Yesterday was — well, I’m pretty darn sure — the best day of my life. A coworker hooked me up with one of the much-coveted White House tour tickets. Being the first day the White House has reopened its tours since sequestration’s budget cuts took place back in January. So it was a pretty exciting day, for anyone who was able to finally get a tour, and for the people who work at the White House.
We were held up in the East Room for what felt like forever when a friend commented on one of my Instagrams about POTUS and FLOTUS surprising everyone on the tours, so as you can imagine, my heart started racing. What would I say? Was it true? Would they still be there?
The secret service closed the doors to the Green room right when we were about to go through, which put us in front of the line for the next group. And once the doors reopened and we were shuffled through, I was greeted by none other than Michelle Obama herself, in all of her glowing glory. That woman is pretty in photos, but hot damn, she is 43290423 times prettier in person.
Anyway, being from Los Angeles, I’ve met my fair share of celebrities, but Michelle takes the cake.
I. Was. Starstruck. Especially when she greeted us with a big smile and a “HIIII! Welcome to my house!” Cue Sunny jumping all over her and my coworker. I, naturally, beelined to Bo, who was sitting a few feet away, simply panting and rolling his eyes at Sunny, who was literally leaping and bounding from the visitors, to the First Lady, to the people behind the cameras. I pet Bo for as long as I could, which was apparently too long, because Secret Service basically escorted me out.
My heart was racing for at least 30 minutes after that. Marissa and I proceeded to jump up and down and scream on the White House driveway.
Seriously, best day of my life, and those dogs are the fluffiest dogs in the world. So. Effing. Cute.
This recipe comes from a friend and owner of yet another unbelievably adorable Portuguese water dog — Ollie. Maybe someday, Michelle will read this and schedule a play date for Ollie and Sunny. They’d make a darling couple.
The National Mall is dotted with shades of yellow and orange, and I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful season to end a particularly stressful week. One upside is that the pumpkin I carved after work with the @Energy digital team made it onto Politico, Science Mag, and the Huffington Post — how cool is that? Huffpo called it “the best Jack-O-Lantern they’ve ever seen.”
Anyway, aside from finally achieving Jack-O-Lantern fame, the week’s been filled with infographics, meetings, and my newly reinstated fitness routine, which I’ve been working 2-3 days of yoga into.
Yesterday was Halloween, and I got the chance to walk around the National Mall for a bit with a camera (I was photographing a coworker, dressed as Amelia Earheart, at the Earheart exhibit in the National Air and Space Museum. It was amazing).
The colors in the leaves just happened to match the warm colors in the tart perfectly, so I thought I’d share that with you. Yesterday was a gloomy day, but the leaves — and Jack-O-Lantern fame — easily brightened up my afternoon.
Emily describes me as being on a perpetual diet. Let’s just talk about how I started Monday off with three delicious cookies for breakfast. My neighbor made them. They were amazing, and I do not regret it.
Asparagus, Red Pepper and Sweet Corn Quiche (recipe after the jump) (more…)
It feels like shakshuka is just all over the blogosphere these days.
Luckily for me, shakshuka is something that actually fits into my diet. Yes, I’m a food blogger on a diet. How about that?
I guess I should tell you about this diet. It’s called the Dukan Diet — well, my own rendition of it, anyway. The main idea is that you stick to a high-protein diet interspersed with vegetables. It’s pretty amazing. I don’t crave sweets very much anymore, and carbs, well, they will be missed, but I do love protein and veggies.
I say the diet is my own “rendition” because there are two food groups that I simply cannot give up: cheese and cocktails. Yes, they are food groups. I’m just gonna keep it real with you.
This diet started last winter, when I was really amping up the freelance work. So basically, when my social/fitness activities were replaced with sleepless nights and caffeine binges, I realized I needed to change something. Either give up freelance and get back into my running obsession, or change my eating habits. Obviously, I chose freelance and the diet.
Diets get such a bad rep these days. Of course, there are so many negative connotations that do go with them. But to be honest, I like having goals in mind, and guidelines on what’s good and what’s bad and what’s too much and what’s not enough. I weigh myself every day. I’m guilty when I don’t work out, or when I cheat. I cheat more often than I should, and I don’t work out as much as I should. But you know what? The guidelines work for me. I like them.
I’ve been making meatballs from a great recipe blog that archives Dukan Diet recipes — and this recipe actually reminds me a lot of the Norwegian meatballs my friend Åse (pronounced oh-sah) made for us one rainy night in Bergen.
So I made a huge batch in the oven, and used a portion of the meatballs for this shakshuka. The original intent was to use the shakshuka for lunch (it packs really well and is a perfect work lunch), but I’ve made it for a couple of dinners and it’s always been a huge hit.
The meatballs are pretty neutral, so they’d go really well in this banh mi recipe, too.
Anyway, enjoy this recipe (especially if you’re on the Sarah Gerrity Dukan protein cheese and cocktail diet). If you have favorite meatball recipes, I’d love to hear some ideas — because I tend to make these ones in double batches for the entire week (or two or three).
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground turkey
3 green onions,
1 small sweet onion
1/2 cup lowfat cottage cheese
1/4 cup oat bran
1/4 cup Kraft Grated Parmesan Cheese
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the green and sweet onions in a food processor, and pulse chop until finely diced. Then, in a mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients, mixing with your hands to fully incorporate into a mixture.
Line a baking sheet with foil, spray with nonstick baking spray, and begin rolling the meat mixture into 1.5-inch balls. Space them about 1 inch apart, and then bake for 30 to 40 minutes.
Lazy Meatball Shakshuka
10-15 onion meatballs
1 jar tomato sauce of choice
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
4-6 eggs (use your judgement)
Olive oil, just a drizzle
Fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
First, heat a cast iron skillet with a drizzle of olive oil. Saute your meatballs until the surfaces are a deep golden brown. Then, carefully pour your tomato sauce into the skillet, turning the stove heat to medium-low. If it’s too chunky, add water in 1/4-cup increments until you have a stew-like consistency.
Once the tomato sauce comes to a simmer, use a wooden spoon to create some pockets between the meatballs for your eggs. Crack the eggs one by one into the sauce, and baste the whites with the spoon. Once the whites begin to cook through, sprinkle the skillet with feta and parmesan cheese. Simmer until the eggs are cooke through to the consistency you prefer — I like the yolks runny, but you might want them stiff.
Sprinkle with fresh basil, season with salt and pepper, and enjoy.
An excerpt from my past (hold back your chuckle — it’s from livejournal… and super emo):
3 days left in the valley, and I’ll probably be home for one or two days between Sunday and mid-June. And after 3 weeks of intensely monotonous work, an upside-down iceberg of a relationship, and salsa dancing with confusion, I honestly don’t know how much longer I can stand being here. I don’t see much here anymore, let alone have I talked to the majority of you in the past six months. But this friends page is just about the second or third site I click on when I go online, probably alternating with Bank of America.
Seeing a few of the old high school friends at random rendezvous made me miss the ones at college terribly – I think my days of reminiscing and telling high school stories with Cari might finally be over, now that I realize that the people I’ve known for years are finally growing up. I call her and we say things like “I can’t believe I have to see him twice over break,” or “can we go to a party the instant we get home?”
And then we exchange why either of us made those comments, and then we agree. “I’m sick of the valley.” “The partying is so different now in Sac.” “Let’s go to Chipotle next weekend.” “Fix it, he’s your ride.” “It’s okay, I’ve been stuck in a love triangle for 3 years now.” “Did I call you on New Years?” “He doesn’t know what he’s doing.” “I hope you don’t get into UCLA, because I am going to miss you.”
I normally write when I’m upset. No wonder I stopped writing in Santa Barbara.
Needless to say, my domestic life has wasted away with my data entry job. Nor have I slept much lately, except for this evening – I was supposed to finish some sewing projects and stop by American Apparel. I’ve run out of flat fabric to actually make clothes with, so I’ve been resizing all my thrift-store t-shirts so they fit perfectly. I used to make so many clothes in high school – without patterns, too. Some things come right back after you spend months or years away. But some things still disappear on you, no matter how well you kept in touch or what good friends you are. Sometimes you go through emotions and you write more than you ever could, filling up a notebook or pages and pages of cyberspace. And you don’t even look back on what you write, but you throw that notebook away or ctrl+a+delete, and it’s gone, as if it never even existed.
It’s always interesting to read something you wrote long ago. Sometimes, I look back on my writing from high school and college and think, well, my voice is the same, but I can’t for the life of me remember what some of the emotions were about. Perhaps I was trying a form of subtle obviousness. Who knows? I was barely a freshman in college when I wrote this.
The boy in my life back then was, interestingly enough, living in DC for college, and was obsessed with Arabic before the study even appealed to me. Maybe he planted the seed. But he is as much a completely different person as I am from my eighteen year old self. I imagine he has since grown up, as he is probably a wonderful husband as he was a wonderful confidant to me all those years ago. We had good times — he drove me back to school at the end of my first winter break, and he was as sweet as he was awkward. I definitely have a type.
It’s nice, and sometimes heartbreaking to read about the boys of your youth. But they’ll almost all be considered that someday, right? Exes, first loves, hookups that would have been nice to have worked out. They’re all reflections of our younger, former selves.
Interestingly enough, I came across this post when sifting through the posts marked “draft” in WordPress. I didn’t hate this one. I wrote it 8 months ago.
Things have changed so much since then, I can’t even remember where I drew those emotions from.
These za’atar bars also bring back memories of a younger, former self. One of my best friends in college was my friend Randa, a passionately argumentative and wild twenty-two year old from a long string of equally fierce Palestinian women. When her entire family visited her at UCLA (by way of the East Bay), she’d invite me over for a huge dinner — I’d practice my kindergarten Arabic and they’d fill my plates with food, plate after plate, despite protests of girlish figures and Los Angeles’ year-round bikini season.
She’s since moved to New York and Jordan and Ramallah, but Gchat and Snapchat keep us in check. She brought these home for me once on a trip home to the Bay, and I made her get the recipe from her mother. It was unbearably simple — and I make these for pretty much any potluck. They’re best served hot and crispy, so they’re ideal for office parties where a toaster oven is present.
Za’atar Cheese Bars
1 package (20-25 sheets) filodough, thawed
4 cups shredded mozzarella — or a 1 lb. bag
2 cups shredded parmesan cheese
2 cups crumbled feta
1 cup za’atar spice mixture
4 eggs, whisked until frothy
1 stick butter, melted
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Brush a 9×13 brownie/cake pan with a layer of melted butter. Layer on a few sheets of filodough, and then brush again with a layer of butter. Use about half of the filodough sheets.
In a mixing bowl, combine the cheeses, za’atar, and eggs. Use your hands to fully incorporate all of the ingredients, and then spread the cheese mixture onto the filodough layer. Use a spatula to spread evenly.
Then, layer a few more filo sheets on top of the cheese. Brush with butter, and repeat with every two sheets until you are out of filodough. If you have any butter left, go ahead and just pour it on top.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the dough is crisp and a golden brown. Remove, and let cool completely before cutting (to give the bars a clean edge). Then, slice with a sharp knife, and reheat in a toaster oven (or a conventional oven) before serving.
When I was traveling in Norway with Silje, every now and then, we would stop in our sentences and say to ourselves: I can’t wait until we’re in Greece.
Something Silje always added on was how excited she was to have Greek salads, every day.
I kind of brushed it off, because I was more or less just looking forward to feta cheese, all day, every day.
Upon arriving in Greece, I quickly learned that I did not full understand what she meant by Greek salads. I actually ended up having a Greek salad at almost every single meal. Generally, Silje and I would each have our own Greek salads, and then split whatever the entree of the night was.
You see, here in the States, “Greek salad” could mean one of a billion things. It usually means some sort of vegetable mixture with too much dressing and a scoop of crumbled feta cheese. I’m guessing that the addition of feta just makes a salad “Greek.”
It could not be farther from the truth. Anywhere in Greece, when you order a Greek salad, you get a bowl or plate filled with the freshest of the fresh, and simpler than I could ever ask for: cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, olives, capers, feta. No more, no less. Don’t let the impostors fool you.
The Real Greek Salad, from, well, Greece.
1 medium cucumber
2-3 smallish tomatoes
A few slices of red onion
Black olives (with pits)
Fresh feta cheese – get a block, not the crumbled.
A drizzle of olive oil
Dried oregano for garnish
This enough for one salad – multiply accordingly for how many you’re serving.
First, peel the cucumber, and then slice in half lengthwise. Cut into half-inch chunks, and set aside.
Cut your tomatoes into quarters, and slice the red onion into wedges or slivers (I forgot the red onions in the photos. Don’t hate).
Slice about a half-inch sheet off of the block of feta. Toss the tomatoes, onion, and cucumber in a pretty bowl. Throw a few capers and olives on there, and arrange your slice of feta in the center. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with some dried oregano for garnish.
Kristen and I met in the best of ways — we were Craigslist roommates. When I first moved to DC, I was sleeping on a very gracious friend’s couch for two or three weeks while I was job and house hunting. I didn’t quite understand how carnivorous house hunting in this city would be, and Kristen’s house happened to be the first actual open house I’ve ever experienced.
It was a group house near Dupont Circle, and the room was going for $780 — a steal, even by 2009 standards. On my walk to the house, I figured: well, a room in the gayborhood that I can actually afford. There must be something wrong with the place.
When I walked in, I was initially shocked by the number of girls in the house, visiting to try to snag the room. But I luckily ran into Sarah, the girl who was moving out (insert typical name-coincidence banter here), who gave me a quick tour of the room. I asked her a few questions, and I like to think that she and I hit it off. I think I mentioned that this was my first open house.
“Here’s what you do,” she said. “Go find each of the roommates. Talk to them, and make sure they remember you. Say hi to Kristen first — she’s on the balcony.”
So I worked my way through a tiny house filled with girls, some of them dressed up and holding gift bottles of wine. Well, this is probably a waste, I thought to myself, regretting the choice of sweaty running clothes amidst all the yuppies in their post-work wear. There were at least seven people on a patio that comfortably fits four. There was a white couch with one seat open. I looked at it, and the girl sitting there offered me the seat. That was Kristen.
Kristen was wearing the equivalent of (purple) Soffe shorts and a yellow-ish spaghetti tank top. It was a hot and sweaty night in September. She was drinking cheap beer. She later informed me that other Sarah had made her change from a less acceptable outfit into this one. She argues that her future roommates needed to know what she’d actually look like when living with her — valid.
“Nice,” I said, pointing to the beer.
“I teach 7th graders,” she replied. I think I made a joke about how she should probably double fist with another beer. We hit it off, and I told her that I wanted to meet the other roommates that lived there. She mentioned one of them still being at work, and the other, well, he apparently made pancakes every day at 2 PM (more true than I’d like to remember).
So I eventually worked my way through the house, met the boys (and even asked which one of them made pancakes on the reg). I made friends with the other girls there, mostly under the assumption that no one I met would have been offered the room. After all, you have to form allies. I needed a place to live. As I walked down the steps of the house, a few of the girls and I exchanged phone numbers. The companionship in such a competitive situation was more comforting than I expected.
I took the train back to Arlington, where I was staying, and decided to grab a cheap dinner at the Pentagon City mall on my way home. They had wifi, so I figured I could check Craigslist for any housing postings that I hadn’t written to yet (I’m pretty good at the numbers game). And right when I sat down with my three-dollar slice of pizza and opened my computer, the email from Sarah was there — I got the room. I had a home!
Without even thinking about it, I accepted. And moved in a week or two later. It was a good year-and-a-half run in that house — I started this blog, and Kristen was part of the core group that encouraged it. Hopefully, you’ll be reading a guest post from her sometime soon (I’ve been trying to get her to write about these tostadas for six months).
Now, she has her own apartment, and hands-down, the cutest cat in the world. Last winter, she made this dish for brunch one morning — years later, she decided to pick up cooking. It made me so. happy.
This is the result of a brilliantly creative, DGAF mind who randomly decides to pick up cooking. She made this up on the fly. I’ve attempted to recreate the recipe below.
Simple Chicken Tostadas, a la Go Team Kristen (makes 6 tostadas)
8 corn tortillas (6 for tostadas, 2 to slice into strips for garnish)
1 can refried beans
2 jalapenos, diced
2 or 3 chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 to 5 green onions, depending on how much you adore green onions
A handful of chopped red cabbage
Salt and pepper
Shredded cheese, jack or cheddar
1 Avocado, sliced
1 lime, sliced
This dish requires a sink full of dishes, but it’s well worth it.
Heat your oven to 400 degrees.
To start, pat the pieces of chicken dry with a paper towel, and season them with salt and pepper. Heat a drizzle of vegetable oil in a skillet, and cook the chicken on medium heat. Saute with a healthy handful of diced jalapenos and green onions until the chicken is cooked all the way through (and hopefully with a bit of browning). Once that’s done, transfer the contents of the skillet to a bowl, and set aside.
In a small saucepan, empty the can of refried beans and heat on medium.
Then, drizzle a little bit more oil into the skillet, and have a baking sheet nearby. Carefully fry each tortilla, one at a time, until crispy — getting both sides to reach a light golden brown (we’ll be baking them as well, so you don’t want them too dark). As you finish each one, place them about an inch apart from each other on your baking sheet. Then, slice the remaining 2 tortillas into 1/4-inch strips, and fry until crispy. Let those ones drain on a paper towel, and set aside.
Spoon a dollop of refried bean on each tortilla, spreading to cover the tortilla, but leaving an edge for a crust. Then, top with a portion of the cooked chicken, and then the shredded cheese. Bake in the oven until the cheese is melted and bubbly — about 10 minutes. But keep an eye on it, since everyone’s oven is different!
While the tostadas are in the oven, combine the chopped cabbage, green onions, and remaining jalapenos into a bowl with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
When you remove the tostadas, top them with sour cream, the cabbage mixture, avocado slices, and the fried tortilla strips. Serve with a wedge of lime.
Yet again, taking advantage of Dad’s garden. Check out this easy recipe for refrigerator dill pickles. The best part? You don’t need to stick to cucumbers — pickle some squash from the farmer’s market. They are beyond delicious.
I’ll be back soon enough, with plenty of photos and stories of camping with the parents and my two younger, goofier-by-the-day brothers. Actually, by the time this post goes up, I’ll probably be driving back from the mountains, and on my way to a flight back home.
Hope your week is off to a great start! Xo.
Dill Pickled Squash
1-2 jar-sized zucchini or squash
1 cup water
1 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 dried red Thai chili
1 green or black Thai chili
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 cloves garlic
A few slivers of sweet onion
Slice your squash into quarters or eighths, lengthwise, and stuff them into a large mason jar. Throw in the mustard seeds, peppercorns, onions, garlic, and chilis.
Then, in a saucepan over medium heat, combine the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar. Bring the solution to a boil. Once the salt and sugar are entirely dissolved, pour the solution into your jar of squash. You don’t want ANY air in this jar, so fill it right up to the top. Seal the jar, and refrigerate. They should be ready to eat after a day or so, and they’ll keep in the fridge for about two months.
Whenever I visit my family in California, I try to take advantage of the outdoor grill they have. It’s always entertaining to think of the days before my dad learned to cook — a couple of the stories came up over breakfast this morning. The sloppy joe fiasco, the hilarious lunches he made for Sean and me, and the items that his bachelor fridge was filled with: Trader Joe’s taquitos, Hoffy hot dogs, individual packages of lunch meat, and string cheese.
That was our diet when we visited Dad.
These days, he is quite the chef. His outdoor grill was a pretty good investment. At the moment, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Ridgecrest, California — Dad’s truck had car trouble at the Indian Wells Brewing Company (Dad’s favorite brewery), so Sean and I have been carting the family around in the second car. Thankfully, we decided to take two cars!
While I’d much rather be somewhere in the high Sierras already, taking a moment to edit photos and schedule some blogs is relatively therapeutic.
Anyway, I made this gazpacho before we left for our Eastern Sierra road trip. It should make a good lunch on a lake, while in a canoe. I’m hoping I get to meet some puppies. Or cowboys. That would be nice, too.
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled 3 large tomatoes (1 1/2 pounds) 1 medium cucumber (the weird cucumber in my photo is a Syrian cucumber from my dad’s garden) 2 green bell pepper 1 medium sweet onion, unpeeled 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 2 tablespoons white vinegar 1 cup cold water Salt and freshly ground pepper
Wrap your garlic cloves in a piece of aluminum or tin foil. Heat a grill on high, and grill the tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, onion, and garlic, turning so that the skin of each piece is completely charred — it should take about 10 to 15 minutes. If you don’t have access to a grill, just use the broiler in your oven, and keep an eye on the vegetable skin. You want them charred.
Set the vegetables in a bowl, and cover with saran wrap to let them steam and cool.
Once you can touch them, peel away and discard the charred skins, and slice the vegetables into chunks that fit into your food processor. Go ahead and pulse grind them until you have a vegetable puree with a consistency that you desire — I wanted a finer ground salsa consistency. With the machine on, gradually add the olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, and refrigerate until cool. Serve with salt and pepper, and a good piece of toast.
Grilled cheese sandwiches are a guilty pleasure of mine. When I lived on Capitol Hill, if Mindy and I both happened to come home sometime after midnight on the same night, you’d probably catch us drowsily eating at our kitchen table together — quesadilla in Mindy’s hands, and a grilled cheese in mine. Sharing the frying pan and teddy bear spatula was always an option.
Making grilled cheese sandwiches between midnight and 4 AM has its advantages: simplicity, extra butter, and no regrets. Making grilled cheese sandwiches at brunch also has its advantages: ability to use a knife without ending up in the ER, healthier choices, and sometimes, less cheese all over the kitchen counter.
It’s no secret that goat cheese is hands-down my favorite cheese. This does not explain why I’ve never made a grilled cheese sandwich with goat cheese before.
Perhaps it was because I was raised on an upscale classic: sourdough bread instead of white bread, and sharp cheddar instead of American. Light margarine or butter on both sides of both slices of bread.
With that, you really can’t go wrong. But we try to be creative. This grilled cheese remix is a great option for a refreshing lunch on a hot summer day. And who doesn’t love the crunch of a fresh cucumber?
Lots of photos in this post today… I couldn’t stop clicking. Cucumbers are just so pretty.
Cucumber Goat Cheese Grilled Cheese(makes two sandwiches)
2 slices of whole wheat sourdough bread (or 4 halved slices, if the boule is large)
1 small package plain goat cheese — leave this out for an hour or so to reach room temperature
2 Japanese cucumbers, in 1/8-inch slices
Heat a cast iron skillet over the stove — first at high heat to get the pan very hot, but then reduce the flame all the way to low. We like the slow-cooked grilled cheese sandwiches.
Using a pastry brush, lightly coat each side of each slice of bread. Spread a healthy layer of goat cheese on the bottom slice, and then arrange your cucumber slices on top of the goat cheese. Carefully place the first half of your sandwich on the skillet, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, if you like.
Then, spread a thin layer of goat cheese on the next slice. Place this slice on top of the first one, and let it sit on the stove for about five minutes — make sure your heat is LOW. Use a spatula to lift the bottom slice — if it’s nice and golden, go ahead and flip your sandwich. Let that side sit for four to five minutes. When the second side is just as golden, go ahead and remove the sandwich from the pan. Repeat for sandwich number two, and serve with remaining cucumber slices, if you haven’t been munching on them already.