Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tranquil Tuesday-Stone Hill sunsets

Stone Hill is budding beautifully this early part of spring.

The figs are just barely peeking their tired little heads out of hibernation.

Our tree doctor has yet to come and remove this broken limb on our maple tree. Daylight savings has given me the opportunity to take a turn in the garden after work to inspect the yard. I love sitting on the stone wall and watch the sun go down.

The beds are anxiously awaiting mulch.

Our Stone Hill Walk neighbors had some of the large decaying trees removed and pruned the remaining survivors. The light is so different on our little dirt road now.

We are so lucky to live on a western hill and see the sunset each night.

Have a restful, light filled Tuesday everyone.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dupont Circle

One of my favorite blocks in Washington, DC is the cross section of 21st Street to R. Street in Dupont Circle. I spent a semester in college at American University for the Museum Studies in the Arts program the fall of 1992. Some called it the Washington siesta. Maybe for the Political Science or Journalists students...but the art program was intense. Dr. Kendall Taylor was fantastic and I've never worked harder or learned more in six months. She wanted to prove to the rest of the school that art was serious. We spent Monday through Wednesday visiting with curators, conservators, preservationists and exhibit designers at nearly every museum and historic home in DC. We had to interview for an internship that occupied the rest of the week. It was competitive and I won the coveted Membership and Development internship at The Phillips Collection, located in this pocket of elegance in the heart of Embassy Row. 

It was the first Modern Art Museum in the United States. The original home was opened to the public in 1921 to showcase the Phillips' family's incredible collection and most impressive Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir. The Phillips family opened a few rooms to the public and even allowed the family cats to roam the galleries. They are celebrating their 90th year this year.

I would spend my lunch breaks listening to the docents talk about this painting, visit the Van Gogh's and meditate in the Rothko room. As part of the internship I had to interview the entire staff as my final project. I'll never forget interviewing Charlie Moffett, the director. I was a clueless twenty year old. He suggested I ask one question at a time! Ha! I was so nervous and he was so kind and taught me so much in that moment. Just slow down, listen and one answer will lead to more questions. It was incredible and I'll never forget my experiences at The Phillips. So many of the staff are still there from when I was an intern in 1992. I ran into chief conservator Elizabeth Steele last week on R. Street when I was in town.

I loved my Washington semester so much that I moved there two weeks after college graduation in 1994. A few years later I landed back in the Dupont Circle neighborhood as the Director of Special Events at Restaurant Nora. This past week was the first time I've been back to the restaurant since 2001. I enjoyed walking down memory lane literally from 21st to R. Street.

Nora's is on the corner of Florida and R. Streets on the edge of Dupont Circle. The building used to house a grocery store for Embassy Row. It is the first cerified organic restaurant in the United States. Nora is Austrian and has a simple aproach to cooking that she learned as a child. She helped establish and build up the Dupont Circle farmers market. I met her first in 1995 when I was planning events for a company called WashingtonInc and through my involvement in the Women Chef's and Restauranteurs organization.

The cherry blossoms were popping out beautifully in DC.

Nora's herb garden is such a treat outside the restaurant. They have done some recent landscaping and the pansies were a nice burst of color.

This spire was acquired from a church in Brooklyn, NY.

This cherry blossom will be incredible in another week.

Walking through the restaurant and seeing the signage brought back so many memories.

Nora's has a museum quality collection of quilts. This one is a children's crib quilt on the way up to the Gallery Room.

I stopped in downstairs and saw that Carlos was still behind the bar. I was sad to miss Jack. He was on vacation.

I lucked out and got to visit with Nora herself in the restaurant. I also got to see a few other pals, Camilla, Thomas and Steven who I worked with ten years ago. The pastry team was still the same and I even got to see my excutive chef Yuriko during my time. It was really wonderful. The space looked so fresh and new to me.

Cooking with Nora: Seasonal Menus from Restaurant Nora - Healthy, Light, Balanced, and Simple Food with Organic Ingredients
Click to purchase Nora's cookbook.

I had my favorite Caesar Salad. The hard boiled eggs are always cooked to perfection, the dressing is fishy and garlicky like a good Caesar should be.

I also had the most incredible Halibut nestled on a bed of Kale with a black bean ragut.

I've had to put refined sugar on a serious break lately. This fruit plate was so delicious. There were grapefruit, apples, pears and bananas. 

The executive chef Todd Woods let me visit the kitchen in the middle of service. The day I was in town Nora was on NPR. Click here to read and listen to Nora and Todd talk about winter greens.

I got a quick peak at the National Cherry Blossoms on my way home. This is one of the biggest parts I miss about living in Baltimore now. I was thrilled to cut through the city to catch a glimpse of these magestic trees. They were given as a gift from Japan. Oh poor Japan. You just can't catch a break. Please donate here if you haven't already.

I shot this one out of the sunroof!

Thankfully a red light let me capture a closer look. 

I bought my condo in Dupont Circle when I was working at Restaurant Nora. I bought it so I could walk to work. It was like coming full circle from my college days back to Dupont. I loved working there and walking the beautiful streets. The city, it's art and it's blossoms still pull at my heartstrings. 

Thank you Ripon College for offering the Washington Sememster at American University. Thank you Phillips Collection for those amazing five months of learning. Thank you Nora, Steven, Thomas, Camilla and all the staff at Nora's and Asia Nora. I learned so much from you all and your passion for organic and sustainable living. And thank you DC for being just a few 33 miles down the road. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Charm City

Baltimore is called Charm City. I couldn't be happier to live in this town due to the fact that the people are SO nice, but also that I'm a geek for my charm bracelet. My grandmother gave me this bracelet for Christmas about 12 years ago. It was her sisters. She lost the one she was going to give me for Christmas one year. She was devastated when she went to look for my wrapped present in New York and couldn't find it. She's convinced she dropped it on the corner of 11th Street at 2nd Avenue at my aunt and uncles place. Has anyone seen it in NYC?

I have been adding charms after significant trips. Momma finally gave me one of her two old charm bracelets. I added her charms to mine. I'm still begging her for the one she hasn't worn since she was married to my father like a thousand years ago. But her generosity of the first one left me with some of my most favorite charms. Her little debut book is so sweet.

It opens and has the date of her debut on the back.

My great aunt Dunkie's charms included items from her travels. My godmother Harriet traveled around the world and she would bring charms back to Dunk. This boot represents the Swiss Alps.

I wore this cross every day in high school. I'm almost positive my grandmother Mary Frances gave it to me. The turtle is from my trip to Haiwaii in 2004 and the arms and legs move. This is Mom's tennis racket. I played tennis in high school and college so it fits for me too. Mom said she had a little pearl as the ball when she was in college on the charm. The Eiffel Tower was from Dunkie.

The phone has to be one of my favorites. The ruby dial moves. I remember when phones looked like this. Such an antique. The next one is another from my Hawaii trip and is a fabulous lei with hibiscus flowers that move. Next is a shoe from Siam, now Thailand. Eric lived in Thailand so I love this little slipper. Momma's 17 birthday medallion is so sweet and was a gift from her parents. The next is a shoe from Hong Kong from Harriet or Dunkie, not sure. The bunch of bananas was from Mom. She was a camp counselor in Hawaii. We both clearly love that state.

My all time favorite is my bicycle from our honeymoon. We went to The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island where cars are not allowed. Transportation is only by horse and buggy or bikes. We found the charm on the main drag and I was so excited to find it. The hoola girl is another from Oahu. Next is a wooden shoe from Holland.

Mom knows I love the beach and found the starfish at a garage sale for something like $5. It's 14 karat gold and reminds me of Destin! Next is Mom's ten second hour glass with rose quartz.

Finally is the changing of the guard from Dunk and my St. Cuthbert cross from my first holy pilgrimage. The beefeater moves on a spring in and out of his hut. There is still room and I'm in need of an Irish icon. I think a round tower would be perfect. I also need a fan for DC that represents where Eric and I met, at Mandarin Oriental. And it would be fun to have a gold Pride of Baltimore charm. It would be amazing to have a "Nelle's Castle" from Kalamazoo too. It's sad but jewelers don't make gold charms anymore. That's why it is so fun to hunt them in a new city while travelling. 

Do you have a charm bracelet with a story? If so please send me a photo or link to the comments. I've found this bracelet is the best conversation starter at dinner parties. Men and women are fascinated with it. I have to take it off during conference calls because it can be so distracting but I wear it all the time. My office mates can hear me coming from down the hall, jingling all the way. 

Momma, Francie and Harriet thank you so much for the incredible gifts and stories of your travels. Mom, next year is a big birthday. Maybe you would consider giving me your bracelet. I'm dying to have Daddy's PKA pin! Love you so.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Midnight Pasta

I recently picked up Ina's new cookbook. I'm such an addict for her beautiful photography and foolproof recipes. I have every one of her delightful books. I love to read cookbooks before I go to bed. I take my sticky notes and flag the recipes I like and write a grocery list to plan. There are so many recipes that look fantastic in this book. 

The spaghetti aglio e olio was SO easy and didn't require a stop at the store. We had all the ingredients in the house. I like how she has a little story before every recipe. This is a dish that is nicknamed Midnight Pasta due to chef's making it late at night after their shifts. 

Kosher salt
1 lb dried spaghetti (I love to use organic whole wheat)
1/3 cup good olive oil
8 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (I will reduce this by half next time.)
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add 2 tablespoons of salt and the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package.  Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water before you drain the pasta.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a pot large enough to hold the pasta, such as a 12-inch saute pan or a large, shallow pot.  Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until it just begins to turn golden on the edges – don’t overcook it!  Add the red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds more.  Carefully add the reserved pasta-cooking water to the garlic and oil and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by about a third. (This took longer than 5 minutes for me.)
Add the drained pasta to the garlic sauce and toss.  Off the heat, add the parsley and Parmesan cheese and toss well.  Allow the pasta to rest off the heat for 5 minutes for the sauce to be absorbed.  Taste for seasoning and serve warm with extra Parmesan on the side.

Garlic 101: Smash your garlic with the back of your knife.

Make sure it pops.

This makes is so much easier to remove the paper skins.

I like big slices of garlic. Heat in the olive oil. Do not burn. I should have cooked the garlic a tiny bit longer.

Add the pepper flakes. I may use half of the suggested recipe next time. It was really spicy and I'm a wuss.

Add the pasta water and cook for five-ten minutes. Seems counter intuitive to add water to make a sauce thicker. The starches in the water reduce and somehow makes it a nice creamy sauce when you add the cheese.

Use fresh parsley.

Get your brew on.

Add the pasta and Parmesan cheese after the sauce reduces by half. Toss.

Add the parsley and serve.

 How Easy is That? Seriously easy Ina. 

It's not like I needed another cookbook.

But I'm such a huge fan and honestly I've found 10 recipes that will grace our table soon. Barefoot Contessa, you've done it again. Cheers!

Thank you Ina, for another beautiful feast for the eyes and palate. The Midnight Pasta is so simple but such a quick and easy treat on a school night. I've also made the turkey breast. It was perfect. After another busy work week this was the perfect fix. Now to find spelt pasta for next time.