Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How to Make Gnocchi Like Two Un-Italian Cousins

You know when you get that itch to make gnocchi from scratch? No? Is it just me then?

Okay. So I felt the deep need to learn how to make gnocchi "like an Italian grandmother." You know, just in case I found myself in Italy with only two potatoes, one egg, one cup of flour, and several hungry grandchildren.

It could happen.

I sent the recipe to my also-aspiring-to-culinary-greatness cousin, Becky, and we set a date for mastering the little potato pillows of deliciousness.

And here is how we did it:

Step one: Boil two potatoes for approximately one hour. Discuss your life and times during this hour, and once you are both up to speed, make cookies!

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Witness the inherent cuteness that is Ella (how did I not get a single picture of her, Becky?), and oh look, the cookies are done! I guess we need to test them to make sure they aren't poisonous or anything. Hmm..... yeah, better have a second one to make sure.....oops and wait that one's broken....

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After about 4 cookies apiece, the potatoes were good and boiled, so we took to "deconstructing" them with our forks. The professional Italian Grandmas making this recipe are probably using potato ricers for this task, but forks worked just fine for us.

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We peeled the hot potatoes and scraped the fork down the sides until we had a big pile of potato fluff.

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And given that the recipe was in paragraph format (!), we consulted it diligently before moving on to each next step.

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Upon our consultation of said recipe, we determined that we needed to mound the potatoes into a heap. Given that Becky had such a lovely manicure (the benefits of recent wedding attendance), I delegated this task to her.

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The recipe also called for "1/4 cup egg, lightly beaten." Our scientific testing provided the following results for your benefit: one large egg = 1/4 cup egg.

Those chickens are precise, folks.

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And now comes the fun (read: messy!) part. Sprinkle about 3/4 cup of flour over your egged-up pile of potato shavings, and gently knead it into a dough. Once you've got a more doughy consistency, you can slice it up into portions and roll out little snakes of pasta. (Ella especially liked the part with the snakes. Reminiscient of Play-Doh, we figured -- which is also why Becky was so much better at rolling the snake-pasta than I was. Being a mother of a young child gives you ample Play-Doh experience.)

And then you mercilessly chop up your little potato snakes.

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Depending upon how hungry you are, you can decoratively notch each piece with the prongs of a fork, to catch the pasta sauce.

Apparently we decorated a whopping two of them before moving on to the faster method of quickly-smush-into-shape-and-toss-into-boiling-water.

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This was also the perfect opportunity to use up the last 12 or so tomatoes from my unusually prolific porch tomato crop. (I still have a few green ones, but we've had a cold snap lately, so I'm not confident they'll ripen.)

And despite my fears that our first attempt at gnocchi would be a terrific disaster, we sat down at the dinner table and took a bite....

And it was FANTASTIC! We totally rocked the gnocchi. It was light and fluffy but also filling. And its just potato, egg, and flour. Isn't that amazing?

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Food is so cool. (Also, thanks to Becky for letting me destroy your kitchen and coat your entire countertop with an inch of flour and leave you with a sink full of dirty dishes. You [and your cabinet full of Penzeys spices] are my hero.)

Next on our menu of new-things-to-try? Two words: Donut. Muffin. Yes and amen.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Social Butterfly

Back during law school, I used to get a couple invites each year to people's parties. Birthdays, end-of-exams, Superbowl parties, you name it.

And I used to flake out on every single invitation. Seriously, I don't think I attended a single party during the entire law school experience, unless it was somehow related to schoolwork -- i.e., an all-night Bluebooking party for the Fed Circuit Bar Journal.

I know, I'm totally hip.

So when I got the invite to Tracy's birthday party, I realized that my days in the law school cocoon are over, and I can emerge as the diva socialite I was born to be.

Or, more accurately, I realized there would be miniature cupcakes.

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And I do not ever turn down a miniature cupcake. Ever.

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Tracy and her husband Dan (below) live really close to the first apartment where Steven and I lived when we first moved to this area. Driving up to the building, we started seeing all the old haunts -- Pizza Roma, the Starbucks right by school, our old apartment complex.

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It reminded us of just how much work it took to get here, but it also made us really proud of how far we've come. Steven loves to tell the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich story to everyone -- it goes something like this: He worked in Tysons Corner and in the mornings, I would pack him a little brown bag lunch with a PB&J, chips, and a soda. He'd go to work, eat half the sandwich and the chips, and save the rest.

While he was at work, I'd be in Torts class, Property class, etc. After class ended at about 4 PM, I'd head over to the Arlington Outback Steakhouse (the beginning of my prestigious law career, you see) to work a night shift. I'd tie on my apron and take my Torts book into the kitchen, set it on a shelf, open it to the assigned reading, and read a page or two everytime I walked in and out of the kitchen, filling up people's iced teas and memorizing the elements of negligence.

Steven would show up about halfway through my shift, with that brown bag from his lunch, containing the second half of the PB&J. And I'd scarf it down as fast as I could, and then I'd look at him with puppydog eyes and ask, "It has to get easier than this, right?"

Forever the optimist, Steven always reassured me that we'd make it.

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And sure enough, we did. Made it through law school and even a couple of bar exams, and now we get to go to birthday parties in high rise buildings. Sweet!

Tracy, I have to admit, your building is much cooler than our little walk-up was. We are secretly in awe of the elevator. So luxurious! (Also, the mirrored doors are helpful for making sure I didn't have lipstick on my teeth before I showed up on your doorstep. Thoughtful of your landlord to install those.)

Oh, and here's the birthday girl herself! This was a big celebration -- we also recently found out that Tracy passed the DC Bar Exam. What a week!

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A few other friends from school arrived, and I got to show Mullaney and Amanda the wonders of the "blog camera." They are so totally impressed, can't you tell?

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We pestered Sean for investment advice, given that he "knows stuff" about "finances" and what not. His sage wisdom? "Buy low, sell high."

Actually I think he said something about Vanguard, but I forget. My money's safe in my mattress, Sean -- no worries.

Happy Birthday and Bar Exam Passage, Tracy!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

So five lawyers got together for dinner one night...

It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.

(And yes, Tracy, given that you had already passed the bar (yay!) at this point, even though we didn't know it yet, I am grouping you in with the lawyers. For better or worse, right?)

We met at Cafe Asia in Arlington, to see Meredith while she was briefly in town for the Penn State game.

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She is smiling because Penn State won, of course. Mere is a JAG (Judge Advocate General) in Florida now, so it was a treat to get to see her back in the old GMU Law stomping grounds.

It was also fun to look around the table and see that each of us is doing such interesting and varied things with our respective JDs. Like I said, Meredith is a JAG, while Tracy (next to Mere) is a Presidential Management Fellow negotiating government contracts. Brett (below right) is a contract attorney for a firm in DC (which basically means she works from like 6 in the morning to 10 pm every day), and Erika (next to Brett) works for a firm in Fairfax that represents banks in processing residential foreclosures. (Needless to say, she's completely swamped right now.)

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And me? Well, I mostly just eat sushi and take pictures of my fabulous lawyer friends, of course. Don't we just look fierce and intimidating?

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That's because we are. (Insert evil laugh.)

We should totally be a sitcom, you guys. Seriously.

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Carrie Bradshaw's got nothin on us.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Baked Ravioli (and Proving that I Really Do Cook This Stuff)

I haven't cooked as much this week. Not because I don't want to, but mostly because it takes so much forethought, and I haven't really had much forethought lately.

But last week, man, was I a cooking fiend!

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Okay, not really. But I did make ravioli and Steven proclaimed it good.

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This is my humble "gourmet" kitchen. And by gourmet I mean that everything is within reach. (The bedroom, the laundry, the balcony, the shower... I can reach it all from the kitchen. Amazing.)

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The best part of the ravioli, according to Steven: "That cheese. Oh man, that cheese."

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For the record, it is a blend of italian and parmesan. Heavy on the parmesan.

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And Oh. My. Word. It was delicious. I had seconds.

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And I am proud to announce that this was the very first dish wherein we kept it in the fridge and ate the rest of it as leftovers the next night for dinner. Shocking, I know. Unheard of in these here parts.

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Carlie was awed. (I think.)

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This is what she looks like when she's pondering the outcome of a globalized economic meltdown. This is also what she looks like when she has to pee, coincidentally.

Baked Ravioli (adapted from you-know-where)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
coarse salt and ground pepper
1.5 teaspoons dried thyme or oregano
1 small can (14 oz) whole tomatoes
1 large can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
1.5 lbs ravioli (from the refrigerated section)
1.5 c shredded italian blend cheese
1 c shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic to saucepan. Season with salt and pepper. Stir until garlic is golden and onions are soft. Add thyme and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, breaking up tomatoes with a spoon. When sauce has thickened and reduced to about 5.5 cups, remove from heat (20-25 minutes).

Meanwhile, boil ravioli in salted water just until they float to the top (the pasta will continue to cook in the oven). Drain and return to pot. Toss sauce with pasta and pour into large ceramic baking dish. Sprinkle cheeses (lots and lots if your husband's name is Steven-The-Cheese-A-Holic). Bake until golden, 20-25 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Democrats Fall In Love, Republicans Fall In Line

And oh, what a line it was.

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It was at least two miles long. Want to see what 10,000 Republicans in a line looks like?

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For as long as it was, the line went surprisingly fast. We got there at about 1 PM (when the doors opened) and we were through security by 2:30 PM.

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Getting closer...

And we just missed being interviewed. (Maybe I should have donned my kool-aid red mohawk for the occasion...)

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I did not, however, miss the free sticker people.

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We finally made it in, and this was our view. A bit obstructed by all the other Republican noggins.

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I told Steven that seeing the media deck made me wish I'd stayed in the TV news industry. They get the best seats to these things...

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(The Secret Service roof snipers also had good seats.)

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Steven spotted Carl Cameron from Fox News. (We saw him later on TV back at home. He looked a bit bedraggled by that point. I don't blame him -- he had a long day.)

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After about 20 minutes, we saw the Straight Talk Express drive up (escorted by our fine NoVa police), and I turned toward the stage to take a few test pictures.

And this is what I saw:

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A brief public service announcement to parents of young children attending political rallies. Your little Suzie does not care about John McCain. She is six years old. She cannot vote. Ergo, she DOES NOT NEED TO BE ON YOUR FREAKING SHOULDERS during the political rally. Put her down and save us all the grief of staring at her cute little backside instead of seeing the POTENTIAL FUTURE PRESIDENT who we actually came here to see.

Thank you.

Suzie or no Suzie, I did manage to eke out a few pictures of Ol' Johnny.

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Can you see him?

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Steven got some better ones. (In my defense, he took the camera just as Suzie got tired of the tremendous heights...)

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We shouted "USA! USA!" and "Drill Baby Drill!" (I was waiting for that one!) and a few lesser known favorites like "Liberal Press! Liberal Press!" and "No-bama! No-bama!" (Which I thought sounded too much like we were just chanting for Obama.)

I really enjoyed the speech, especially the ending part where McCain starts each sentence with the word "Fight":

"We've got to fight for what's right for our country! Fight for the ideals and character of a free people! Fight for our children's future! We never hide from history; we make history!"

After the speech, McCain made the rounds for handshakes and autographs. We were nowhere near close enough to get a signature, but we made our way as close as we could.

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Pretty cool, eh?

After John left again on the Straight Talk Express, we found the CNN Express.

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We also found This Guy:

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Recognize him? He's the one who always gives the State-by-State breakdown during the election night coverage. (His cameraman was glaring at me when I took the picture, so I didn't go up and try to talk to him or anything.)

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He totally should have interviewed me though. I had a sticker, yo. I was passionate.

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On our way back to the car, Steven found the biggest possible sign to stand next to.

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We proudly accepted our free yard signs. Even though we have no yard.

And as we sat in the traffic line to leave, I realized I'd forgotten to do one last thing.

I forgot to buy a Sarah t-shirt.

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(We have since rectified this situation, and I am awaiting my t-shirt in the mail.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Looking on the Bright Side

House hunting is not very much like baking.

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For example: In baking, there are many tiny happy parts that all blend together to create the final product. And although the final product takes time and hard work to achieve, the little happy parts keep you going through the process.

Like the part where the brown sugar stays in the shape of the measuring cup. For some inane reason, that just makes me ridiculously happy. (So cylindrical!)

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The difference with house hunting is that there's no little happy parts through the process. Its just slogging through house after house -- and getting your hopes up every single time that this next house will have everything we want. And then when it doesn't? Well, its kinda like the brown sugar falling apart. Not quite as happy-making.

No, shopping for a house is not very much like baking at all. There's no jovial white-haired man smiling at me from the oatmeal box. (There was, however, a random teenager asleep in one of the houses we visited that we thought was vacant at the time of the showing. Not nearly as fun as Mr. Quaker Oats.)

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There are not rows and rows of shiny clean apples, all lined up in rows. Instead, there are broken light fixtures and windows, there are impossibly small backyards, and there are bizarre oriental-themed decors with ugly countertops and No. Gas. Stove.

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Spend your time and effort cutting and peeling apples, and you've got a bowl full of fruit ready to bake. Spend your time and effort house hunting, and you've got a renewed sense of just how far a dollar is unable to go and just how expensive this area really is.

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Needless to say, I'm irritable about the whole thing. I just want to put on the brakes, sit on our savings and watch it grow. I don't want to throw it all into a downpayment, and I don't want to buy a house unless I feel like its "the One." And we haven't exactly seen a whole lot of anointed-looking houses lately. (Foreclosures and short sales have this way of sucking the life out of your soul.)

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So we wait. And I bake things in our apartment kitchen and I look out over our 600-some-odd-square-foot apartment, and I think -- how long can we stay here?

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And the answer I'm coming to, unfortunately, is indefinitely.

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A warm apple crisp made the realization a bit easier to handle. But not much.

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This is the part where Steven will tell you that I am being melodramatic (as always) and that the house hunt is going great and we've considered offers on several different places, but none of them was exactly right for us. Being that we're first-time home buyers, we have the distinct advantage of time on our side, which means that we can wait and wait for the market to drop to its lowest possible point. And it also means that we can wait for interest rates to improve. (I called today. They were horrifically high. I nearly had a heart attack writing down the number they told me.) (I know. More melodrama. I can't help it. Exaggerating makes me feel better about the real-life scenario -- the one that's not quite as bad as I'm making it out to be.)

So we wait. And I bake stuff. It has to get easier than this, doesn't it?

Sunny Apple Crisp
Ingredients:
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
4 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Vanilla ice cream or heavy cream, for serving (optional)

Preparation:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish.

2. For topping, combine the butter, sugar, flour, oats and cinnamon in a bowl. Work together with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Toss in nuts; set aside.

3. Toss the apples with lemon juice and spoon into the baking dish. Sprinkle topping evenly over the apples. Bake in center of the oven for 1 hour or until bubbly and the apples are tender. Let cool slightly. Serve warm, topped with ice cream or cream, if desired.