amazing. The best I could offer in return was some jars I painted to say “Tea” and “Coffee” in Amharic.

After that, I really wanted to learn how to roast coffee myself. I arranged with S to come over and learn, which quickly snowballed into a medium-sized dinner party and business meeting about T’s new coffee company. In a turn of events that surprised exactly no one, we all got too distracted catching up and eating food to talk about business. We did make coffee, however, and I documented with my trusty phone.

You start with green coffee beans. Coffee begins it’s life as cherry, picked when it is a ripe red. The fruit is then washed off and the bean dried. The raw beans are very difficult to chew and taste exactly how I would imagine the color green to taste. These particular beans are of the Harar variety (whatever that means) and come from the union T is working with for his coffee company.

Next, you put the coffee in a special little pan and roast it over some charcoal over this ceramic stove thingy. Gas flame will do in a pinch, though apparently you have to shake the coffee beans around more so they don’t burn. Delicious coffee aroma will begin to emerge and everyone is offered the chance to waft it towards them.

One time, I sat really close to S when she was roasting coffee and my hair and clothes took on that amazing, freshly roasted coffee smell. I never wanted to shower again (spoiler: I did).

After the coffee is the appropriate roasted-coffee-hue, you take it out of the pan to cool, and pick out the discolored bits and fan off the chaff.

Then you grind it up and put it in a special clay pot with some water:

As you heat the coffee, you pour off a little at a time into a separate container. This cooler coffee is then added back into the pot as it starts to boil over. At some point, the coffee is declared appropriately brewed by undetermined means. Then it is magically poured into tiny cups without getting any of the coffee grounds in the mix. This part of the process is lost on me.

This part is not.

Butter, Butter Everywhere (aka In Which You Learn to Make the Perfect Croissant)

When I turned 21, I was at the end of a 9 month vacation in Paris. Some people might call this time “study abroad,” but I would argue that the only studying I did was a lengthy empirical study of wine potability and pastry quality, punctuated by brief moments of class at the Musée D’Orsay. Not very convincing as I was supposedly doing half my coursework in Economics. Luckily, my parents seemed to fully embrace this hedonist lifestyle and for a 21st birthday present, they gave myself and L a class in croissant-making.

Absolute genius on my parents’ part. Croissants are delicious and notoriously difficult to make; the ones we can find in this country are complete crap 99% of the time. Mastering croissants would be an awesome addition to my pastry-making repertoire, something with which to impress people at parties for years to come.

The class was held at a massively posh cooking school nearby and proved to be pretty intimidating for both of us. L may know her way around a spice rack and a grill, but she is not historically a baker. And while I am a pretty successful baker, I’m really, really bad at following directions. I despise measuring things and always have this arrogant idea that I can improve a recipe, even if I’ve never tried it before. Unfortunately for me, the cooking class was run by the Anal Retentive Chef.

I wish I had the original recipe to share, but I think it’s at my parent’s house in South Carolina. However, it closely resembled the following (L can confirm that I am not exaggerating in the slightest):

250 g #56 Flour
325 g #62 Flour
16 g of cake yeast
250 g of water
330 g of butter
2 t salt

The combined temperatures of the flour, yeast, and water should be 102.5 degrees centigrade. Adjust the water temperature until the temperature of water + temperature of yeast + temperature of flour = 102.5 degrees

AND THAT IS JUST THE LIST OF INGREDIENTS! This recipe is insanely detailed. So it’s no surprise that when I got back to the states and tried to recreate it, it did not go well, not least because I was trying to find american substitutes for the flours and cake yeast. My mom can attest that several tries ended in abject failure and tears.

I had pretty much given up hope of ever making edible croissants when I found a recipe for pain au chocolat in Jacques Torres’ A Year in Chocolate. This is noteworthy for two reasons: pain au chocolat is just a croissant cut in a different shape with chocolate stuffed inside, and I trust Jacques Torres because he momentarily hosted the most useless (and also my favorite) show on the Food Network, “Chocolate with Jaques Torres.” If you did not have the good fortune to ever see this show, it usually began with a sentence like, “Bienvenue à ‘Chocolat weeth Jacques Torres.’ I ahm Jacques Torres, and today we weell be makeeng a meeneeahture Las Vegas out of chocolat!” And then he would make a miniature Las Vegas out of chocolate. It was both marvelous and pointless, and ergo extremely French. This is why Jacques Torres is a trustworthy source.

Not only did his recipe use readily available American ingredients and quantities, but it tastes the damn same as the Anal Retentive Chef’s recipe up there. After one last failure based on an extremely egregious typo (T of yeast does not equal t of yeast, you lazy frog!), I think I have finally mastered the art of croissant making. And now I will impart my knowledge onto you, so you can skip right over the tearful years of heartache that I spent trying to get it right. But be warned, the amount of butter you’re about to witness may stop you from ever wanting to eat a pastry again.

Croissants/Pain au Chocolat 
adapted from A Year in Chocolate by Jacques Torres

This recipe makes approximately 48 mini-croissants or 24 mini-pains-au-chocolat.
Prep time takes forever; normally I begin making the dough the morning before I plan to bake it. I’ve only made the recipe straight through once, and that was a week and a half ago at a former coworker’s house. It took most of the day. This was ok because I got to play with her six-month-old baby in between steps, but I would not normally recommend this course of action.

For the dough:

1 c (two sticks) plus 5 T unsalted butter
2 envelopes (2 1/4 t each) dry active yeast
1/2 c plus 1 T water
3 1/3 c bread flour, plus more for dusting
1/3 cup sugar
2 t salt
1/2 cup plus 1 T milk
9 oz dark chocolate, chopped

For the egg wash

1/4 cup milk
2 egg yolks
1 large egg

Even with this recipe, some of the ingredients look like the Anal Retentive Chef got to them. But this recipe works! This is one of the only times I will carefully measure things when cooking, and you should do the same. Note: the following assumes that you understand basic principles of baking, like how to roll out or knead dough. If these are not things you already have a handle on, this is probably not the recipe for you.

1. Set out butter to soften. Add yeast to the water, which you can use at any moderate temperature you like so long as it’s not particularly hot or cold. Melt 3 T of the butter and set aside.


2. Measure flour, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the melted butter and milk, and stir briefly with a wooden spoon (about 5 seconds). Then, add the yeast and water. Mix until the dough begins to come together, and then begin to knead with your hands. After kneading for a couple of minutes, dough should come together easily in a ball, with moisture consistent throughout. Don’t worry if it’s still a little lumpy–the gluten in the flour has not relaxed yet (this means that the gluten has not had a chance to form long, tidy protein ropes, which makes though dough smoother and more elastic). Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.


3. Remove the plastic wrap and place on a lightly floured surface (always use a lightly floured surface for the rest of this recipe). Roll out into a rectangle approximately 8 x 15 inch rectangle (not an exact science–I roll it out to about the same size as my small silpat). Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.


4. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and carefully spread the softened butter (2 sticks + 2T) over two thirds of it, leaving 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch around the sides uncovered. Once you have an even sheet of butter spread, fold the uncovered third over the middle third, and the final third over the uncovered third. This should look like an envelope:


5. Carefully roll out the dough again, into a slightly bigger rectangle this time. Take the shorter sides and fold them in, meeting in the middle. Fold one more time along the middle crease. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of two hours, although 8-12 hours works best.


6. Remove from the refrigerator and roll out into a rectangle again. Fold into thirds one more time like in step three. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate one last time for two hours or overnight. The reason for all this folding is that you are creating thin sheets of butter in between the layers of dough. In the oven, the butter will melt and separate the layers of dough. This is what creates the flakiness of a croissant.


7. Roll out into a large rectangle until about an 1/8 of an inch thick (my rectangle is about 16 x 24). Trim off all the edges with a sharp knife. This may seem wasteful, but it allows the layers of the dough to separate more, creating a flakier pastry. When you cut the dough, you should be able to see the striations of butter in the edge:


8a. For croissants, cut into small isosceles triangles. You can experiment with sizes, but I like mini-croissants, so my triangles usually have a height of 4.5″ and a base of 2.5″ on average. To shape, take the base of the triangle and roll towards the tip. This should not involve effort–you do not want them to be either too tight or too loose. Place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, tip down. Tuck in edges so it looks like a croissant.


8b. For pains au chocolat, cut in to rectangles, about 2.5″ x 4.5.” Just inside the first short edge, place a line of chocolate. Roll the dough over this first line, and place another line of chocolate. Finish rolling and place seam-side down on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Note: no matter what size pain au chocolate you are making, there should always be two sticks of chocolate involved. Anything else should be called “sham au chocolat.” In fact, if you are ever in a French pâtisserie and see that they are hawking one-stick pain au chocolat, turn around and leave immediately because it is clearly an inferior establishment.


9. Cover cookie sheet loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise until they’ve doubled in size. This depends entirely on the temperature of your kitchen and will take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours.


10. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove plastic wrap, mix the egg wash together and brush the pastries right before they go in the oven. For the pains au chocolat, cut two diagonal lines with a sharp knife in the top of each pastry.


11. Cook for about 10-12 minutes, or until golden-brown. Cool on a wire rack and eat while still warm.

Stray notes:

  • Often, I only make a third of the recipe at a time. After step 6, I will cut the dough into thirds with a sharp knife and freeze the dough I’m not going to use immediately. When you’re ready to make the rest of the dough, remove from the freezer the day before and thaw in the refrigerator.
  • If you are wondering why I didn’t suggest you use dark chocolate chips instead of cut-up chocolate. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but I choose not to use chocolate chips because they tend to have more emulsifiers and less cocoa butter so as to hold their shape when cooked–that is, they don’t melt as well as normal chocolate. And in general, I like to stick to the rule with chocolate the fewer ingredients is better. I usually buy my baking chocolate from that posh stand next to the cheese in Whole Foods with those big, rough-looking blocks of chocolate. They may look exorbitantly priced, but when you do the math per ounce, it’s not much more than buying Ghirardelli baking chocolate. In France, they sell sticks of chocolate expressly for the purpose of making pain au chocolat, but I have never seen such a thing in this country. One time, I carefully melted, tempered, and cut chocolate into my own pain au chocolat sticks. This is a huge waste of time and I cannot recommend it.
  • After that marathon baking day, my coworker asked how long they would keep for. I laughed because mine have never lasted more than 12 hours. (ok, more than two hours. Maybe only one.) If you do have any leftover, my best bet is to put them in an air-tight container and eat them within a couple of days.
  • I also use this recipe for the crust of my Springtime Ramp Tart, the food with which I terminated my brief foray into veganism. Most delicious thing ever. I will post the recipe for that sometime, but this is already way too long so I’ll hold off for now.

Cherry Wine Might Just Kill You.

Eurovision is OVER y’all! I don’t quite know that to do with myself now. I’ll be needing a new hobby until next May, so feel free to make suggestions. If you haven’t heard, I wrote a recap of the show for The Awl. Read this first! Go ahead, go over there now, ’cause I’m not looking up all those youtube clips again. I’ll wait for you.

Finished? Good. Now we can move on to more important things: what of my Eurovision viewing party? It was awesome! Our voting results are proof that we are more fun than Europe:

Country
Alix & Co
Ranking
European
Ranking
Estonia
1
24
Ireland
2
8
Moldova
3
12
Hungary
4
22
Denmark
5
5
Sweden
6
3
Slovenia
7
13
Russia
8
16
Serbia
9
14
Ukraine
10
4
Spain
11
23
Greece
12
7
Georgia
13
9
Finland
14
21
Iceland
14
20
Germany
16
10
United Kingdom
17
11
Azerbaijan
17
1
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Last
6
Lithuania
Last
19
France
Last
15
Italy
Dead Last
2
Switzerland
Last
25
Romania
Last
17
Austria
Last
18

I guess the only thing we can agree on is that Switzerland blew. In Europe’s defense, our decisions were mostly based on visuals since it was hard to hear any songs above our shrieking. Bernadette had to leave early, and she texted to say she could still hear us from a block away (oops! sorry neighbors). However, I have reviewed the evidence and I stand by our voting results. Those three were far and away the most fun! My hatred of Jedward leading up to the competition is well documented, and they even managed to win me over. Estonia had MAGIC + High School Musical. And Moldova? How could Moldova possibly lose to both Azerbaijan and Italy? Just look at an excerpt from my score sheet:

We immediately disqualified Romania for having an English singer, you big cheaters.

My excitement for Moldova is clear, whereas all anyone had to say about Azerbaijan was “mullet dress.” (Actually, I went through all the score sheets and Bright Contradiction added, “duet: old lady vs. kid”). And what about second place, Italy? My favorite note there was Bernadette’s “can play instruments.” High praise indeed.

So Europe clearly failed on the voting front. But Eurovision is not just about the songs, the voting or even the tacky outfits. It’s about sharing cultures and uniting different countries!* In the spirit of diversity, we brought together many foods of Europe–croissants, pain au chocolat, cheese, bread, sausage, bruschetta, spanakopita, dolmas, feta salad, wine of various persuasions, beer, champagne, vaguely-euro cookies, Swedish Fish and then of course chips and salsa because what is a party without chips and salsa? But my favorite was my friend Reine’s contribution: she claimed Georgia and brought a hummingbird cake and sweet tea vodka. This was both hilarious and awesome. Not only did she decorate the cake it with the Georgian (country) flag, but she carried the cake to my house VIA BICYCLE. That is some serious skill.

*Hahahahaha just kidding they all sing in English and vote for their neighbors

Approximately 1/5 of the food on offer

Some of us also celebrated by getting into costume. What do you get when you cross 2007 entry Verka Serduchka, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and ABBA?

Classy times is what you get.

See that bottle R is holding? That is Croatian cherry wine courtesy of Dyevka. It is unspeakably awful. Imagine drinking really, really alcoholic cough syrup, and now imagine something even worse than that. Unsurprisingly, the bottle is still full. Dyevka generously left it at our house. Maybe we can pawn it off on some unsuspecting souls at our next party.

18% Alcohol by Volume.

Special thanks to Dyevka for both the wine and the pictures I stole.

Prom

Update: Sorry if you already read this. Blogger hates me and deleted it, so I had to repost. Your comments have also all disappeared. 

Ah, prom season! Despite not going anywhere near a high school for some years, I know that it’s prom season because if I have to hear “Firework” during an ad for Disney’s 
Prom one more time, I may put my foot through our TV. I secretly want to see this movie someday when I’m hungover and it’s streaming on Netflix, but teen movies/tv shows/books that culminate in prom generally piss me off. Prom never seemed like that big a deal to me, and I never got all angsty and depressed over who my date would be. And most of all, I have absolutely no recollection of who Prom King and Queen were, because even at the time it didn’t seem like it mattered. Without spoiling anything for my sister (who is months behind), let me say just that the past few episodes of Glee have made me incredibly stabby due to their focus on the “campaigns” for Prom King and Queen, leaving me shouting at my TV about the following:

  1. You can campaign for Prom King and Queen?! Like with posters and buttons and stuff? WTF? I know not every high school was like mine, and this is probably happens in a lot of places, but I find it bizarre. It’s prom court, not the presidency. or a congressional seat. or city council. or dog catcher. Or even class president. It’s an meaningless title and a cheap tiara. Makes no sense.
  2. It’s only Junior Prom so double WTF? This is not life or death, people! You have another year.
  3. Why is everyone at this school a junior? Really? Really? There’s not a single senior? or sophomore? Freshman perhaps?

And then I just start remembering all the other things that piss me off about Glee. Glee and I have been on the rocks for some time–in fact we were totes going to break up last fall when Darren Criss came riding in on his be-blazered horse. But once the novelty of this new hotness wore off, we continued to fight about the same old things. After all the prom nonsense I was just looking for a reason to end our relationship. I wasn’t even going to watch this week, except that they lured me with the promise of a cover of “I’m Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You” (which I thought was an abomination, by the way. I love you Darren Criss, but no).

HOWEVER! I did not hate this episode! Actually I kind of did for the first 45 minutes, but then it picked up when everything went to hell in a handbasket and prom was a disappointment to almost everyone involved. I’m not sure what that says about me as a person, but it does reflect something of my views on prom. Prom will never end up like whatever expectations you create in your mind. Don’t get me wrong–prom can be fun! I definitely enjoyed both my proms, but if you get attached to an idea of what prom should be like, you will inevitably be disappointed. Let’s use my senior prom as an example:

First off, there was my date. I had the hottest date in school, natch.


F of course! I know she was the hottest because she won our school’s beauty pageant. And she has a great personality, too! +1 for Alix! In all seriousness, my point is this: both years, I went with a big group of friends. And both years, I had way more fun than if I’d gone with some rando classmate just because he had a penis. You do not have to have an opposite-sex date people!* You do not even have to have a date! Friends are fun!

*Unless you go to school with horrible human beings in rural Mississippi

Then there was our transportation. I’m not sure why we decided to get a limo? But we did. And our limo was driven by a chain smoker named Carl and the interior may have doubled as a time portal to the 1980s. Carl was pretty skeptical of us until we requested he change the radio from a rap station and we all sang along to “Tiny Dancer.” Then we were friends. Later on in the night we would lose him when our friend B, the only one with Carl’s number, left her phone in the limo and we had to roam the streets of Downtown Charleston in our formal attire until we found him.

Classiest limo ever. Especially like the weird mirror cutout on the window.


Next was dinner. We went to a super nice restaurant downtown. Like SUPER nice. It’s so nice that even though there’s nothing vegetarian on the menu you just tell your waiter what you like and don’t like and the chef will fix you something delicious. I cannot stress the niceness of this restaurant enough. This will be important later.

I also feel compelled to add here that at no point during this story was I drunk. My friends and I were model teenagers. If someone were to write a biography of my high school years, it would sell exactly zero copies because not even my parents would buy it. My social life consisted of pretending to study at A’s house while actually watching reruns of The Gilmore Girls and eating chips and salsa. The most rebellious thing we ever did was trespass on a golf course occasionally. I was only remotely tipsy once during high school and that was from accidentally inhaling alcohol vapors off a simmering pot of fondue in a tiny kitchen in France, where it wasn’t even illegal for me to drink. The only peer pressure that happened on prom night was persuading F that she should eat a sugar cube during dinner. Our lives were boring.

Anyway, I told the waiter that I like all vegetables, which is a lie because I don’t actually care for cauliflower or zucchini at all. He brought me back a mushroom salad in truffle sauce, fancy potatoes, and a cauliflower zucchini casserole. I was concerned, but damn if it wasn’t the most delicious use of cauliflower and zucchini ever. This was largely due to the fact that the casserole was like 90% heavy cream and butter. It was actually more of a butter casserole than anything. I ate till I could eat no more. Then I ate more anyway.

I felt really ill as we left the restaurant, and even more so as we stood outside to take more pictures. Somewhere in the world, there is a picture of everyone smiling outside the restaurant, everyone but me as I turn to F with a greenish look on my face. Unfortunately I cannot find that picture, so this dramatic reenactment from 4th of July last year will have to do:

*Note: KS was playing the part of F in this version


Don’t worry! I didn’t throw up on F, but it’s still… pretty bad. Instead I ran back to the Super Nice Restaurant Bathrooms, but unfortunately I only made as far the Super Nice Restaurant Bathroom Antechamber before projectile vomiting EVERYWHERE, like all over the floor and splattered on the walls, and then probably some dribbling into the women’s bathroom, too, because in my memory there’s a comically large pool of vomit blocking off all restrooms in the Super Nice Restaurant. F, being the Best Prom Date Ever, held back my dress and I left the Super Nice Restaurant a second time with my outfit, if not my pride, unscathed. Would a boy date have done that for me? I don’t think so.

I will never forget what one friend said to me as we got back in Carl’s limo: “Well, at least you got to taste it twice.”

After that we went to a gelateria (that tragically no longer exists) for dessert, where I am ashamed to say I ordered lemon and strawberry. Then we finally traveled to prom where everyone partook of a highly-choreographed dance number!

Popout


Psych!! Or maybe we did–I don’t remember the prom part of prom at all. Afterwards we went to one of our houses and wore silly hats and generally had a good time at our co-ed slumber party that no doubt we were allowed to have because our parents knew we were too dull to get up to any frisky shenanigans.

By Glee (or anyone’s) standards, this night should have gone down in history as a complete fiasco. I went to prom with a friend (female, no less) instead of a dreamy boyfriend. Not only did I projectile vomit all over a really nice restaurant, but I also had to chase down our Tacky Limo Driver in my high heels and evening gown. I don’t even remember the dance part. But I also did not go into prom with any delusions about it ending with Freddie Prinze Jr underneath a twinkle-lit gazebo slow dancing to Edwin McCain (anyway, FPJ and I broke up back in like 8th grade when he drank that bottle of shampoo in that awful movie with Julia Stiles). So instead I just had fun with friends, eating a really nice dinner and seeing everyone at school looking all fancy and probably dancing even if I don’t remember that part. I couldn’t even be upset about the vomiting because I knew it would make a great story one day (that day was about 30 seconds after it happened).

And besides, I looked fabulous in my vomit-free dress:


So thanks, Glee, for teaching the Youth of Today about the perils of getting your hopes up about prom (lower your expectations, Youth of Today!). But don’t think this means we’re not going to break up at the end of the season. Like a mediocre prom date, summer will be the perfect opportunity to let our romance fizzle and die.

I may have just written a cookbook

This week has been a week of failing at Lent. First, I failed at my goal of blogging twice a week since I last posted something oh, a week and a half a go because I’ve been busy having my soul crushed by my job. Then, I (deliberately) failed at veganism since A, E, and F came to visit and it seemed unnecessarily cruel to make them eat vegan for four days when our visits seem to revolve primarily around food. We do an absurd amount of eating when we are together. The number of different dishes we make and consume during the course of a weekend is usually more than I would make in a month. It would be impossible to tell the story of our weekends together without talking about food.

Despite my love of food, I don’t want this to turn into one of those blogs where I try to take artsy pictures of food and share recipes I try. All the same, I’m very impressed with the spread we concocted this weekend, so I’m about to make an exception. In this episode: Pear salad! Butternut Squash Soup! Edible Brussels Sprouts! Lasagna! Sad Person Brownies!

A, E, and F arrived from their respective cities late last week, just in time for the start of the Cherry Blossom Festival. After seeing a ballet Friday night and then stuffing ourselves with homemade salsa and guacamole, we got up bright and early (for a Saturday) to make our morning paddle boating reservation on the tidal basin. From then, we never stopped–visiting two art exhibits, traipsing up and down the National Mall, taking pictures with cherry blossoms, walking by the White House, and most out of character for us, never breaking for sustenance.

There was, of course, a reason we hadn’t gotten food–all day, we’d been planning to eat lunch at Chick-Fil-A. For reasons I will never understand, Chick-Fil-A is apparently A Destination. There weren’t many options in DC, and the most convenient one was located on GW’s campus. It took us longer than we planned to make it there, however, and suddenly it was 4 o’clock, we’d walked at least 10 miles, and all we’d eaten was coffee and pastries one might get with coffee. Then, tragedy struck.

This feels like an extreme reaction, but who am I to judge?

Turns out the GW Chick-Fil-A is closed on Saturdays. I probably should have checked the hours, but Chick-Fil-A’s website sucks and I gave up after trying to look at the DC locations details for ten minutes. It was almost worth the two miles we walked to Foggy Bottom for this sign, though:

That, and there’s a Trader Joe’s in Foggy Bottom. After having given up on Chick-Fil-A, we decided our next course of action was to go home and start on dinner. I’m a member of a local food delivery service, Arganica, and like a CSA, you can purchase a random box of produce. F and I had been planning to make a mystery dinner out of one such boxes for a while, but we needed some extra ingredients. After standing in the world’s longest grocery store lines (at least fifty people long, easily), we carried our tired legs off to the metro and went home.

Here’s where this blog post turns into a full-on cookbook, as F and I started to prepare a five-course meal.

A totally appropriate amount of food for dinner for four.

It would have been easy to look up recipes for the ingredients we had, but we decided it would be much more fun to fly completely blind here. There were a few challenges; in the foreground of the picture you can see some weird looking tubers that we think are some kind of carrots, but we’re not sure, the only person who likes pears is E, and no one had even eaten much in the way of brussel sprouts because our parents hate them. We were not to be deterred, however, and everything turned out shockingly well. I did my best to record the recipes, though I am the first to admit that I’m terrible at following directions or measuring things so I can’t be held accountable for any cooking disasters that may result from the following:

Course One: Cheese Plate
Serves some people.
 

This picture was an afterthought. As you can see we had already made quick work of the cheese.

Variety of cheeses (Ours: Cotswold, Goat’s Brie, Delice de Bourgogne, Some blue cheese or other, Bloomsbury)
Bread or crackers
Plate
Knives

  1. Put cheese on plate.
  2. Eat cheese. With bread. Or crackers. Or nothing. The main goal is to get the cheese from your plate to your mouth, using whatever vehicle necessary. If you mess this one up, you’re an idiot and should probably skip the rest of this post.


Course 2: Tasty Pear Salad
Serves 4, unless those people are very hungry and don’t have several other courses to make it through.

This salad was light and delicious. The blue cheese and pears go together nicely, and the sweeter salad dressing complements the two nicely.

Technically we served courses 2-4 at the same time. Sneak preview of what’s to come!

For the salad:
Bartlett Pear
Head of Lettuce
Handful of Walnuts (Optional, only because I forgot to add them)
2 tablespoons blue cheese crumbles
Dressing to taste

For the dressing:
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon agave nectar
Salt and pepper to taste.

  1. Wash and dry lettuce, tear into pieces and put into salad bowl.
  2. Cut pear into thin slices and add to salad.
  3. Mix dressing.
  4. Add blue cheese, walnuts, and dressing. Toss adequately.


Course 3: Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 6-8, depending on how much you like soup.

If for some reason you are still reading this, this is a great winter soup. It’s kind of heavy, which is why I put the number of servings so high even though it doesn’t make a ton of soup. It would be better served alone with a salad than with all this other pomp and circumstance distracting from it.

After roasting the vegetables for the soup.

1 butternut squash
1 large yukon gold potato
3 small carrots*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 cup walnuts
4 cups vegetable stock**
bay leaf
1 teaspoon cumin
black pepper to taste
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
blender, preferably immersion

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Find an appropriate casserole dish for roasting vegetables and add olive oil and half the salt.
  3. Wash, peel and cut carrots into 8 pieces and add to casserole dish
  4. Wash and cut the potatoes into 1- 2 inch cubes (don’t bother peeling–arsenic is good for you!) and add to casserole dish
  5. Quarter the butternut squash and toss in oil with other vegetables.
  6. Drizzle maple syrup over the vegetables and bake for 25 minutes
  7. When there are ten minutes left on the timer, add the walnuts.
  8. After the vegetables are cooled, peel the butternut squash and cut into 1-inch cubes. Put vegetables, stock, walnuts and bay leaf in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  9. Simmer for 20 or so minutes (forgot to record time here) or until vegetables are very tender. Somewhere in here, add cumin, rest of the salt, and pepper (I dunno, F did this part).
  10. Remove bay leaf (this part is important unless you want gross soup!)
  11. When soup is a little cooler, use and immersion blender (or normal works fine too, just more mess) while adding the yogurt.
  12. Reheat if necessary and serve.

*This was the point where we used those things we thought were just funny-colored carrots but might be something else entirely. Good luck recreating this recipe.
**I use homemade vegetable stock, which is delicious. You can use whatever vegetable stock/broth you like, but saving vegetable peelings and making stock out of them is really easy and non-wasteful. Just keep a gallon bag of peelings and sad-looking vegetables in the freezer, and when it gets full, dump it in a pot full of water, add some bay leaves and peppercorns, and then boil it for a really long time. Strain out the peelings, throw them in the compost, and make some delicious soup.

Course 4: Your-Parents-Lied-to-You Brussels Sprouts and Kale
Serves 4 brave souls

To be fair, A was not a fan of these. However, the rest of us thought they were delicious. That means that you will have 75% chance of liking this recipe. It’s scientifically proven! Four is a legitimate sample size, right?

Post-roasting, pre-pan-frying brussel sprouts.

12 fresh brussels sprouts
12 cloves of garlic
Bunch of kale
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F
  2. Cut brussels sprouts in half and lay them in a metal baking dish
  3. Crush five cloves of garlic and distribute throughout the pan
  4. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
  5. Put in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until slightly crispy but not brown.
  6. Wash, dry and remove the stems from the kale and cut into large pieces
  7. Finely chop the remaining garlic, and toss olive oil, garlic and kale together in a bowl until kale is well-coated.
  8. Just before the brussels sprouts come out of the oven, melt the butter on medium-high heat in a frying pan.
  9. Take out the brussels sprouts, put them in the frying pan, transfer the kale into the baking dish and return to the oven.
  10. Pan-fry the brussels sprouts. Because of the butter, they will turn dark brown and crispy in some places, but they aren’t burnt.
  11. Bake the kale for 5-10 minutes, until crispy but not brown.
  12. Serve immediately, the brussels sprouts on the bed of kale.


Course 5: Overly Complicated Lasagna
Serves a lot. Especially when you’ve already eaten four other things.

So it’s a very strange dream of mine to make a lasagna completely from scratch–as in, I grow all the vegetables, make the noodles, make the sauce, make the cheese, etc. We didn’t go quite that far this weekend, but we came close. With DELICIOUS results. Obviously you could use canned sauce or pre-made noodles, but to be honest, the noodles were my favorite part.

Yeah, I was lazy with the pictures at this point. Mainly I just wanted to eat.

For the Sauce:
1 large red onion
3 pounds of tomatoes
1 bunch of basil, stems removed
1 head of garlic
1/2 cup white wine
2 T olive oil
salt
pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar

  1. Finely dice tomatoes and basil and set aside
  2. Finely dice onion and garlic and add to a large stockpot with oil
  3. Saute onions, garlic and oil for about five minutes, until they start to become soft
  4. Add tomatoes, basil, and wine and bring to a boil.
  5. Add salt, pepper, lemon juice, and sugar
  6. Simmer until it looks like lumpy tomato sauce, about 30 minutes

For the noodles:
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 large egg
1 large egg white
Pinch salt

  1. Mix ingredients together, kneading for about 1 minute.
  2. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Dusting with flour, roll out into 1 mm thick strips as you as begin to assemble the lasagna. Hopefully you have a pasta roller, or else you should just sit in the corner and cry.

For the lasagna:
1 large yellow onion
1 head broccoli, stalks removed
1/3 pound shitake mushrooms, stems removed
1 Tablespoon olive oil.
Tomato Sauce
Noodles
3 ounces baby spinach
16 ounces fresh mozzarella
Shredded mozzarella

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Chop onion, slice mushrooms, and cut broccoli into small pieces.
  3. Saute onions with olive oil on medium-high heat for about five minutes.
  4. Add broccoli and saute for a few minutes before adding mushrooms.
  5. Continue to cook vegetables until mostly soft, then remove from heat.
  6. Begin assembling the lasagna with a layer of tomato sauce in a 9×13 pyrex dish. Add the first layer of noodles on top. You don’t need to pre-cook the noodles, that’s the best part. They will cook themselves in saucy cheesey goodness since they’re not dry.
  7. After the first layer of noodles, do whatever you want, but I find that the following works well: fresh mozzarella, spinach, veggies, tomato sauce, noodles, fresh mozzarella, spinach, veggies, noodles, tomato sauce, shredded cheese.
  8. Bake in the oven until cheese starts to brown a little and the sauce is burbling around the edges, about 35 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Did you think I was exaggerating about our epic levels of eating? Cause I did not. This dinner lasted 5 hours. We were going to make some cookies for dessert, but instead we just drank lots of champagne. It’s a good thing we only see each other every six weeks, or I’d weigh about 300 lbs. Unfortunately, now everyone is gone and I am sad and I am making my way through a pan of brownies to distract me from my sorrows.

Depths of Despair Brownies
Serves 1 very sad person.

My life is very sad now because I have to return to the real world. I had a wonderful, perfect weekend with my friends and now they’re gone and I’m going back to work tomorrow and I’ll be vegan in a couple hours and IT’S ALL VERY SAD. These brownies will not make you feel better so much as help you wallow in self pity for how unhealthy you are after you’ve eaten the entire thing. MY LIFE IS IS SHAMBLES, OK? STOP LOOKING AT ME WITH YOUR JUDGY EYES.

 

Had to take this picture before things got too embarrassing.

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk
2 eggs
2/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
handful nuts, chopped (option for people who are lame and like polluting perfectly good brownies)

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.
  2. On low heat, melt butter and chocolate in a saucepan large enough that you won’t have to get another bowl for mixing. Fewer dishes should always be a goal for life.
  3. When butter and chocolate are fully melted, turn off heat and mix in sugar, milk, and vanilla.
  4. In a separate bowl (extra dish fail!), whisk eggs until light yellow. When chocolate is cool enough that you won’t get chocolate scrambled eggs, stir into batter.
  5. Add flour, baking soda and salt. Mix thoroughly.
  6. Add nuts if you have terrible taste in brownies.
  7. Pour batter into an 8×8″ greased pan. Cook for 25-30 minutes, or whenever you feel like taking them out since brownies probably shouldn’t be cooked properly anyway.
  8. Lick spoon. And fingers. And pan. And any other chocolate-coated surface you can find. Ignore your mother’s voice in your head telling you that you’ll get salmonella from the uncooked eggs.
  9. Cut into 1 1/2 inch squares so you don’t feel as bad about eating 17 of them in one sitting.

Wow, did you really make it to the bottom of this post? You either really like to cook, have a food-pictures fetish, or are very, very bored at work. If it’s the latter, I’m sorry. We’ve all been there. Maybe you should put on some headphones and listen to an episode of This American Life, or go through the archives of xkcd and see how many of the comics you actually understand. Fantasize about the house(s) you would build if you won the $153 million powerball jackpot today, if only you would buy a ticket (mine has a three-tiered roof-deck, a library with simultaneously a skylight and the ceiling from the Kennedy Center Opera House, a greenhouse and a barbecue in the sky)! There are many ways to fill the long hours of your work day, just use you’re imagination!