Saturday, January 28, 2017

Recipe Success

I've been killing it on the recipe front lately. Maybe I'm making good choices with my recipe curation or just lucky, but either way, I'm on a roll. And what kind of person would I be if I didn't let that good fortune trickle down to you? So here are my top picks from January--the key here is to follow the recipes as closely as you can, especially when it comes to cooling and chilling times!

Martha Stewart's Chocolate-Flecked Layer Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting

Oh my goodness, this cake is delicious. The cake itself is very rich, moist, and dense so this one is not for anyone looking for something light. The frosting is a real keeper--though next time I'll reduce the amount of sour cream and replace it with whipped cream. The frosting was a bit too tangy for my personal tastes. I tried this recipe out because I was looking for a good birthday cake. I ended up going another direction for that, but this is a fucking fantastic cake recipe! Tip: cutting the two layers into four is easier than it seems. Choose a long knife, take your time, and slowly rotate the cake as you cut through the layers!

The Great American Baking Show Turkey and Spices Hand Pies with Cheddar Cheese Crust

My boyfriend and I really got into the Great British Baking Show and its sister show across the pond, the Great American Baking Show. Basically, we love Mary Berry, the adorable British lady judge on both shows.

The American version of the show did an episode centered around hand-held pies (think of them as homemade and infinitely superior Hot Pockets). Two of the recipes were standouts to me--but I liked the crust of one and the filling of the other! So I decided to mix and match! Enjoy and if you decide to give these a try, make sure you keep all the ingredients and short crust dough as cold as possible throughout the process. You can also make the turkey filling in advance as it will warm up in the pies when you bake them in the oven! Genius.

Amanda's Turkey and Spices Filling

Stephanie's Cheddar Cheese Short Crust

Tip: to get them to brown beautifully, use the egg wash in the recipe. Also sealing them with milk around the edges keeps them from leaking out their filling while baking!

Cook's Country Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

You guys, I might have saved the best for last with this one. I'm always trying out new chocolate chip cookies recipes because I always want to find the BEST possible one. This might be it. Its' not often you find cookies that bake up just like you do in the recipe book pictures, but came out damn near perfect! The recipe is pretty fool-proof and you don't need a mixer since they use melted butter. I mixed them by hand and they looked amazing.

Here's the recipe (reproduced from the Food For a Year blog)


2 1/8 cups bleached all-purpose flour (10 2/3 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted and cooled slightly
1 cup brown sugar (light or dark), 7 ounces
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 - 2 cups chocolate chips or chunks (semi or bittersweet) -- I used See's semi-sweet chocolate chips


1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions. Mix flour, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

2. Either by hand or with electric mixer, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Mix in egg, yolk, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients; mix until just combined. Stir in chips.

3. Form 1-2 tablespoons of dough into ball and place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.

4. Bake, reversing cookie sheets’ positions halfway through baking, until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 18 minutes (start checking at 13 minutes). (Frozen dough requires an extra 1 to 2 minutes baking time.) Cool cookies on cookie sheets. Serve or store in airtight container.

Happy Baking!

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Bon Voyage!

"Well, Lizzy, on pleasure bent again. Never thought of what your poor parents will suffer in your absence."
                                                                                                           --Mr. Bennet

I know you all thought I had abandoned you forever, but here we are! Almost a year after my last update (when things were starting to look up after the disaster of 2014), I'm back and ready to lavish attention on my blog and you, my dear readers.

So what prompted this return to form? A big trip, of course! If you've read my blog over the years, then you know that I generally use it as a travel journal of sorts, chronicling my adventures all over the world. In just a few short days I'll be departing for a jam-packed tour of Asia with stops in Japan, China, and Taiwan! Many people have asked me about my itinerary and all the places we're visiting so I thought a blog post was in order.

But first, let me tell you the story of how this trip came about. Three years ago, in April 2013, Chris, Kent, and Monique and I went on a cruise to Hawaii (you can find the posts about that trip here, here, here, and here).  Most cruise companies will offer substantial benefits and/or discounts if you book a future cruise while on a current cruise. We took a look at the offerings and since none of us had ever been to Asia....we decided to go for it! Fall of 2016 seemed nice and far in the future so we booked a cruise and never looked back.

(My friends and I have a habit of booking vacations waaaaaay in the future and then when they actually arrive, we're like, "OMG this snuck up on me, I'm not ready!")

And here we are! We've had a couple changes along the way--we ended up switching itineraries somewhere back in 2015 and Kent decided to stay home to cuddle with his adorable pup, so Bayard, my boyfriend, was able to sneak right in to the group. He's a lover of all things Japanese and speaks the language so everyone is happy to have him along.

Here's the plan:

On Thursday, October 13th, Bay and I will fly to Tokyo (switching plans in Toronto) arriving on Friday, October 14th around 4PM. We'll spend the next few days sampling the pleasures of Tokyo until the afternoon of Sunday, October 16th when we board the Celebrity Millennium for a 14 night cruise that will take us to three countries!

Check it out:

My Itinerary

Day   1Sun, Oct 16Tokyo (Yokohama), Japan7:00PMShow now
Day   2Mon, Oct 17Mt Fuji (Shimizu), Japan7:00AM3:00PMShow now
Day   3Tue, Oct 18Kobe, Japan11:00AMShow now
Day   4Wed, Oct 19Kobe, Japan10:00PMShow now
Day   5Thu, Oct 20At Sea
Day   6Fri, Oct 21Nagasaki, Japan10:00AM8:00PMShow now
Day   7Sat, Oct 22At Sea
Day   8Sun, Oct 23Shanghai (Baoshan), China6:00AM10:00PMShow now
Day   9Mon, Oct 24At Sea
Day   10Tue, Oct 25Okinawa, Japan7:00AM3:00PMShow now
Day   11Wed, Oct 26Taipei (Keelung), Taiwan1:00PMShow now
Day   12Thu, Oct 27Taipei (Keelung), Taiwan6:00PMShow now
Day   13Fri, Oct 28At Sea
Day   14Sat, Oct 29Hong Kong, China7:00AMShow now
Day   15Sun, Oct 30Hong Kong, ChinaShow now
We'll get off the ship on Sunday, October 30th in the morning and then spend the next few days in Hong Kong. We'll even be there over Halloween so I am excited to see if there are any interesting celebrations in the city (Hong Kong is obviously the most Western of all Chinese cities).  We'll then fly home the afternoon of Monday, November 1st and arrive home at Washington late that evening.

Whew! Good thing we have some days at sea worked into the cruise itinerary so we can have some time to actually relax!

The prep work for this trip has been a lot more intense than the international travel I've had in the past. Because of the way our itinerary is structured, we need a visa to get into China on the Shanghai leg of the tour and that required multiple trips to the Chinese Embassy visa office. And giving them my passport for four days. That part was a little sketchy, not gonna lie.

But the hard work is over and now it's time to just pack, double check the "to do" list, and try not to think of 1,000 things that could go wrong. Eeeeeek!

I'm hoping this will be more Lost in Translation than Brokedown Palace....

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off, and Start All Over Again

Ah, Christmas. That magical time of year--when the light twinkles and dances off the ornaments on your tree and you can bask in the utter shininess of the holiday. 

I mean, just look at that tree! Mom, Bay and I scored it the day after Thanksgiving fresh from Washington State (at one of the local Church's tree lots). I put on the lights and Mom and Bay hung all the ornaments, perfectly placing each one. For three days and three nights, I marveled at the tree and it reminded me of all my blessings this year--especially when I consider what was happening last year at this time. I didn't put a tree up last year so this one was particularly important to me. 

And then at 1AM on Sunday night (technically Monday morning), I awoke to a clatter. I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. And what to my wondering eyes should appear.....

But the Christmas tree lying broken upon the ground. 

Now, let me first say, that this is a very embarrassing thing to admit and share with you. I have been putting up trees ever since I was a teenager and never, in all that time, NEVER, has a tree fallen over. Bay blames the stand, but the stand I have is actually the most stable kind you can buy. You screw a cap onto the tree trunk and that in turn snaps into a base that allows you to adjust the tree to fix any issues with a crooked trunk. Basically, you can make sure that your tree is straight. However this year, I wasn't paying as close attention as I should to the fellow cutting the branches off the trunk, and I think there were some branches too low on the trunk that prevented the tree from sitting all the way down in the stand. Also, when I was watering it on Sunday afternoon I heard a click when I was maneuvering the water can under the tree. I think I might have actually unlocked the tree from the base. 

What I am trying to say is it was my fault. But not totally my fault. Maybe.

But when I heard the crash Sunday night and work up, I knew immediately what it was. Trust me, the sound of an 8 foot tree falling over and ornaments shattering is quite distinctive. 

The 6 Stages of a Fallen Christmas Tree

1. Shock

2. Disbelief

3. Panic

4. Anger

5. Mourning

6. Acceptance

The worst part of the whole affair was that the tree was too heavy for me to lift alone. Trust me, I tried. And managed to pull a back muscle in the process. So I spent all of Monday working from home and staring at my poor fallen tree and feeling sorry for it (and myself). Thank goodness for my friend Kent, who came over in the afternoon, helped me pick up the tree, saw off the offending low branches, and snap the thing back into place. I rehung the ornaments over a several day period, mostly because I wanted to make sure it was going to stay upright this time. 

And I think it all ended up alright in the end. Here's the restored tree in all its glory with the full Hanukkah menorah in front of it for good measure and holiday inclusiveness. The tree has stayed straight and true through all the weeks in December and has proudly stood over the wrapped holiday gifts. Perhaps it's a bit of a cliche, but I think I love the tree more for the trouble I had with it. It's more special as a result of the work it required. As I write this post I can turn my head and see it standing there--an 8 foot tall symbol of how lucky I am to have such wonderful friends and family.

And of course Bay and I found time to visit another Christmas tree this year....

I hope all of you have a holiday filled with lights and love--and if this is a hard time of year for you, then I hope that you find some peace in the season. Christmas reminds of all the blessings we have, but it can also be a reminder of all that we have lost. Just know that no matter what, you have people that love you. And THAT is what Christmas is all about. The tree is just the icing on the figgy pudding. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Face

It started out as a little thing. While looking in the mirror about six months ago, I noticed a shiny little bump in the middle of my forehead. "Oh, great," I thought. "I am 34 years old and still breaking out."

After dealing with more than 20 years of pimples, I knew not to try to pop the sucker. It would make it bigger, redder, and last a hell of a lot longer. And since it didn't have an active white head (which I think is pretty much the grossest thing ever), I decided to just let it alone. It would heal on its own and I had a really good foundation to camouflage it.

But it didn't go away. It just stayed there. Covering it up became part of my regular makeup routine. And on the days I didn't wear makeup I just didn't worry about it.

After a while though, the bump began to worry me. I stated making mental notes to call my dermatologist--and of course I immediately forgot these mental notes. I eventually got my act together and called and made an appointment, especially since I had another mole I also wanted to get checked out. About six months after first noticing it, I was finally getting my mystery nodule checked out.

My dermatologist entered the room, glanced at my forehead, and said, "oh, yeah, that's a basel cell. I'm about 99% sure. It's not a big deal, it's not life-threatening, but you will need to have some surgery." She gave me the basics of the procedure, gave me a brochure, and a referral to a skin cancer surgery center.

I was familiar with basel cell carcinoma through my job reviewing medical disability claims for the VA. It's the most common form of cancer and is very rarely life-threatening. The tumors, which usually present as a new mole or shiny bump, don't metastasize, but the cancer will continue to grow and the tumor will get bigger if it is not removed. So my bump needed to come off. I started calling it my unicorn horn.

I read about BCC and the procedure (called Mohs micrographic surgery) and pretty much figured it would be no big deal. There might be some stitches, but if the amount of skin that needed to be removed was small enough I might not even need that. I was nervous, and a bit concerned about the pain, but I figured I could handle it. To put it another way, I was optimistic.

Boy, was I unprepared. Mentally, I mean. The way the surgery works is you go back in the room and after a topical anesthetic, the doctor removes the bump. It then goes to an on site lab and they try to find a good margin of distance between the cancer cells and the healthy cells. Best case scenario: they get the desired margin on the first try and then you might not even require stitches.

This is not what happened in my case.

I had to get cut twice before the doctor was happy with the results. Apparently I had "roots of the cancer spreading into my hairline." Great. Not only was the cutting part awful, but then I had to get stitched up. I had to get extra doses of anesthetic (probably because I am a ginger) and was awake for every cut, tug, pull, and stitch that went into my forehead. I'll spare you the gory details (too late?) but it was kind of traumatic and way worse than I expected. I left the doctor's office with a huge bandage on my forehead and a forced smile on my face.

Recovery was hard too. There was a lot more pain that I expected and I had to leave the large bandage on for 24 hours, at which point it could come off leaving a water proof under-bandage which was still pretty big. That would remain on for a week and the doctor would remove it at my week follow-up appointment. That one went off without a hitch, and I had some small butterfly bandages for the next few days. After that I was bandage free, but would have to deal with my scar.

I've never considered myself a vain person. Of course I care about the way I look--and of course I have major body issues (I spent the first 30 years of my life as a fat girl, so yeah). But for the most part I think I have a fairly realistic idea of how I look and don't spend too much time worried about whether I am pretty or whether the face I present to the world is attractive enough.

But having someone cut into my face and having to look at a 2 inch scar on my forehead for the rest of my life has hit me really hard.

There was almost a sort of mourning period for my former face. It wasn't flawless and I actually had some tiny scars from childhood incidents, but I've never had anything like this before. It's large, obvious, and raised above the skin level. Think of the cliche Frankenstein-type scar, and you're not too far off. Though my stitches (which will dissolve) are thankfully flesh colored and not black.

Because the forehead has to support the weight of the face, the doctor had to raise the scar; otherwise, it would pull open as the skin dropped down. The surgeon said that it would look like "taffy." Gross. He also had to put a sizable dent into my forehead. This is actually some stitches under the skin holding up the muscles of the forehead until they are used to supporting the extra weight of the scar tissue. So not only do I have a raised scar, I also have a dent. Swell.

I want to take a break from my whining and give a shout-out to my surgeon. The folks over at the Skin Cancer Surgery Center (offices in Fairfax and Bethesda) were fantastic. Very professional, kind, and skilled. Aside from the long waiting time, I have no complaints.

The good news is in about a year this will all all fade and I will have a "barely visible" line in my forehead that should essentially disappear into a normal crease. The bad news is, it's going to take a year to get to that point.

So here I am, trying to adjust to my new face. It's a shock and kind of sad to look into the mirror now. I'm a bit ashamed to admit that to the world--remember when I said I had never considered myself a vain person?I think I might have to readjust how I think about that too. I know objectively that soon the scar will fade and most people will never know it is there. I also know objectively that the surgery needed to be done; better to have a manageable amount of pain now and nip this problem in the bud. But I also know that subjectively I am still mourning my former face.

Remember to wear your sunscreen, ok? Because you really don't want to go through this. But I am still very grateful that it wasn't worse and I will have a full recovery. I am luckier than most.

And now, the pictures! If you don't like seeing pictures of scars (or my face, I guess) feel free to skip this part. Nothing is very gross, but hey, just giving the warning.

Big post-surgery bandage and sad face. 

Water-proof bandage (I had this one for a week).

Removal of all bandages in the doctor's office. Check out the dent!

Two weeks post-surgery. Still pretty red. The scar is shiny since I use Vaseline to avoid scabbing. Oh, and the headphones in all these pics are because I took them while working. 

My awesome friend Sarah sent me some fun bandages--these ones are called Oopsie Dasiy!

And here we are today: 3 weeks post-surgery. Still a raised scar and a dent, but the redness has gone done and the stitches have dissolved. So for the next 6 months or so, this is my face.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Welcome back to your life, Maggie


Remember me?

You know, Maggie. The owner of this blog. You can't have forgotten about me already.

Yes, I know it's been 8 months since I updated. But after all the years we spent together I would have thought you wouldn't forget me that easily.

Think of all the good times we had; all the trips we took, all the delicious food we ate (and cooked), all the adventures we had together. I know that if think really hard, you'll remember.

Yay, there we are! Annnnnnnnnd, we're back!

So you probably wondered what happened to me all those months ago. No, I didn't fall off the face of the earth, get kidnapped by Gypsies (Romani? Travelers? whatever), or forget that I had a blog. I was in what I like to call The Bad Place.

The Bad Place is where I spent every day wondering if I would need to take Mom to the hospital because she was so sick from her chemotherapy treatments. The Bad Place is when I had to basically move back home to care for her and make sure she was eating. The Bad Place is when I would spend every evening I was by myself crying and hugging my stuffed toy beagle because I was so sad all the time. And The Bad Place is where I broke out in hives because I had so much anxiety.

That's all I am going to say about that. Because this post isn't about some "Oh, woe is me, my life was so hard" type of discussion. This post is about how happy I am now, and how all the awfulness, and time, and stress, and pain was worth it. Because my Mom is a cancer survivor who has fought her way out of the darkness and is getting back to her life. And so am I.  Sure, she's minus a few lymph nodes, but hey, nobody's perfect.

Basically since New Years 2015, things have made a complete turn around. Every day Mom gets stronger; she's back to working in her office one day a week and can just about work full days at home. She walks almost every day (with a little not so gentle nudging from yours truly) and can eat almost anything she wants again. She will always have a dry throat and has to be careful about getting sick (no lymph nodes, remember?), but other than that she's well on the road to full recovery.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the incredible outpouring of help, love, and support from all of my friends, Mom's friends, and our family. When I say we couldn't have done it without you all, I mean it. We could not. have done it. without you. Full stop.

And as for me, well it seems like everything is going right. Of course that means I've got my eye on the sky waiting for the Acme safe to fall on me, but I am just enjoying it while it lasts. Work is going well (I just got asked to mentor a new attorney), family is all happy and healthy, and I've been dating someone wonderful since January.

In fact, I can't imagine ever being as happy as I am right now. So that's something, right? I am sure it won't last forever, but like Mom said--you gotta have the bad times so you learn to appreciate the good ones.

And I intend to appreciate the hell out of it.

And just to prove that things weren't all bad (and aren't bad now).....

 Me and Selvi at a wedding this past weekend.

Visiting my nephews in February 2015. This pretty much sums up the relationship I have with James.

 Another wedding with my fella.

 Trip to New York City in December to see the Rockettes!

Mom and Aunt Kim happy at Christmas!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Wait, I only get to pick 10??

You've probably noticed  a recent trend on Facebook these days of people posting lists of 10 books that have influenced their lives and then nominating certain friends to make their own lists. I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone tagged me, and it was my friend Sarah from my work book club who got me a couple days ago.

There's a couple rules associated with this. "Don't take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They do not have to be the "right" books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way."

Pish, rules are for losers. If I want to over think something (and I always want to over think things) I'm going to go ahead and do it. So why make a simple list in a status update when I can instead write lots and lots of words about one of my favorite topics? Books, that is. So in a loose chronological order, here are 10 books that have affected me and are pretty much responsible for the current course of my life.

1.  The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room by Stan and Jan Berenstain

2.  Kristy's Great Idea (The Babysitters Club #1) by Ann M. Martin

3.  From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L Konigsburg

4.  D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths by Ingri d'Aulaire and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire

5.  The Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Dragonlance Chronicles #1) by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman

6.  The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time #1) by Robert Jordan

7.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter #1) by J.K. Rowling

8.  Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

9.  World War Z by Max Brooks

10.  Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

1.  The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room.: The first books I remember actively and independently reading were The Berenstain Bear books. I loved the pictures, the stories, the lessons, and how all the characters (including the parents) weren't perfect and often messed up. Sister Bear could be an insufferable know-it-all, Brother Bear acted like a jerk to his little sister, Papa Bear couldn't stay away from the treats...even the mom had some issues (and obviously questionable fashion sense). The Messy Room was always my favorite...mostly because I loved seeing how they organized everything at the end in different labeled containers. I guess it was the beginning of my OCD.

2.  Kristy's Great Idea: Oh, god, the Babysitters Club. It was my gateway drug to Scholastic books. Every month I would get myself to the bookstore for the latest book in the series and I even ordered a bunch from the forms in the back of the books. When that box from Scholastic arrived in the mail it was like Christmas Day. And after I outgrew the Babysitters Club...Sweet Valley High was right there waiting for me.

3.  From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: This book hit so many of my tween fantasy buttons. Kids run away from their boring suburban existence and live in a MUSEUM. And! Solve a mystery about a beautiful statute, basically saving the day. But saving the day because of their smarts. Guess how they were able to make money? By taking baths in the museum fountain and scooping up all the change people threw in the water. Of course, this was back when a cup of coffee was like 10 cents, but still. How cool is that??

4.  D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths: I went through a HUGE Greek myth phase around middle school. I wanted to read every Greek myth I could get my hands on and this book was my favorite. The stories were well told and the pictures were awesome. Nowadays we have Myths Retold, but circa 1992? This book was my jam. In fact, it's still sitting on my bookshelf (I actually own physical copies of all these books listed here, in the editions pictured).

5.  Dragons of Autumn Twilight: Talk about your gateway drugs...this was my first real fantasy book. We're talking dragons, wizards, elves, dwarves, all your basic Dungeons and Dragons style fantasy elements are in this book. And I loved it. I remember the guy who lent it to me in 8th grade literally saying, "this book will change your life" and me stroking the cover reverently in response. You would think it was the freaking holy grail or something. But you know what? He was right. It did change my life; I loved it and have been a solid fantasy nerd ever since. 

6.  The Eye of the World: And then we come to Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. The Eye of the World was gifted to me at Christmas by my stepmother, probably around 1994. By New Years I had devoured it and the next two in the series. I spent the next....oh, say 18 years reading this series. Jordan died before he finished, but Brandon Sanderson took up the reins and crafted a brilliant ending (basically achieving the impossible). Despite a loss of momentum in the later books as the characters and subplots moved further and farther away from one another, this fantasy series has been a HUGE part of life. The release of the last book was kind of a big deal for me.

7:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: I got on the Harry Potter train kind of late. I was already in college (I think the Christmas of my freshman year in 1998) when I read the first three books. I remember the son of my William and Mary Women's Chorus director (Jamie B. shout out!) went as Harry for Halloween that year, and while his costume was adorable...I had no idea what the hell he was supposed to be. A wizard? With glasses? And a weird scar who chased after a gold ball called the snitch? Um, ok. Sure. Sounds kind of lame.

Look, I'm not right all the time, ok? Of course once I read the books I was instantly hooked, am now a superfan, and have many fond Harry Potter-related memories. Like when I worked the release party of the 5th book at the college bookstore in law school. Or when I took off one day studying for the bar to binge-read the 6th book. And how a group of friends and I drove down to Richmond for the midnight release of Deathly Hallows....and I stayed up until 4 in the morning reading. Harry, man. What can you really say?

8.  Neverwhere: It was a rainy day in St. Andrews, Scotland. I was studying abroad the Spring semester of my junior year in 2001, and needed to kill some time. So I popped into the Waterstones bookshop on Market Street. I was browsing through the Fantasy/Sci-Fi shelves...and came across this book. I had never heard of Neil Gaiman before and didn't have any real experience with urban fantasy.

It is now my #1 favorite book of all time and Mr. Gaiman is my favorite author. The first time I met him, I took my original copy of Neverwhere (from that rainy Scottish day) and had him sign the inside cover. Sometimes life is really good, you guys.

9.  I didn't expect for World War Z to be amazing. I expected to be funny, a joke, something to read on the Metro while on the way to work. Instead it BLEW MY MIND. This book is brilliant. All the different stories, the different points of view, the way it moves around the world...amazing. As soon as people hear zombies they tend to tune out, but this book is the real deal. If you can't get past the zombie aspect, just think of it as any global viral pandemic. It will affect you.

As for the's a solid zombie flick. It doesn't have anything to do with the book, but it's an entertaining film.

10. Fangirl: Here we are at the most recent book on the list. I read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell last year (or, to be precise, I listened to the audiobook) and was immediately bewitched. The main character, who is herself obsessed with a fantasy book series, felt so real to me I just couldn't. stop. listening. I could sit here and go on and on with my glowing review of the book, but that's probably boring. So I'll just say that it is one of my favorite books of all time, I now read anything by Rainbow Rowell, and I can't remember the last time I related so immediately to a fictional person. Read it. Seriously. 

So there we are! 10 books that impacted my life in some way. I swear I didn't put too much thought into compiling the list--all I had to do was walk over to my bookshelves and let the memories pour over me. These books are like members of my family. I mean, it's probably pretty obvious how important they are to me, considering I can pretty much remember the exact circumstances I first found them. Or should I say, the exact circumstances where they first found me. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Match Made in Heaven

Ever heard of Farmers, Fishers, and Bakers? It's a restaurant on the Georgetown Waterfront known for fresh ingredients and that "farm to table" style that has become a major trend in the DC food scene the past few years.

I have unfortunately not been able to try it out yet, but I am on the email listserv for the restaurant group and got word a few months ago about a special "beer and food wine pairing dinner" they were offering. It sounded intriguing, but at around $75 a seemed a bit steep. But I sent the link to some friends of mine to see if they were interested in checking it out.

*enter Jon, Lis, and Scott, stage right*

I can't remember who came up with the suggestion, but after some discussion there was a general feeling of "hey, we can do better than that." So rather than blow a lot of money one a night out, we decided to make our own beer and food pairing and have a night in.

The menu planning was key. It turns out you can find a bunch of tools online to help you prepare a beer and food night. We decided to go with five courses and many MANY types of beers. If you're going to do something, do it right.

First course: Cheese and charcuterie platter.

We went with a variety of everything here. A quick trip to Cheesetique in Del Ray set us up well for the meats and Jon provided the cheese and crackers from another shop. Our cheeses ranged from soft to hard and from mild to flavorful: we had a Honey Goat (goat), a 3 cheddar blend, a Stilton blue cheese, and an unknown sheep's milk cheese. I forgot to write down the type of sheep's cheese when taking my notes. Deal with it. On the meat side, we went with mostly Italian meats (duh): a genoa salami, mortadella, garlic salami, and my personal favorite, prusciutto.

Jon was our beer master and carefully selected beers to go with each course, and in this case, each individual cheese. The goat was paired with a Belgian Saison, while the sheep's milk went nicely with Schlafly American Brown Ale. We needed something that could stand up to the flavorful blue cheese, and it was Stone Imperial Russian Stout (2014) to the rescue! Last (but not least) was a Stochasticity Project Grapefruit Slam IPA for the cheddar.

Honestly, the cheese, meat, and beer could have been a meal all on its own. But we still have four courses to go! As George Takei would say, "Oh, myyyyyyy."

Second course: Salad.

You might think salad is boring. You would be wrong. This one was fantastic--it was a mix of spinach and arugula with tomatoes, walnuts, and dried cranberries and topped off with a bright citrus poppyseed dressing. YUM! The beer pairing for this was also very good: a Bavarian-style German beer, a Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier.

Third Course: Spam fried rice.

Scott whipped this up for us and it was delicious. You might hear Spam and think "ew" and again, you would be wrong. Sure, it's a potted meat, but if utilized correctly, Spam can be fantastic. It's saltiness went really well in this rice dish which was itself excellently paired with an American Pilsner from Wild Wolf brewery right here in Virginia.

Fourth course: Baked (not fried!) chicken wings with kale.

Did you know that you can bake chicken wings? Did you know that they come out amazingly crispy and not greasy? WELL NOW YOU DO. And if you shake on some Old Bay seasoning like Scott did, it's like a flavor explosion. There was also buffalo sauce, but for my money, I'll take the Old Bay. Oh, and can you pass the Lickinghole Creek Four Pillars Imperial IPA, please? Thanks!

Fifth Course: Chocolate.

In a move that is a surprise to nobody, I selected a bunch of different types of chocolate for our dessert. If you're going to blow the calories, do it on something you love. Hence, chocolate. I visited a bunch of different shops in the area to seek out a selection of chocolates, some filled chocolates from Max Brenner in Bethesda, chocolate caramels from Chouquette Chocolates (also in Bethesda), a large Cadbury dairy milk bar, and a chocolate bar with maple bacon from Chuao chocolatier. You can find their bars in the fancy chocolate aisle of grocery stores and in cheese and wine shops.

On the beer side of things, Jon also brought us a selection to try with all the different chocolates. We had a couple of Belgian lambics: Lindemans Gueze Cuvee Rene and Hanssens Oude Geuze Lambic Ale. And my favorite beer of the night, Chocdale Ale from the Boulevard Brewing Company's Smokestack Series in Kansas City, Missouri.


We had made it through five courses, about 10 beers (though no promises on the math there) and were stuffed to the gills. There was nothing left to do but sit back and bask in the self-reflected glow of our own pleasure and victory.

....until next time. Though I'm not sure how we can top ourselves. Perhaps...ribs?

 Our beer and meat experts!

 The aftermath.

 And of course, Max the Beagle was on hand to catch any crumbs.