"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have". - Frederick Koenig

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

PhotoHunt 253: Silhouette

Silhouettes are very intriguing things.  They can say a lot about the subject, and then at the same time, nothing at all.  They almost demand a sort of viewer interaction that piques interest and causes a subtle questioning.  They can be very mysterious and seductive like a glamourous old hollywood detective film;  yet at the same time very innocent and straightforward, depending on what you, the viewer, are bringing to the table.  Though I had quite a few shots that technically satisfied this week's PhotoHunt assignment, this particular shot seemed to sum up the shadowy, sensual mystique that a great silhouette can evoke.  This silhouette is courtesy of one very cool hotel room window, looking out over Chinatown, that became even cooler at night with the lights out.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lebanese S.O.S.

Ever since moving away from DC, I have been dealing with a serious deficit in the fabulous Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food that is so readily available in the district.  It used to be a rare week when Jay and I did NOT enjoy at least a few of those fabulous flavors for dinner, and were even able to have them delivered to our front door.  Ah, the memories!  Unfortunately, around these parts, those food options are mostly limited to a lacking hummus appetizer and, if you're really lucky, a schwarma pita; and forget about delivery unless you are just looking for pizza, subs, or chinese.

Add to that initial status quo, the fact that there was a pound of ground beef sitting in our fridge that needed to be used.  I'm pretty sure Jay had picked it up with the intention of making chili or something, but once that didn't happen, the likelihood of it finding a home in the garbage was higher than me picking it up and making something with it.  I don't know what it is, but unless ground beef is pattied and ready to grill, I seem to have some sort of mental block about it.  I truly can't think of anything more mundane or less inspiring than the standard 'pound of ground beef', and of course the first and only thing I can usually think to make with it is everyone's 'favorite' S.O.S. (Sh** on a Shingle) - also less than inspiring.  Yet this time, after thinking about how much I miss my Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food in the midst of the ground beef reality in the fridge, I decided I was feeling up to a culinary challenge and bit the bullet.  What could I do to liven up that mass of mediocrity just waiting to become the main ingredient in a soggy flour-gravy and toast concoction?  With a certain amount of skepticism, I set out to create my very own Lebanese-inspired S.O.S.!

I took the principal of hummus with meat on pita (kind of paralleling the ground beef and gravy on toast), and added a little more depth to flesh this out as a dinner by adding a spiced rice pilaf and using more of a fatayer recipe for the ground beef.  It truly turned out more amazing than I could have ever guessed, and if you had been in my kitchen at the perfect moment, you may have seen me doing a happy dance.  I never would have thought my SOS 'help' signal for Mediterranean food would have been answered by a modified version of  Sh** On a Shingle - the most boring dish on the planet, but I do love the outcome!  I suppose when you set the bar low, you really can end up delightfully surprised with the results.  :)

Ground beef with chopped onion & tomato seasoned with mint, lemon juice, cinnamon, & pine nuts in the foreground; Basmati rice w/ broken vermicelli, golden raisins, & almond slivers seasoned with beef broth, Kabseh spice (dry mix of lemon, coriander, cardamom, cloves, cumin, & galingal), cardamom pods, & allspice in the background.

Fantastic to have on hand if you can find it.

The final result, minus the pita "shingle" that was toasting at the time.  Spreading the hummus on the pita, then topping with the ground beef and rice mixture was truly heavenly.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Drink(s) of the Moment: Square One Cucumber Vodka

Happy Weekend!  After the workday I had yesterday, I really couldn't wait for the weekend to start; sooo, I didn't.  Immediately after work, I dove right in and mixed a concoction (or two) using my new favorite 'vodka of the moment' - Square One Cucumber.  Now, I expected this vodka to be nice, but I never knew how inspiring it is.  There are SO many different and unique cocktails you can mix up with it, and it seems like all of them that I've tried to date are just so wonderfully refreshing, surprisingly tasty, and extremely drinkable.  I am also finding that they are an exciting change to the oh-so-common beverage rut we all find ourselves in every now and again.  Below, I've selected two of my favorites to share with you, though don't be surprised if you see more of these cucumber vodka based drinks in future 'Drink of the Moment' features.

My original focus was on the 'Celery Cup #1', which is a great little savory cocktail that mingles the cucumber with celery, lemon, and cilantro; but then I tried the 'H', which I'm sure must stand for 'Holy Crap this is a Fantastic Drink' instead of just the inventor's initial.  Both are quite lovely, and almost taste like a little sneak preview of spring, so they really go with the warmer snap we've gotten here recently.  I think I have found a new longstanding go-to drink in the 'H' too, which is no small feat.  If you give either of them a try, I promise your taste buds will love you.  Oh, and though it may be tempting, do NOT leave out the black pepper garnish in the 'H', it's amazing.

Celery Cup #1

Inspired by Pimm's Cup and Featured at the Slow Food Nation
 2008 event in San Francisco.

1 1/2 oz. Square One Cucumber
1-inch fresh English cucumber
2-inch celery stalk (closer to the heart for sweetness)
palm-full of cilantro
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz. Pimm's
3/4 oz. organic agave nectar or simple syrup
1 celery stalk for garnish

(Credit:  H. Joseph Ehrmann)
In a mixing glass, muddle the cucumber, celery cilantro
and lemon juice into a pulp.  Add remaining ingredients,
cover in ice and shake hard for 10 seconds.  Strain into a
tall glass over fresh ice and garnish with a piece of celery.


Simply named and nicely done.  This is
cocktail served at Quality Social in
San Diego that is named after Square
One mixologist H. Joseph Ehrmann.

1 1/2 oz. Square One Cucumber
3/4 oz. St. Germain Elderflower liqueur
3/4 oz. lime juice
1/4 oz. simple syrup
Soda Water
Cucumber sliced lengthwise and a
sprinkle of pepper for garnish.

(Credit:  Timothy Lacey)

Lay Collins glass on its side, slide cucumber slice along side of glass and then add ice to keep cucumber in place.  Pour all ingredients, except soda, into a mixing glass and shake well.  Strain into Collins glass filled with ice and cucumber slice.   Top with soda water and sprinkle of black pepper.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

PhotoHunt 252: Education (Or, Learning to Polish a Turd)

It's PhotoHunt time again!  I'm a little late with it again this week, but better late than never (like last week), right?  This week's theme being education, I couldn't resist posting a photo of some of the most tangible education I've ever received - my first house, on good 'ole Grayland Avenue.  That's her ... right there looming above.  She actually looks strikingly pulled together in that photo compared to what I remember her looking like most of the time, so much so that I almost don't remember her looking like THIS (cue psycho shower scene music, hold your nose, make sure that all young children are out of the room, etc) ...

... or maybe I have just managed to block that part out at this point.

At any rate, you can probably see why this might have been a learning experience for a young, single female on a limited budget, who's only handyman experience was watching home improvement shows and depending on someone else to 'fix it'.  You also probably see why everyone that looked at that house with me before buying, with the exception of my Dad, told me I must have been smoking crack in order to want to buy that.  In full disclosure, there was not one wall that I remember that didn't have peeling paint (probably lead) on the cracking plaster walls; the bathrooms were not usable, had old astroturf on the floor, and smelled of urine (which was on the walls and I'm certain was on the astroturf as well); the kitchen appliance (there was only one) was playing host to an array of smelly decaying rodents and bugs; and there was a rotting dead squirrel in the 2nd floor hallway that had apparently fallen into the house through the huge gaping hole in the ceiling of the master bedroom (also smelling of pee) which, not being able to get back out the same way, had gnawed on the majority of the wooden window sashes in the house until the panes were hardly secure, in a futile effort to escape.  Why did I think this was the house for me?  Well, my Dad was quite impressed with the sturdy foundation and steel I beam that ran through the basement.  But obviously, for me it was because it was within walking distance of my social nightlife circle, and of course, because 'it showed character'  - that's right, I might as well have been smoking crack.  

Thanks to the support I received from my Dad (who obviously thought I needed this type of education) I bought myself a house and felt all proud and adult-like about the turd I had purchased.  At first, I was a bit gung-ho about the idea of polishing it up and making a nice home.  I had the help of friends and family, and I was excited.  I had outwardly taken on the appearance that I was a wall of confidence that was strong enough and determined enough to manage the task at hand of putting that house back together.  I had no idea that in order to put a house like this back together, you most times have to take it apart first.  As my friends and family went back to their own daily lives, and I was left to manage my new project, those walls of confidence came down (sometimes literally) as I ran into more and more issues that I didn't even know could have existed within a house.  Sometimes I had no idea what the actual problem was, much less how I was supposed to handle it myself.  My house turned out to be VERY good at taking itself apart in order to expose even further issues, and I then became also VERY good at promptly freaking out; so began the cycle of extremes.  

Often times, while I was desperately trying to hold it together during the challenging process of living in the house myself, I think I could relate all too well with the peril that dead hallway squirrel must have felt  trapped in something that was so much bigger than him, but still fighting to get out.  After fighting for so long though, and allowing myself to crumble right along with the house, I finally came to the realization that you can't expect to turn a turd into a diamond, but you certainly can do your best to polish it up (see MythBusters on this if you don't believe me).   Once I acknowledged the house for what she really was, and realized that the one who needed to change the most was me, things got easier.  She and I still had our share of issues and she was normally the one in charge, but at least I was in control of the way I handled the situations and what I expected the outcome to be.  Oh, and here was the final inside result ... 

... not too shabby, huh?  I think both of us turned out pretty nicely after coming back up from the bottom together.  It really did get better once I realized I had to work with what I had and not try to make it into something else.  I suppose on some level my Dad must have known that my own 'sturdy foundation' and 'steel I beam' were enough of a match to stand up to, and prosper from the type of education I got from my very first house on Grayland Avenue.  I learned a lot about hands on home repair.  I learned that watching home improvement shows does not even come close having to do the work yourself, and learning how to do it yourself.  I learned a lot about myself and how I deal with things.  I learned that sometimes in life, what your given (or in this case, what you've purchased) isn't going to change, so the only thing you can do if you don't want it to take you down with it, is to learn to polish it and embrace the change it might bring about in you.  And maybe most importantly, I learned that I will never again do anything like that without having the money to hire contractors to do it for me.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Spud Love

Well, it's V-Day again, and I have to admit that this year I did not go overboard with a gift for Jay.  As a matter of fact, I kind of went 'underboard' for the first time I can remember.  This year, the purchasing of Godiva chocolates with frilly wrapping, silly heart-themed boxers, or funny yet sentimental cards didn't get done, so we currently have an unwrapped, uncute, slightly ripped bag of run-of-the-mill Peanut butter M&Ms on our counter instead.  I was kind of left feeling like a disappointing cupid this year.

This synthetic feeling of inadequacy did start me thinking though.  First, I logically thought about how the idea of this day is totally over-marketed and causes unnecessary stress for those in a relationship as well as those who are not.  Then, I 'rebelled' against the entire idea of the holiday and rationalized about how I don't need to provide chocolate or flowers or cards this day every year as a marker of my emotion when it truly should be a year-round daily sentiment that chocolate just can't touch.   Finally, all of this 'serious' thought led back to the very first Valentine's gift I gave Jay, and even after all these years - no, especially after all these years, how it really did mean more than any chocolate candy or flowers that I could have given, or that I could give even now.

Though I don't remember exactly all of the components of the first V-Day gift I presented to Jay, I do remember the heart of the gift - a small sack of potatoes.  I know, you're thinking I really went out of my way for that one, completely bent over backwards to make sure that I got just THE perfect gift for that very special first Valentine's token; who wouldn't melt immediately at receiving a bag of potatoes ... and organic to boot, right?  Well, I should have known it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship because Jay loved them, and knew exactly what I was saying.

You see, just prior to Valentine's day that year, Jay had sent me this clip he saw on bash.org that we both couldn't stop laughing over.  It was an argument as to why flowers are really awful things to give someone as a token of affection, and why instead, we should give potatoes.  So why would someone give potatoes you ask?  Lucky for you I have relocated that comment thread from so many years ago to explain.

well, there's a lot of reasons
i mean, roses only last like a couple weeks
and that's if you leave them in water
and they really only exist to be pretty
so that's like saying
"my love for you is transitory and based solely on your appearance"
but a potato!
potatoes last for f***ing ever, man
in fact, not only will they not rot, they actually grow s**t even if you just leave them in the sack
that part alone makes it a good symbol
but there's more!
there are so many ways to enjoy a potato! you can even make a battery with it!
and that's like saying "i have many ways in which I show my love for you"
and potatoes may be ugly, but they're still awesome
so that's like saying "it doesn't matter at all what you look like, I'll still love you"

At first read, I hadn't really thought of actually gifting a bag of potatoes for real, but the more I thought about it, the more I knew that I couldn't express what I felt we had together any better.  There was certainly no chocolate, fancy dinner, or stuffed animal that was going to sum it up with that much meaning or provide that much laughter.  What I failed to realize back then, is that starting with that sack of potatoes, our relationship grew into something more substantial than I could ever have imagined - just like the comment thread pointed out - solid, enduring, and unwavering.  So, because of a small bag of potatoes gifted six years ago, this Valentine's Day we will share that slightly ripped, run-of-the-mill bag of  Peanut Butter M&Ms together, and smile  as we realize that there is no gift that can be given or received, wrapped in red ribbon or otherwise, that could be better than just spending our time together.

Happy Valentine's Jay, I love you!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

She Walks in Beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night
   Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
   Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
   Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
   Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
   Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
   How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
   So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
   But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
   A heart whose love is innocent!

-George Gordon, Lord Byron

Saturday, February 12, 2011

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
                                    i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

-e.e. cummings

Friday, February 11, 2011

No Rhyme or Reason

So, it's been a minute since my last post, and I kind of skipped out on my PhotoHunt this week too.  I guess I really just haven't felt like writing much recently.  Feels like the folly has been a little harder to find the past few days, which is, quite UNfortunate.  I'm sure this has nothing at all to do with the fact that winter, and all of it's cold weather, continues to loom over even though spring is being heavily marketed everywhere.  I feel like I've been stuck in some souvenir snow globe trying to break my way out to what I know must be spring on the other side of the glass.  I suppose sometimes it pays to remember that winter is, by definition, a cold season in these parts; acknowledge and move on.

Anyway, because 'the creative muses' haven't been inspiring me to write recently, I figured maybe I could turn things around a bit and do a little reading to get the proverbial 'creative juices flowing'.  There was a time when I used to immerse myself in reading poetry, which has taken a backseat for more than several years, but with Valentine's Day right around the corner, I thought it appropriate to maybe take a peek again at some of the poems I used to enjoy and share them with you over the next few days.  Maybe they will put you in mind of something you had forgotten just like they did me.  I know it's a little different (and possibly somewhat cheesy), but I do hope you enjoy!

A moment of happiness

A moment of happiness
you and I sitting of the verandah
apparently two, but one in soul, you and I.

We feel the flowing water of life here, 
you and I, with the garden's beauty 
and the birds singing.

The stars will be watching us, 
and we will show them 
what it is to be a thin crescent moon.

You and I unselfed, will be together, 
indifferent to idle speculation, you and I.

The parrots of heaven will be cracking sugar 
as we laugh together, you and I.

In one form upon this earth, 
and in another form in a timeless sweet land.

-Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi

 Kulliyat-e Shams, 2114

"We love: that's why life is full of so many wonderful gifts". - Rumi

Friday, February 4, 2011

Drink of the Moment

Ah  ... it's that time again.  The week is winding down, and the weekend activity is winding up!  I have to admit that I had been working on some other drink ideas for this week's feature, but since this weekend is bringing with it what some truly consider an American 'holiday', I figured I couldn't overlook it in good conscious.  Though my household rarely contains any football fans in it, we do usually relish in this annual occasion in order to have yummy food and drink, so this week's 'Drink of the Moment' is shared keeping in mind all of those SuperBowl parties that I'm sure will be going on this weekend.

Whether or not you are a fan of the football game, or just a fan of all the trimmings that come along with it, I'm sure you'll definitely be a fan of these stellar margaritas that Jay whips up when we do a little celebrating with friends.  They are casual and tasty enough to go wonderfully with all of the chips, dips, and chili that is usually around, but could also 'class up' your shindig if you feel like going in that direction.  They are also my favorite margaritas ever -- and I'm not just saying that because I'm partial to the bartender.  Seriously, these are the real deal -- no disgusting powdered mix, no syrupy sweet wanna-be fruit flavor that doesn't really taste like real fruit, and if you're watching your figure, I guarantee these do not pack the same calorie/fat content that those sugary syrups do.  Note that these do come with an 'overconsumption warning' though, as I've never known anyone that could stop at just one.

Serves: 4

2  Tablespoons of sugar         
2  Strips of lime zest
2  Strips of orange zest
6  Ounces (3/4 cup) good tequila
1/3  Cup Cointreau (or other orange liquer)       
1/2  Cup fresh lime juice
2  Tablespoons of water
5  Fresh lime wedges
Kosher salt or course sea salt (optional)
4  Cups of ice

Using a mortar and pestle, or drink muddler , pound the sugar, lime zest, and orange zest until fragrant.  Transfer the muddled mixture into a pitcher and stir in the tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and water.  At this point, the mixture can be allowed to sit in the refrigerator while the flavors mingle, unless you have a room full of thirsty people.  (Jay usually includes an extra slice or two of orange or lime at this point to float in the liquid to amp up the flavor if we don't have time to wait -- and it makes for great presentation).  At the very minimum, you can allow the mixture to 'rest' while you ready your margarita glasses; using a lime to coat each rim and then dipping in salt if you'd like.

Just before pouring your margaritas, add the ice to the pitcher and stir (or shake) well for about 2 minutes.  Garnish each glass with an orange or lime wedge, and enjoy!

Now run out to the store and make sure you have all that you need for Sunday's game (or commercials, or half-time ... whatever it is that floats your boat).  Also, make sure you get enough limes and oranges so you can 'test' a batch too before having to share it with others (or so you don't have to share with others).  I'm not one for cheap tasting liquor or cheap tasting mixes, so my personal recommendation is to keep ingredients as fresh and as smooth as possible for a better experience while you're enjoying a sip, and also for a better experience the next morning when you realize that your 'sip' may have turned into a few 'gulps' ... or a whole pitcher if you're not careful.  Game on!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

PhotoHunt 250: Standing

For this week's PhotoHunt, I couldn't think of a better picture to demonstrate 'standing' than this one above, from a visit to Venice's San Marco Square.  It's really amazing when you think about how the whole entire city has continually managed to stay standing amidst all of the factors that would seem to have affected it otherwise.  To me, this photo of a building which has been standing for centuries reflecting in standing flood water, where untouched chairs still stand temporarily empty; really encompasses what you might not be able to make out so well from the shot.  If you look closely under the awning, you'll see that the orchestra, even through the flooding, still stands and continues to play with as much zeal as if there were a huge crowd of onlookers and no water at all in the square.  This, my friends, is the out-standing spirit of Venice, and probably part of the reason why the city itself is still standing - something I'm sure we could all use to be reminded of on certain days when we ourselves feel like we're the ones that are sinking.

Me, more overwhelmed by the flood of pigeons than that of the water.

Jay having a discussion with an 'Italian Pigeon'