Archive for May 2012

Al dente

Whenever Keith asks where I want to eat if we go out for dinner, I first answer with Mexican. You can’t go wrong with tacos, guacamole, and margaritas, right?

Perhaps, I’ve gravitated more towards the Mexican because I know Keith can seldom find anything wrong with that choice. But my first love is Italian. Plates of antipasti, good olive oil and warm bread, and chewy delicious fresh made pasta – I’m making myself hungry just thinking about it.

I’ve watched them make pasta on the cooking shows and thought, I could do that. Really how hard can it be? Well, last night I took a pasta making class at one of my favorite little stores on Capitol Hill - Hill's Kitchen. (If you live in DC, like to cook or just like kitchen gadgets, then you definitely need to stop by and check this place out.) This class fills quickly so it’s taken me almost a year to finally make it.

I found the instructor knowledgeable and friendly. The class was hands-on, so my only picture is of the finished product.

For some reason, I thought there was olive oil involved. I was surprised to learn fresh pasta involves just flour, eggs, and salt. And it didn’t come as a surprise when we were reminded to use the best quality ingredients possible. As to it being just three ingredients, I still some how I managed to get flour and egg all over the place making it difficult to get other photos.

The class ran much longer than I anticipated, but then rolling pasta is hard work. Tonight I’m envisioning plates of pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil for dinner; I want to savor my hard work. Fingers crossed it turned out okay. Now the bigger question is do I buy a pasta roller?

Do you make pasta from scratch or perhaps you make pizza dough? I’d like to hear what you find to be worth that extra energy.

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Keith and I really took advantage of the three-day weekend. We may have almost taken advantage of it a little too much. It was quite the struggle for both of us to get out of bed.

The weekend involved a little work. Our new blue bed is assembled (thank you, Keith!) and in place with new bedding following an IKEA trip. I’ve decided to share photos once the entire room is complete. Thought I’d go for the dramatic reveal.

We spent quality time with dear friends and their new little man. Who by the way is adorable. Don’t believe me? Check for yourself.

The rest of the time was devoted to becoming reacquainted with our couch and bed. We did absolutely nothing and it was wonderful. The biggest accomplish was making this for breakfast a couple of days.

Did you do anything good with your bonus day?

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Just bleh

Since we returned from Georgia, I have felt right down crummy. Within an hour of being home, my eyes became all red and puffy. This wasn’t something cucumbers could fix. I figured this was just part of returning home and dealing with the ridiculous pollen counts.

The remainder of the week has been spent accepting I caught a nasty cold. Wednesday was the worst of it. Thankfully, Keith was there to help take care of me. It’s just miserable being sick when you’re all alone.

As much as I want to tell you about exotic travel plans, the long three-day weekend is devoted to sleeping and basically staying close to home. At most, I plan to venture out to IKEA and Target.

Please tell me your plans are better.

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Book Review: The Boy in the Moon

At any given point, you’ll find at least 3 books on my nightstand – more if you count all the books I’ve downloaded to my Kindle, but have yet to read. And if you check out Keith’s side of the bed there is often that many books on his along with the New Yorker and whatever magazine he’s reading at the moment. And this isn’t counting the books he manages to stash around the apartment. He assures me there is a system to his madness, although I can’t always be sure.

The latest book I finished was The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Journey to Understand his Extraordinary Son by Ian Brown. Ian shares his story about his son, Walker, who has an incredibly rare genetic condition called Cardiofaciocutaneous (CFC) syndrome. Only one in about 300 people worldwide is diagnosed. Walker is unable to speak or effectively communicate, constantly tries to harm himself, and will need constant care for the rest of his life.

I have mixed feelings in recommending this book. Ian is honest and doesn’t attempt to cast Walker as an angel shared with him to teach a larger lesson. He shares his doubts and insecurities with brutal honesty. All of this is done in a chronological progression, taking you through the family’s journey. However, by the middle of the book, Ian shifts to more of a rambling research report with awkward attempts to tie it back to Walker and the family. I often found myself skimming over chapters to get back to back to the personal story.

Regardless, it was a moving story and nothing like the books I typically pick up so it was worth the deviation off my usual path. Do you have a type of book you tend to gravitate towards or do you read a variety of genres?

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What a lovely bride

Keith and I made it back from Dahlonega, GA last night in time for to continue our Sunday night tradition. Keith always gets a little sappy when it comes to weddings and watching his friends celebrate their love and this weekend was no different. 

We made it in late Thursday night and was able to crash with my sister. On Friday morning, she took us to this cute little breakfast spot that had some of the best coffee. I only wish I had asked them where I could purchase their coffee so I could have a cup or two at home. The visit with her was short as we needed to make our way north for the wedding festivities. It was agreed that we need to make a trip back to see Atlanta and for me that must include the Jimmy Carter library. 

On the drive north, we stopped at a couple of liquor stores in search for bourbon that's harder to find in the District. This trip was quite a success. We found not one but three bottles, including a 100th Anniversary bottle of Four Roses and this bottle celebrating the upcoming elections.  

Once we made it to our destination, Keith's best man responsibilities filled the rest of the time.  However, there was time to make friends with this adorable gal, Biscuit. She was quite found of Keith, letting him pick up and just cuddle with her. I think Sammy is still mad at us; not sure how she knows, but she does. 

The wedding was held at the Montaluce Winery and was quite gorgeous. Prior to the ceremony as guests arrived, I was able to participate in a tasting of five of their wines. Only one left an impression - the mead. For those not familiar mead is made 100 percent with honey, not a single grape. It was very floral on the nose, but way too sweet for my liking. 

The bride was lovely. The groom was smitten. The best man was handsome. The food was good. And the dancing lasted most the night. It's always good to see friends celebrate their love and we wish them a lifetime of happiness. 

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Wedding travel

Remember that bachelor party Keith went to last month leaving me home alone for the weekend? Well, the wedding is tomorrow in Georgia at the Montaluce Winery & Estates.

But let’s back up to Wednesday evening and the packing. Does anyone else struggle with deciding what to wear to weddings? Or is it just me? Keith convinced me to go with my “wedding guest dress,” but I went ahead and threw a few others in just in case. Good thing Southwest will let your bag fly for free.

I’ve never been a big fan of traveling. It’s kind of strange given I like to explore new areas. However, once I found myself stranded in London following that volcano, I’ve become a bit hesitant. Keith won’t be home to take care of Sammy if we’re gone for too long. Although it is possible that Sammy will be relieved to have a break.

Anyways, I’ll bring it back to the few things I like to have with me. As you can see, it’s not very much. I always say if you can’t carry it by yourself, then you shouldn’t bring it. Keith gets off so easy.

I use to always bring a book or two, but the Kindle just makes it so much easier. It is easier, but let me tell you I spend so much more on books. Not that this is a terrible thing to spend money on. We subscribe to several magazines. And I feel guilty for not reading them as regularly as I should, so I’m loading up on them for this trip.

Who doesn’t want to be cozy and comfy on the flight? That’s why I have my little neck pillow and basic black pashmina. I will inevitably get cold, so I’m just being proactive. There's also a few essentials like chargers, earbuds, and lip salve. 

The only thing I’m missing is some chocolate, but that had to wait for the airport. I was just too lazy to stop by CVS on the way home.

I can’t wait to share pictures from our brief visit with my sister who lives in Atlanta and the wedding. I hear Dahlonega, Georgia is a gorgeous area. Not to mention, I’m ready to sip on some wine.

So when you travel do you have any must haves that I should consider?

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While checking my twitter stream as I took in a few sips of my morning coffee, I came across something Keith retweeted. It didn’t strike me as something in his usual area of interest – Mavs basketball, bourbon, US foreign policy, and the occasional cat video. Instead I find a tweet including a link to a letter Ronald Regan sent his son before he got married in 1971.

The letter in and of itself is quite touching and definitely worth the five minutes or so to read. (You can find it here.) Although Keith and I haven’t been married for years, I know he shares the sentiments and views of President Regan. I’m one lucky girl to know deep in my heart not only does he love me, but he respects me.
 “…There is no greater happiness for a man than approaching a door at the end of a day knowing someone on the other side of that door is waiting for the sound of his footsteps.”
Or in our case, I find great happiness in knowing Keith is waiting on the other side of the door for my footsteps.

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An Excellent Sunday Morning

This morning greeted us with gray skies and a steady spring rain that carried us through most of the day. I know we need the rain; I just don’t like rainy Mondays. Rainy Saturdays are cool. Rainy Sundays are even better. Although had it been a rainy Sunday, yesterday wouldn’t have been as nice.

Andrea and I met up for brunch and shopping in Eastern Market’s craft and flea market. Thank god I can always can count on Andrea for Sunday mornings like this, which is awesome because this kind of morning would send Keith into a tailspin. Let's just say it's not his thing...the brunch, all the people, etc.

We started at the Chesapeake Room for brunch. The Chesapeake Room is Keith’s and my go to place on Barrack’s Row. After brunch, however, I think that may change. The service has left so much to be desired that I want to explore what else is out there. Gasp! I might have to leave The Hill. Service aside the food was pretty good. I had the Chesapeake Room Eggs, which includes a fried green tomato, topped with a lump crab cake, topped with a poached egg and all finished with a champagne berblanc sauce. I love this spin on eggs benedict. Andrea went with the pulled pork sandwich, which she was said good things about. And it did look pretty tasty.

With our bellies full, it was time to work it off with some shopping. Eastern Market has a wonderful mix of crafty items like jewelry and arts, to clothing, furniture, and farmers lined up with their produce. I inevitably find jewelry I just have to have. Unfortunately, Sammy’s check up kind of squashed that for me. And it’s a real bummer – there were some cute bracelets and necklaces I had my eye on. Fingers crossed it will be there in a few weeks.

Regardless, strolling around Eastern Market is one of my favorite ways to spend a lazy Sunday morning. It’s even better after brunch. Do you have any favorite ways to pass your Sunday mornings?

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I'm an Ambassador

One of our first vacations together was a trip down to Kentucky to visit the Bourbon Trail. This was the trip that introduced Keith to bourbon and started his love affair
While in Loretto, KY at the Maker’s Mark distillery Keith signed up to become an ambassador. For the life of me, I don’t know why I didn’t do the same while there. I was already one of their biggest ambassadors. I introduced anyone and everyone who would listen, including Keith. And even today, I always recommend Maker’s Mark as the bourbon to ease into the larger world of bourbon because of it’s subtle sweetness and wide availability.

I’m happy to say I remedied this little oversight and am now an official Maker’s Mark ambassador. Do you love Maker’s Mark? Yes, well, then I highly recommend moseying on over to their site and getting yourself signed up
Not only do you get a sweet ass title of Marker’s Mark Ambassador, they also send you some pretty cool Maker’s Mark loot. Keith has official business cards, which I’m still waiting for him to seriously distribute. Around the holidays, you receive a gift. This year’s was a holiday sweater for your Marker’s bottle. Genius, if you ask me. And they host occasional events close by. 

Last night was one of those events. It’s the first one we’ve attended and featured a panel by the Beam family of products. Here's are the panelists including Fred Booker Noe (first on the left) with Jim Beam and Craig Davis (second from the right) with Maker's. Honestly, we weren't so concerned with tequila, rum and Canadian whiskey to keep track of the other folks. 

Have to admit it was pretty cool to be there and hear from the master distillers of Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark. Although, Keith and I were disappointed it wasn’t more of an intimate panel. We did learn that Knob Creek’s Rye will reach our area in August, and we now have new Maker’s Mark shot glasses that were dipped in their trademark wax before our eyes.  

Are you an ambassador for any of your favorite brands? 

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Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Back in December, I purchased a blank canvas and some acrylic paints. I was going to create a masterpiece to bring a little color and life to our apartment. Something about best intentions and life…you know how that goes.

That canvas sat untouched in our bedroom out of sight for almost six months. There were times I was going to pull it out and creatively express myself, but I just never followed through. Then when I was ready, I decided to take part in a Living Social Sippin’ and Paintin’ deal with Lynn. To say that painting didn’t turn out as planned would be an understatement. Only for your amusement do I share this picture with you.

For the life of me, I have no idea why Keith likes it or so he claims. I think he’s just being a good husband when he says that. Because lets be honest, it’s no Monet. (Not that the next one is, but I like it more.)

Moving on to the other night. I decided to give painting another go of it. I had been looking at various pieces of work on Etsy, but every piece I showed Keith for feedback was met with “You could do that and for less.” Finally, I got the hint. He didn’t want to invest in art so I needed to get off my bum. I now share my latest work with you.

I was in love with it at first, but now after staring at it a bit more in the hallway I’m not so sure. Regardless, it does bring some color to the space and helps to cover up the hideous gray breaker box. This more artist photo makes it look even better, so I'm liking it again.

Do you have a hobby that you enjoy? Is it something you’re really good at or simply enjoy?

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Recipe: Blueberry muffins aka Breakfast Cake

There's a little neighborhood deli near my office, where I often pick up breakfast on those hurried mornings. This place is organized chaos and not sure how long the process would take, I'd only order a small coffee and a blueberry muffin. Don't worry, I've since branched out. However, the sweet woman who runs the register and gets my coffee insists that I have a muffin too. It's just within the last week that she's given up on the muffin.

As I was assessing the fridge for the week ahead, I found a pint of blueberries I forgot purchasing. Combine that with my love of blueberry muffins, which I share with Keith, and it was time to put that jumbo muffin tin to use. Also finding a quart of plain low-fat yogurt that is quickly approach the expiration date, meant finding a recipe for blueberry yogurt muffins. 

I came across this one from the Joy of Baking, which I modified slightly. These muffins are light and full of blueberry deliciousness. It's so much better to start the week with breakfast cake, isn't it?

Blueberry Muffins
Adapted recipe from the Joy of Baking 

1 c. plain low-fat yogurt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 c. canola oil
1/2 t. vanilla
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 pint fresh blueberries 
1 T. lemon zest

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Position rack in the center of the oven. Butter or line muffin tin.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, lightly beaten egg, oil, lemon zest, and vanilla.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Take out a tablespoon of the flour mixture to toss with the blueberries. 

4. Make a little well in the dry ingredients and pour in the yogurt mixture. Using spatula fold everything together until combined. Gently fold in the blueberries until combined. Do not over mix, or you'll end up with tough muffins. 

5. Evenly fill the muffin cups. Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes. (Using the jumbo muffin tin, it required 20 minutes with my oven.)

6. Once a toothpick comes out clean, transfer to a wire rack for cooling. Wait 5 minutes. If you didn't line the cups, run a knife around the edge before removing from the pan. 

7. Enjoy!

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Are you ready for the derby?

Ok, today you get a bit of a bonus. What can I say a lot is happening at our house?

I know tomorrow is May 5 otherwise known as Cinco de Mayo. However, in this house, it's even bigger.  It's the Race for the Roses, aka the Kentucky Derby. Since I was a little girl, I have been in love with horses. My mom would buy me books about the evolution of the horse and how it made its way to North America not to mention picture books of horses. If there was a book about horses, I had to have it in my library. I had the plastic play horses as well as my Little Ponies. If memory serves me right, before New Kids on the Block covered my wall, there was posters of beautiful thoroughbreds and ballerinas plastered on my wall. It didn't matter. All I wanted was a horse to call my own. Well, that never technically happened, but that hasn't stopped me from admiring them and occasionally placing a bet or two on them. Perhaps, I'll even convince Keith to go horseback ridding with me in Rock Creek.

When I was in Kentucky for the first time, I could have cared a less about the bourbon. I was on a mission to see the races. As much as I would like to see Kansas play in the NCAA Finals in person or watch the Packers play in a Super Bowl live, it would be even better to be present at the Kentucky Derby - the best two minutes in sports.

Keith and I have...well, let's be honest, I have prepared for the Derby. We have an official bottle of Woodford Reserve, the mint, and even tiny julep cups. Trust me I didn't realize they were teeny, tiny when I ordered them. Regardless, we are ready. Now if only, I had found myself a gorgeous hat. I guess there's always next year. Anyways, I'm sure I have the priorities covered as far as Keith is concerned.

Now, I'm just ready for the main event. Maybe, just maybe I'll enjoy a margarita and some guacamole after the race. I mean. It is Cinco de Mayo after all.

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I just want some zzzzz's

For the last couple of months, Keith and I have been sleeping on an Aerobed air mattress - and you thought we were adults. It’s been placed on top of our platform bed and we’ve gone to great lengths to make it as comfy as possible. There’s a comforter between the mattress and the bed frame to reduce any noise given it's not a real mattress. We have included an egg crate foam topper and an extra thick mattress pad on top. And of course, we obviously have to refill the air supply on a regular basis.

Surprisingly, this was really comfortable for at least the first six weeks or so. But for some reason this past week, it has failed and in a big way. My back aches. Keith complains of still being tired. Enough was enough. I’m happy to report we have finally broken down and ordered a Heavenly Bed from the Westin. To say I’m freaking ecstatic would be an understatement.

Well, since we need a new mattress and have opted for a box spring too, I figured we should just as well go all out. I mean why half-ass something? While poking around on the Joss & Main website, I found the bed. I mean the bed just screamed “Nicole, you have to buy me. I am the answer to your sleeping woes and I’m gorgeous to boot!” Even better, it brings in the blue I wanted without having to paint. (That's a story for another time.)

via Joss & Main

Pretty convincing, huh? Yep, I ordered this beauty. So, remember that list of items I’m on the hunt for? I guess you could say we went on a little side safari, but when in the name of sleep it’s totally worth it, right?

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I've Got a Bourbon "guy"

When I started drinking bourbon a few years ago, I drank the stuff that is widely available like Maker's Mark, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey and a few others you are probably familiar with.  Those brands aren't bad; I still enjoy them from time to time.  But like any hobby, there's a lot more to bourbon than that.  Serious bourbon enthusiasts chase after certain bottles and brands that have become very difficult to find.  As I moved from the easy to find stuff to the harder to find brands, I sought out some advice from my bourbon message board as to how to find these brands.  The consensus was to make acquaintances (friends even) with the owner of your favorite liquor store.

My store is Harry's Reserve in SE Washington, DC. I've been going in a couple times a week for about a year now, often when the store is not so busy.  (I work nearby, so sometimes I go into to peruse during my lunch break.) And the thing is, the year-long relationship building worked.  The owner alerted me when he got his allotment of Pappy van Winkle, which was a huge score.  And last Friday I went in after work, completely not planning on buying anything, when the owner tapped me on the arm and said, "I've got a bottle you might be interested in."  And sure enough it was a bottle of William Larue Weller from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.  It's a fantastic bourbon that's fairly hard to find in DC.   So I said, "I'll take it."  I don't know how he got that bottle, but I'm damn glad he did.

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