Thursday, September 23, 2010

And Back!

So, what have we been up to since my last post?

Being Touristy:

Shortly before my job started, The Pit and I took a little weekend trip to the Shenandoah Valley. Our bed and breakfast experience was only so so, but the natural wonders of the area made up for it. First of all, we saw a bear climbing a tree. I took some incredibly blurry pictures, which I won't even bother presenting here, since there is no way to actually determine from my photography what the brownish smudge in the middle of the greenish blur actually is. You'll just have to take my word for it, bear in tree = awesome.

We also toured the most amazing giant mile-long cave. I can't believe this place isn't more widely advertised as the the best landmark in Virgina, because it's definitely worth the drive and the price of admission. The pictures we took really don't do it justice, but Luray Caverns was absolutely spectacular.

Shortly after our underground adventure, Rob came out for a visit, and we drove up through Annapolis (eating at deli puzzlingly named a delly) and over to the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay. There we stopped in a little town called St. Michael's, where we took a boat tour of the bay, complete with oyster dredging and exciting archeological finds. We also saw some bald eagles, which was pretty neat. I guess I'm a bad American, as I didn't realize they even lived on the East Coast. After our trip on the good ship Krenz, the boys had an enormous table full of crabs for dinner. I wish I could show you the picture, but somebody (ahem Rob) has failed to upload his pictures to the web.

To make up for my poor knowledge of our national symbol, the next weekend The Pit and I made our way to Mt. Vernon, the home of our illustrious first president. And to call this a home would be a rather large understatement. Apparently Mr. Washington was filthy rich for his time, and owned a giant plantation and mansion on the shore of the Potomac river. Today some historical ladies society operates a small portion of the old fields, and the best part of the trip was taking a picture with huge donkey named Moose. Behold:

I believe this concludes our touristy summer travels. Next post, I will update you on our new lives as hip urban professionals. We've been out! To the city! I didn't even die!

Monday, August 9, 2010


A job a job a job I got a job! That's right, in a somewhat surprising turn of events, I've actually been employed since Thursday, when I was called in for something called an 'offer interview,' which turned into an offer, which turned into my first day.

Of course, this development meant that 'blogging' moved even further down my to-do list, behind things like 'buy food' and 'get more work clothes so people don't think you're a hobo.' But, you have now been officially updated. Also, I clearly will never write all the posts I promised you, so to tie up any loose threads:

1) I am an amazing wife because one Monday I came home from OL's and made The Pit Coq au Vin, despite the fact that it takes hours, and includes both bacon and mushrooms so I don't even eat the finished product. Also, I discovered in the initial stages of cooking that the trash needed to be taken out, and when I had accomplished this chore, I found about 6 inches of beer at the bottom of our now empty trashcan. How did this happen? Beats me, but I'm pretty sure I didn't do it. However, let me tell you that cleaning up that much of somebody else's beer from a difficult to reach location really doesn't put you in the mood to cook a crazy French dish that you won't even eat. Nevertheless, I persevered, and lo, my husband was pleased.

2) Money may not buy happiness, but it buys a certain amount of marital bliss. Due to various idiosyncrasies on both my and The Pit's parts and a grand total of 4 spoons in the household, we were forever grumbling at each other over silverware and the proper washing thereof. Then came the wedding and lots of lovely gifts, and now we have more silverware than we could possibly use in a week. Our supply of other kitchen staples (cutting boards, mixing bowls, etc) that previously caused friction has also increased, and a low-level but constant annoyance has been completely eliminated from my life.

Okay, now I've got to run or I'll be late for my very first Monday at my new job (!!!). I love you all and aim only to please, but if I were you, I wouldn't expect a ton of new material here for the next little bit.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cucumber and Zucchini Soup

When it was a thousand degrees here a few weeks ago, The Pit just about came unglued. He collapsed on our bed and sulked at the general ghastliness of weather that was not only over a 100°F, but also hovering near 70% humidity. Didn't I know he was made of manly northern stock, meant for snow and ice and howling wind? I tried vainly to cheer him up, offering the coldest foods I could think of for dinner. Unfortunately, we'd already eaten all of our watermelon, and he rejected ice cream as inappropriate for a main course. Finally, I suggested trying cucumber soup. He perked up, and I went off to the kitchen to prepare said soup while he took a restorative nap.

I started off with this recipe, but quickly discovered that we were missing some of the main ingredients. Erm, yes, I had in fact suggested cucumber soup without checking our actual cucumber supplies. It turned out that I had approximately one and half tiny Persian cukes in the vegetable drawer (half of one was all wilty and slimy). But cucumber soup had been promised, and so I had to improvise. I found green and yellow zucchini originally purchased to make some pasta, and decided that cooked and blended, there wouldn't be much difference between these and cucumbers. I had to make a few other substitutions (never heard of farina, had no red wine vinegar, don't keep margarine in the house, like dill better than tarragon), but the soup turned out absolutely delicious.

What you'll need for about 6 bowls:
  • 2 Persian cucumbers (or one regular cuke)
  • 1 green zucchini
  • 1 yellow zucchini
  • 2-3 stalks green onion
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4-5 cups of chicken broth (or vegetable broth for a vegetarian version)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • optional: 1 small red or yellow potato

1) Peel and roughly chop the zucchini . Roughly chop the cukes (peel if not using the thin-skinned Persian variety). Peel and dice the potato if using (I've now made this soup twice, once with potato and once without - as far as I could tell, it didn't make a whole lot of difference).

2) Dice the green onion. Sauté the onion in butter at the bottom of a large stockpot.

3) Add the zucchini and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the cucumbers and sauté for another minute.

4) Add the vinegar and broth. I think part of what made the soup so good was that I used some home-made broth left over from making chicken soup, including little bits of garlic, onion, and chicken floating at the bottom. If you're using store-bought, I would suggest seasoning it a bit (salt, pepper, garlic & onion powders, thyme, rosemary, and Vegeta if you have some).

5) Put a lid on the pot and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the zucchini (and potato if using) are soft.

6) Turn off the heat, add the dill to the pot, and use an immersion blender to puree the soup. If you're not lucky enough to have an amazing officiant at your wedding who also gave you an an immersion blender, transfer to a regular blender and puree.

7) Whisk in the sour cream. Although we originally intended to chill the soup, we ended up eating it kinda warmish, mostly because we didn't have the patience to wait for it to cool down all the way. As it turned out, this was a good decision, as The Pit had some leftovers cold the next day, and reported that the soup was better at about room temperature.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I know I know I know. I've been derelict at my post. There's been a bit of writer's block, plus Nikole came to visit and distracted me. So er, yes, blame Nikole.*

However, although I have not, in fact, been blogging, I've been thinking about blogging. Thus, there are several posts percolating around in my head, which you may or may not see actually written in the near future. Possible topics include:
  • the fact that money can indeed buy happiness.
  • reason #15 (to pick an arbitrarily large number**) that I'm an excellent wife.
  • a really delicious cucumber soup recipe.
*Do not actually blame Nikole.
**I'm pretty sure that was a shout out to Rob and/or Caren, but hell if I can remember whose joke that is. Remind me, should you happen to read this post.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Radishes with Herbed Butter

Growing up, my mom always had a Tupperware container with cleaned radishes sitting in the fridge. My father would breeze by, pop a few in his mouth like candy, and then move along to wherever he happened to be going. Unusual, perhaps, but The Pit is also a radish fan, and occasionally takes a little baggy-full with him to work as a snack. Apparently his co-workers mock him, but I bet they wouldn't if they got a taste of this preparation. I modified the original recipe slightly, and oh man, did this turn out delicious. I made a main course too, but The Pit and I basically shared a buttered and be-radished baguette for dinner last night.

What you’ll need:
  • 1-2 bunches of radishes (or about 8 oz cleaned up in the little bags), sliced
  • ¼ lb unsalted butter, softened
  • 1-2 stalks of green onion, diced
  • 2-3 teaspoons parsley, diced
  • 2-3 teaspoons dill, diced
  • 1-2 teaspoons lemon juice (a few squeezes from half a lemon)
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 French baguette (or Trader Joe's Par-Baked Ficelle)

1) Take the butter out of the fridge and leave it on a sunny windowsill to soften up.

2) Slice the radishes and dice the green onion, parsley, and dill. I went a little overboard with the parsley and green onion, and ended up using only about ½ of the amount shown below. On the other hand, I didn't have enough fresh dill, and supplemented with several shakes of the dried stuff.

3) Bake a par-baked Trader Joe’s baguette and slice. If you haven’t tried these yet, I highly recommend – you get two ficelles in a bag for $1.59, and they can sit in the fridge for weeks if need be. Then, when you have a craving for fresh hot bread, just pop one in the oven for 12-14 minutes. So good. If you use a regular baguette from the grocery store, I would slice and then toast the pieces slightly.

4) Mix together the butter, herbs, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. The original recipe recommended a hand mixer, but I had no problems with just a spoon.

5) Spread the herbed butter mixture over the baguette slices, and top with radish slices. Sprinkle with a little more kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

6) Stuff your face.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


So, no discernible progress on the job front, but people, I got up at 7 AM yesterday and went to the gym. Not only that, but I've in fact been to the gym every other day since I stated it as one of my goals a week ago. I mean, granted, that means I've now been to the gym five times total this calendar year, but I still feel that's an improvement over zero times.

In other goal-fulfilling news, long time readers might recall a pledge I made last year, to witness the full glory that is Rolling Thunder. The magical day was May 30th, and as it was supposed to hit 90 degrees, The Pit and I originally planned to take a short walk to an overpass and look at the motorcycles streaming by beneath us on the highway. We were almost out of the house before we realized that the overpass closest to our house is actually an underpass, and would therefore provide little in the way of viewing pleasure.

At that point, there was nothing to it but to hoof down to the Pentagon (2.5 miles away) and view the entire assembled throng in person. The walk there was hot but bearable, and you can see me holding up quite well in the following picture. Assembled behind me in one of the Pentagon parking lots are approximately 30,000 riders and motorcycles.

We then spent a half hour resting on a grassy hill, watching representative members milling around and getting perilously close to heatstroke. Behold a representative member below, with the Pentagon in the background:

Sadly I chickened out and didn't ask for pictures with any of the really picturesque specimens wandering around, but be assured there was plenty of leather, bandannas, facial hair, metal studs, and mullets in evidence. Also a fair number of cowboy hats, and I witnessed one dude strolling around in really awesome fringed leather chaps. How these people managed to survive the heat of the day wearing so very many layers of denim and leather is still puzzling to me. I mean, I wanted to die walking back home, and in fact presented such an alarming sight that passersby kept offering me water and/or sunscreen. I grew tired of explaining that it wasn't sunburn, just the normal tomato red color of my face when I'm feeling a wee bit exerted.

Bringing this post full circle, I'll reveal that my face turns this color not just when I'm about to collapse of heatstroke, but also after approximately 10 minutes spent exercising. I was not built for such strenuous physical activities, but I shall attempt to persevere.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Balsamic-Walnut Roasted Green Beans and Onions

As previously established, I am not now, nor have I ever been, an adventurous eater. However, I’m currently Andrew Zimmern in comparison to my childhood diet, which consisted almost exclusively of bread, fruit, raw vegetables, and fried pasta with cheese. When I was feeling really adventurous, I’d have some mashed potatoes. Seriously, it was a banner day in our household when I agreed that McDonald's fries were edible.

Because I hated cooked veggies, and also because they aren’t really a Russian staple, I was never exposed to green beans at home. I loved fresh peas straight from the pod, but while superficially similar, when seen in restaurants, cooked green beans looked about as far from appetizing as you could get.

In just the past year or so however, I’ve occasionally and very tentatively tried a green bean here or there, and they aren’t nearly as repulsive as they appear. Not particularly flavorful, mind you, but sort of mild and neutral tasting. The other day, I saw some green beans for sale for $0.99/lb, and thought that my husband(!) might enjoy this novel (for my cooking) vegetable.

Once I brought them home however, I realized I had no idea what to do with them. Searching my favorite recipe website yielded two potential options: Green Beans with Walnuts and Green Beans with Almonds. I had all the ingredients for the walnut recipe on hand, so I decided to go with that one, and am so glad I did, because this dish turned out delicious, although mostly due to the onions, walnuts, and coating involved, and not so much because of the beans.

What you’ll need for 2-4 side-dish servings:
  • 1 pound green beans
  • 2-3 yellow onions
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 2-3 handfuls chopped walnuts (probably about 1/3 to 1/2 cup)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1) Preheat oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with foil.

2) Wash beans, then snap off the stem ends, taking off as much of the string as will come off with the ends. Below are my beans, lovingly and individually washed just as my OCD dictated.

3) Cut the onions into wedges, like you would to caramelize them.

4) Apply the tablespoon of olive oil to the beans and onions, and make sure they are evenly covered. Most people just chuck everything onto the baking sheet and use their hands to coat, but I hate getting the oil all over myself, so I threw the vegetables into a gallon size zip-lock bag, poured in the oil, and then sealed and shook before dumping everything on the baking sheet.

5) Sprinkle the ½ teaspoon of salt over the oiled beans and onions, using either your hands or tongs to coat, and make sure the vegetables are distributed in an even layer.

6) Roast for 10 minutes. While the beans and onions are roasting, mince the thyme and slice the garlic. In a small bowl, mix together the balsamic vinegar, honey, thyme, and garlic. Add in a little more olive oil if the mixture congeals around the honey.

7) After 10 minutes take the beans and onions out of the oven and drizzle with the mixture, using tongs to coat everything evenly. Put back in the oven for 12 more minutes, so that the onions have dark brown spots and the beans begin to shrivel.

8) While the beans and onions roast, toast the walnuts for a few minutes in a small frying pan. Stir frequently so they don’t burn, and take off the heat when they smell delicious.

9) When the beans and onions come out of the oven, grind some pepper on them, season to taste with more salt if needed, and then use tongs to transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the toasted walnuts.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

OL's Friends

As I may have mentioned before, OL has a lot of issues with her one and only son. She constantly mutters that he doesn’t take care of himself, that his place is a mess, and that his clothes are old and ill-fitting. He also doesn’t take responsibility and help her enough around the apartment, and he doesn’t communicate well. Additionally, he is a bad planner, and consequently her funeral is not yet arranged, and he will likely be ripped off when he tries to ship her body back to New Jersey. As these complaints are a constant drone from her, I now tune them out as background noise.

However, last week she mentioned something new and different, and my ears perked up. “He has nobody!” She yelled out of nowhere. “No friends, no nothing!” I made a non-committal noise to encourage further elaboration. “Not like me!” she stated emphatically. “I have The Doctor and The Man.”

Let me break this statement down for you. OL has several peculiarities, but one of her most puzzling is the refusal to use proper names: “He shouldn’t have done that!” she tells me, and “he” could range from former President Bush to the guy in line in front of us to her own son. She doesn’t like to explain herself, so OL’s audience is mostly left with context to figure out exactly who she means. However, after months of OL exposure I’ve narrowed down the possible options considerably. About 60% of the time it is OL’s son, 30% of the time it is either Bush or Obama, and the remaining 10% of the time “he” is a random person she has recently talked to or read something about. In the above case, OL was pretty clearly talking about her son.

Occasionally, OL will deign to give someone a title. This is the case with her physician, a lady with an office several doors down from OL’s apartment, who really does take extraordinary care of OL. “The Doctor” is how OL refers to her at all times, even in the presence of other doctors. This was particularly confusing when OL was in the hospital, and answered many questions with references to “The Doctor.” When pressed about which doctor she meant, OL would favor the unfortunate nurse/specialist/case manager with a stern frown, and stress it again: “The Doctor.”

That OL should consider The Doctor a friend is not all that surprising. This lady occasionally stops by the apartment with flowers, organizes restaurant outings on major holidays for OL and other patients who have no place to go, and just this past weekend took OL to Red Lobster to celebrate her 89th birthday.

The Man is a member of the service profession who has also gone above and beyond the call of duty when dealing with OL. He is her favorite sales clerk at Macy’s. The Man is a pious Malaysian Muslim in his fifties. Despite rather heavy accents on both sides, often leading to mutual incomprehension, The Man and OL have a bond going back years.

He carries a picture of her in his wallet, brings her novelty t-shirts when he visits his home country, and occasionally calls to check on OL when she hasn’t been to Macy’s in a while. The Man does not own a car or drive, and when OL was really sick, he and his wife took several buses in order to visit her at home for a few minutes. In return for this devotion, OL occasionally brings him candy bars at work and harangues him that he doesn’t call her enough. I’m pretty certain that she does not, in fact, know his first name.

How this relationship originally developed and why it continues is a mystery to me. I mean, OL does love Macy’s, but why this adoration was transferred to a short brown gentleman with an accent is beyond me. Even more puzzling is The Man’s continued attention to OL, especially given their significant communication hurdles. The Pit, ever of a suspicious bent, suggested that The Man is somehow stealing from OL. However, unless The Man is a connoisseur of rather dated knick-knacks, I’m pretty sure OL has nothing to steal. I think the more likely explanation is that she reminds him of his own constantly complaining mother. Either that, or The Man is quite a masochist.

So there you have it, OL’s friends enumerated. You’ll notice the conspicuous absence of a certain Peachy on her list…there’s gratitude for you.

Monday, June 7, 2010


So I discovered a couple of days ago that in all my 29 years of life, I have not, in fact, ever independently opened a wine bottle. This fact is not really all that shocking when you consider the following: I don’t drink wine by myself, and on all previous wine-drinking occasions, someone more alcoholic than I has always been around to do the bottle opening. What with my aversion to liquids of any kind, pretty much any non-Mormon fulfills the above criteria.

However, the risotto recipe I was preparing for dinner required a cup of wine, the Pitt was still at work, and the cheap Trader Joe’s vintage I had purchased for this purpose was sadly not so cheap as to have a screw top.

“Hmm,” I said to myself as took out the bottle. “I’ve seen people do this a hundred times, how hard could it be?” The answer, in case anyone is still wondering, is: surprisingly difficult for a person with a PhD.

I took out the corkscrew, idly wondered what the metal thingie on the end was for, and then proceeded to ignore it as I put the corkscrew in the cork. Step one successfully accomplished, I then pulled the corkscrew out of the cork by reversing my twisting action in the opposite direction. Anyone with bottle opening experience is already laughing, as of course this left a hole in the cork, but did not actually move it out of the bottle even a tiny bit. Perhaps, it belatedly occurred to me, I was supposed to pull without twisting the corkscrew out. I reinserted the screw, and then tried again. The cork very firmly did not budge.

As I considered the situation, it became clear that I was out of ideas. It was time to consult the Internets. So I pulled up Google, and typed in “how to use a corkscrew.” I was only mildly ashamed of myself at this point. Unfortunately, the eHow article I opened was incredibly useless, telling me to basically repeat what I had just done. So I tugged on the corkscrew a little more, but it was obvious that I had to take other measures, or The Pit would come home to an uncooked meal, not to mention a wine bottle shattered all over the kitchen floor in frustration.

So I bit the bullet and consulted my friend Eric, who was not only immanently qualified by virtue of being an alcohol-consuming male, but also getting ready to defend his PhD in physics. I figured he’d had plenty of practice explaining incredibly complicated things to dimwitted undergraduates, and thus should have no trouble with the particular instructional task I was about to present him.

Turns out I was right…he correctly treated me like the retard that I was, and first asked me if my corkscrew had a lever. This is of course the equivalent of asking your grandmother if she has pressed the ON button when she calls to complain that the computer screen is all dark. So naturally that little metal thingie I’d been ignoring had turned out to be crucial to the whole enterprise. It is invariably the case that when I'm being an idiot, it is because I'm blithely ignoring something obvious right in front of my face. Eric showed me the following picture, and instructed me on the magical properties of lever fulcrums. Physics to the rescue!

The wine bottle opening successfully accomplished, I proceeded to make my very first risotto. In case anyone was wondering, I was using this recipe with shrimp...despite the rave reviews on the website, we found the finished product kind of bland, and had to add significant amounts of parmesan and asiago cheese. However, sweet sweet cheese combined with sweet sweet physics eventually made this meal a success.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


  1. Start blogging again.
  2. Exercise every other day.
  3. Finish all wedding-related tasks.
  4. Find another freaking job already.
How do you like those priorities world? I've clearly begun #1 in earnest, and I went to the gym today for the first time in months and months. One would have thought I'd begun my health regime before the wedding, but one would be wrong. I completely and totally intended to exercise this winter, but then snow happened and I was lazy. Then I intended to exercise this spring, but a job happened and I also had to juggle OL. Well, and I was lazy. I'll give you three guesses as to how my latest commitment to exercise will turn out.

#3 above refers mostly to thank-you notes and pictures. On that score, will the kind person who sent us the Griddler, please leave a comment or send me an email? That thing is awesome, and I will blog about it as instructed, but at the moment I have no idea who you are, as you neglected to sign the attached note.*

* Well, that's not entirely true, I've narrowed down my list of suspects to 3 or 4. But I am too lazy to figure out a sensitive way to phrase a mass email on this point, so just announce yourself already.


So I'm only about three weeks late on this post but...we're totally married! With rings and everything. It's still a little surreal, but I'm really enjoying the superfluous use of the word 'husband' in everyday conversations. The stock-boy at Trader Joe's asks if everything is alright, and I go "Oh, I'm just trying to choose some beer for my husband." The dry-cleaning lady asks when I want to pick my clothes up, and I say "My husband will get them on Thursday." Our guests want to know what the whip/tickler* is for and the words slip out before I can stop them..."My husband."

* For the record, it was a gag wedding shower gift, and I think The Pit would rather be water-boarded than have it used on him. I just brought it back because I got a kick out of the look on his face when I stuck it and some other bridal shower gifts (a sex book and some furry handcuffs) in his luggage for transport out of California. What? My suitcase was full! As a bonus, here's a picture of my mother examining it quite thoughtfully.

Hmm, this post has really run away from me, and The Pit and his sense of propriety will probably make me take it down when he finds it, but for now, enjoy! I shall try to get back into the swing of blogging now that we're settled back in Virginia.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Well hello there. I know I've been a rather...absent...narrator, so let's wave good-bye to March and most of April with a few brief bullet points:
  • There's been me, working. Then working some more. Then taking a trip to California and working. Then buying more work clothes, and continuing to work. Etc. The Pit, who was quite vocal about my previous lack of employment and the associated lack of dollars in our house-buying fund, actually moved in the opposite direction, and began complaining that I was becoming a workaholic. Me. Can you imagine such a thing?
  • Besides the working, there's also been me, dealing with wedding stuff. Also a little bit of The Pit, dealing with wedding stuff... but really, let's not kid ourselves, it was mostly me. The Pit was made to participate in a 45 minute call with our incredibly meticulous photographer, whose very detailed breakdown of our wedding schedule almost drove The Pit insane. It's a good thing The Pit does not have to deal with my mother, whose scheduling of this event is even more detailed, perhaps to a...shall we say...unhealthy degree. Breath mom, breath.
  • Also, taking the windfall of my tax rebate (you know, the whole not working for almost an entire year thing does have its benefits), The Pit and I purchased a new mattress on Sunday. The new mattress was actually very necessary, as some lovely and generous relatives had given us a new and enlarged bed as an early wedding present. The Pit and I fell into our brand new mattress last night, and so soft was it that we almost failed to emerge this morning.
And...yes, I do believe that's about it. Work stuff, wedding stuff, and new mattress are pretty much the only developments of the last two months. There, oh my voraciously complaining family, are you happy now? I'm back, and slightly more boring than before!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

You can call me Dr. Peachy, just like my new friends at the office

Oh. my. god. I know that I dropped off the face of the earth for a while there, but who knew that real work could be so incredibly tiring? Go on, laugh, I know you want to. But seriously, between this actual gainful employment that serendipitously fell in my lap, and the wedding planning trip I took to California over the weekend, I just want to drop into bed and sleep and sleep and sleep.

So: work. It's a consulting gig, lasting 10 weeks. I was originally told I would be writing background pieces for a conference, and that I could work from home. Upon further discussion, it now turns out that I actually have to supervise other people writing, and this requires me to come into a physical office at least part of the time. Fortunately, the office is literally 5 minutes from our apartment. Unfortunately, I've already exhausted my two work appropriate outfits, and am now scrambling to obtain more. Also, two straight days, even in my most comfortable high heels, has resulted in a clearly noticeable limp. I've been giving my feet a 'once more into the breach' speech to prepare them for tomorrow's efforts, but thus far they remain unconvinced.

Also also, there's the issue of OL to consider. Feeling terribly guilty for abandoning her in favor of vast amounts of dollars thrown my way, I stopped by her place at 7:30 AM this morning. Yes, you read that correctly. I got out of bed before The Pit. She was happy that I had come calling, but a bit crestfallen that I couldn't stay for longer than an hour. Fortunately, it looks like Friday is a work from home day, so I'll be able to take her to lunch. I look forward to regaling you with OL stories once I gain some equilibrium with my new schedule.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Oh, those crazy Russians

I haven't posted anything for a while, because it would basically be a repeat of everything in the last entry...snow, digging, more snow, more digging, and The Pit and I cooped up in the apartment, slowly driving each other insane. However, things are finally looking up around here...the snow is now melting, we went to trivia and won again on Monday night, The Pit finally went back to work on Tuesday, and there is some small glimmer of a chance that I might be gainfully employed come Monday morning. Should this wonder of wonders materialize, I'll let you guys know. In the meantime, my now twice postponed birthday celebration is happening tonight. Oh sweet sweet Olive Garden, I can't wait for your delicious cheese ravioli in my mouth.

Since I have no real news to report, and the weather conditions are appropriately wintery, I will use the rest of this post to make fun of Russians. Or more specifically, of one particular Russian superstition that never fails to amuse me. See, Russians believe that under no circumstances should the female of the species be allowed to sit anyplace cold. This particularly applies to sprawling on the ground, a hard-wood floor, or, horror of horrors, a park bench in winter. You might be asking yourself...why? And why should only women and girls have to stand if there isn't a padded chair available?

The answer has to do with our precious reproductive organs. You see, according to a shared hallucination of all the peoples of the former Soviet Union, placing the baby-making equipment anywhere near a cold surface somehow result in irreparable damage. Even well-educated Russians believe this to be true. Take, for example, the case of my mother, a biologist and normally all-around sensible human being. Shortly after we fled the hell hole that was the Soviet Russia and settled in Boston, my mother enrolled my sister and I in ballet classes. On the first day of the class, she watched in horror as the teacher gathered all the little girls together, sat us on the floor, and proceeded to blithely explain various stretching techniques, as if she wasn't thus dooming our future unborn children.

About ten years after this first observation of grossly negligent American behavior, and numerous subsequent experiences watching American posteriors interact with various chilly surfaces, I had a conversation with my mother about irrational Russian fears. I had assumed that my mom had come around to a reasonable view of things, and was thus surprised to hear her explain that the Russian opinion wasn't wrong, per se. It was just that it never got cold enough in America to truly endanger our unborn offspring.

It's been another ten years since that memorable conversation, so I think it might be time to question her again. Next time I remember, I'll ask and report back.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

This and that

So, as some of you may know, last Friday was my birthday. We had decided to celebrate it old which I mean dinner at the Olive Garden, followed by bowling. Unfortunately, I was gifted with 18 inches of snow instead, so birthday plans were postponed.

Virgina seemed a bit better prepared for this snowstorm, and a plow kept going down our street even in the worst of the weather. On the plus side, this meant that our street was well cleared when the snow finally stopped falling. On the minus side, it meant approximately 3 extra feet of snow to shovel away from my car. I present you with exhibits A and B below:

A decided to forgo digging out, and so was trapped at his house and unable to come to trivia with us on Monday night. In an improbably turn of events, The Pit and I vanquished our opponents and received first place without his assistance, even though one of the rounds required extensive knowledge of sports nicknames.*

This win was especially nice, as we've been sucking it up the last few weeks. Our losing streak was capped last week, when we managed to drop from first to sixth place in the last round of the game after scoring a meager 2/10 on general knowledge questions. Apparently, our general knowledge does not extend to car racing, Victorian literature, or sequels to The Sheik. If only I was a little more redneck, and The Pit a bit more gay, and A about 60 years older, we might have been winners. But no matter, in week 20 of playing we were once again triumphant!

* We scored 3/10 based solely on The Pit's guessing.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Instructions from the motherland

The tale I’m about to tell will shock and horrify the majority of my readers. No, it’s not one of those kind of stories, although I do have a few of those from way back when…but I digress. This is a completely innocent story, featuring chicken soup and grandmotherly advice. See, last Monday I bought some chicken thighs at the grocery store. I shoved them to the back of the fridge, and promptly forgot about them. I belatedly remembered the chicken on Friday, and stuck the package in the freezer. If you’re keeping track, so far that’s raw chicken, kept for five days in the refrigerator.

Tuesday morning The Pit said he wanted chicken soup for dinner, so before leaving to babysit OL, I took the chicken out of the freezer and put it back in the fridge to defrost. Come Tuesday afternoon, I deposited it in the sink for a couple of hours of further defrosting, before opening the package to begin my customary de-fatting process* around 4 PM. That’s when I noticed a distinct odor coming from the meat. A sort of fruity and vinegary smell all at the same time. A smell that was definitely not normal.

* I’m just a touch OCD about picking the large chunks of fat off the chicken thighs before throwing 'em in the pot to make soup. Everyone laughs, but this evisceration results in delicious broth.

I briefly pondered throwing the chicken out, but two things stopped me. First of all, The Pit insists that I buy expensive organic chicken at Trader Joe’s. Throwing that chicken out would be like tossing a crisp five dollar bill in the trash can, and then following it up with some singles so it wouldn’t get lonely. Secondly, I didn’t have any back-up frozen chicken in the freezer, so tossing the meat would have required me to get back into my street clothes, venture out into the freezing cold, and drive to the grocery store to buy more thighs. After all that, dinner would be late. So to summarize, because I’m too frugal to throw away $7, and too lazy to waste 45 minutes buying more meat, I was willing to risk poisoning us both.

But! Before you get all flabbergasted on me, keep in mind my clever next move. I knew that if I consulted American friends or the Internets, I would be summarily told to throw the chicken away. Instead, I picked up the phone and called my grandparents, who had spent 40ish years cooking in Soviet Russia, where you definitely ate whatever came your way after standing in line for hours in sub-zero temperatures. There was no way that people raised in such an environment would let a little smell stop them from using almost-perfectly-good meat.

My grandpa answered the phone, listened to my chicken history, and reassured me that if I gave the thighs a thorough washing, all would be well. I was relieved, until he added that I would definitely be able to tell if the meat was still off by tasting the soup before serving it. Nevertheless, I began washing the thighs, a process made all the more thorough by the previously mentioned de-fatting.

Just when I had both hands wet and covered by potentially poisonous raw chicken, the phone rang. It was my grandmother, calling me back with more detailed instructions. She informed me that I should wash the thighs in warm water, then again in cold water, then keep them covered in cold water with a teaspoon of vinegar for five minutes, then rinse the vinegar off with more cold water, and only then cook the chicken per the usual routine. Greatly reassured, I did as I was told…there was no way such a wealth of folk knowledge could possibly be wrong.

Half-way through this process The Pit arrived home. Fortunately, he was quickly distracted by internet videos, and did not ask me what the chicken was doing soaking, or why I kept smelling little chunks of it before throwing them in the soup pot. These questions would have been problematic, since a) I’m a terrible liar, b) once the truth was discovered, I was fairly certain he would have stopped my whole complicated washing procedure by throwing away the meat, and c) the tossing of the chicken would then have been followed by pointed comments about my heritage. All in all, it’s a good thing he was engrossed in the laptop and didn’t look up to my acting all furtive and suspicious in the kitchen.

Anyway, as it turns out, my grandmother was 100% correct in her assessment. The soup was delicious, and neither one of us was even a little bit poisoned. Now that 48 hours have passed, the leftovers have all been consumed, and there is no longer a risk of placebo-induced stomach cramping on The Pit’s part**, I am publishing this triumph of Russian culinary skills for the world to admire.

** And for the record, I'd like my future in-laws to note that I would never truly risk poisoning your prodigal son. If the highest authority*** had so ordered, I would have thrown the chicken away.
*** My grandmother, of course.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup (And Rosemary Bread)

My favorite food blogger recently did a post on Split Pea soup, and I was inspired to try it. Yes, that's right, much to The Pit's shock, I had never before tried Split Pea soup. This is partly because I'm not usually partial to foods that are almost completely liquid, and partly because most Split Pea recipes I've seen have included ham hocks. I don't like ham, and in point of fact, don't really even know what a ham hock is* or what it looks like.

*The Pit clarified that it's some sort of smoked ham bone. It sounds even less delicious with that description, although I direct you to the wikipedia page to see for yourself.

Anyway, I decided to omit the ham, simplify the recipe a bit, and hope for the best. With The Pit's optimistic encouragement, I actually used my biggest pot to make a giant amount of soup. Luckily, it turned out great, especially on the second day we had it, after sitting in the fridge overnight.

And the best part? Without the meat, it cost approximately $4 to make (with half of that cost coming from the croutons). Of course, the downside of no meat was that the soup alone wasn't super filling. I made this Rosemary Bread to go along with it, and I would suggest a big salad too.

What you'll need for 6-8 portions of soup:
  • 1 lb split peas
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 large celery stalk
  • 1 medium potato
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • several good shakes of dried thyme and parsley (or a couple teaspoons of the fresh stuff)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 box of your favorite croutons (we used some with cheese and garlic flavor)
  • fresh parsley or chives for garnish (a good way to use up leftover herbs, but totally optional)

1) Pour the split peas into a colander, pick out any stones, and then rinse the peas. Fill your largest pot with water, and dump in the clean peas. Bring to a boil.

2) While the peas get boiling, dice the carrot, celery, and onion in small pieces. Peel the garlic cloves and cut off the hard 'foot' on each one.

3) When the peas come to a boil, a greenish scum will rise to the surface...skim this off for a few minutes, until the soup is relatively clear. Add the diced vegetables and the garlic cloves, and continue to boil for several minutes.

4) Season with salt, pepper, bay leaves, thyme, and parsley, and lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Cover the pot loosely, and let it simmer for about an hour.

5) Peel and dice the potato, and add to the soup after it's been simmering for about an hour. Bring to a boil for a few minutes, then reduce the heat again and allow to simmer for at least another 20 minutes.

6) At this point you have several options. If you like chunks of stuff in your soup, you can pretty much eat it as is. Otherwise, you can use a regular* or immersion blender to make a smoother consistency. If you're too lazy to use the blender, but have another hour of time on your hands, continue to simmer the soup until it's smooth and thick.

* If using a regular blender, don't fill the blender up too high, work in batches, and hold the lid down carefully when blending -- I got impatient with our tiny blender, filled it too high, and ended up with hot soup all over one side of the refrigerator.

7) Serve with the croutons, and garnish with diced parsley or chives if you have any laying around. There should be plenty of left-overs, which is excellent, because as I found out, the soup only gets better on the second day.

Friday, January 29, 2010

OL wins another one

So OL proved herself...unreliable...with her gas stove several months ago. Basically, when I went home for Thanksgiving, she sort of forgot to switch a burner off. Eventually her neighbor smelled gas in the hallway, and after a certain amount of frantic door-bell ringing, broke into her apartment convinced he was going to find her dead. Turned out she was just napping and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about.

In fact, she steadfastly refused to admit any gas-related negligence, and accused the neighbors of telling tall tales. For their part, her neighbors were, quite understandably, concerned that one day soon she would blow them all to kingdom come. Relations had reached an unpleasant impasse, when OL's doctor (who also has an office in the building) came up with an elaborate plot.

She visited OL one afternoon, and told her (completely untruthfully) that she smelled a little gas. Since all the burners were turned off, the doctor suggested that the stove itself might have a leak. Consequently, OL became convinced that a gas leak actually existed, and that her allergies, previously attributed to the carpet, might in fact be due to a decade's worth of leaking gas. Building maintenance was summoned, and, fully involved in the plot, said they were turning off her gas until the 'leak' could be fixed.

It's been a little over a month, and somehow, they just can't seem to find the right part. OLgrumbles about their slowness, but is actually only marginally inconvenienced by her lack of stove. See, she's never really cooked, and previously used her stove for exactly two things: boiling water for tea, and frying eggs.

Boiling water is easy enough with other kitchen appliances, but the eggs, well, the eggs have been a problem. Her son recently bought this plastic gizmo for poaching eggs in the microwave. OL took one look at the thing, pronounced it "a piece of junk," and refused any further attempts to involve her in egg making. Giving up on his own efforts, her son then sent me an email, requesting that I do my best to get her to use the device.

Thus, on Monday I opened up the packaging and read the instructions. Let's all bear in mind that I don't actually eat eggs, and consequently have no idea what a well cooked egg should look like. However, after a certain amount of trial and error, I got an egg out of the microwave that looked exactly like the egg on the packaging. OL had distanced herself from the proceedings and sat on the couch looking sour.

I brought the perfectly poached egg over for her to admire. "Looks undercooked" she muttered. Back into the microwave it went. I carried the results back to the couch. "The middle's not done." By this point, the perfectly poached egg looked a bit...scrambled, and was putting out a characteristic eggy smell that has always made me rather nauseous. Nevertheless, I bravely stirred it with a fork and stuck it back in the microwave for further cooking. I heard OL muttering from the couch, something about contraptions, idiot sons, and stubborn girls.

The microwave beeped, and this time, I was sure we had a winner. I triumphantly took the egg, still in it's plastic container, over to OL. She begrudgingly admitted that the egg looked about right. We both stared down at the eggy mass, and I was about to suggest that perhaps OL give it a taste. At that exact moment, the two halves of the egg-cooker came apart, and the whole thing dropped straight into OL's lap.

The look OL gave me at that moment probably had to be seen to be believed, but it contained about equal parts surprise, disgust, and delight at being proved so very right. I slunk back to the kitchen to get a towel, and have not brought up the whole egg thing all week. OL, on the other hand, has mentioned the incident repeatedly, with quite an emphasis on the words 'right' and 'junk.' I'll have to email the son tonight, and tell him that this week, well...this week I guess the egg is on my face. *

* Man, I've been waiting the whole blog post to pull that one out.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chicken & Rice Pilaf

So I'm sick. Yes, again. Yes, that does make three times in as many months. Sigh. Clearly my bragging about not getting sick all of last year has caught up to me. Anyway, being sick means chicken soup, and chicken soup means left-over boiled chicken (I'm picky, so I only ever eat the broth and the noodles). I've already blogged about one use for left-over chicken in the Russian kitchen, and now I'd like to present a second.

This is a recipe for my grandma Regina's very delicious Chicken and Rice Pilaf...or as the Russians like to say, Plov. My grandma calls this a 'southern' recipe, by which she means it comes from someplace in the Caucuses, or maybe from one of the many Stans of Central Asia. All I know is that wherever it's from, they sure know how to cook rice. You would think that with 3 cups of rice, this recipe would make about 6 servings, but you would be wrong. In fact, with everyone taking seconds, I've barely had leftovers when feeding 4 people.

So then, here's what you'll need for 4 large servings:
  • 2-3 cups white or brown basmati rice (uncooked)
  • 1-2 cups boiled chicken (about 1 lb raw chicken), shredded
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
  • 1-2 teaspoons Vegeta seasoning mix
  • salt and pepper

1) Cook rice according to package directions in lightly salted water.

2) While the rice is cooking, shred the chicken, grate the carrot, dice the onion, and slice the garlic.

3) Liberally drizzle olive oil into a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the onion and saute for about 2 minutes. Add the carrots and saute for another minute. Add the chicken, mix well, and saute for 2 more minutes.

4) Lower the heat to medium, and add the rice, garlic, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Drizzle more olive oil, then mix everything together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5) Allow to fry for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding olive oil as necessary. The pilaf should become crispy and light brown. Mix in the Vegeta seasoning. *

6) Continue to fry for another 10 minutes or so, again adding olive oil as necessary, until dark brown crispy bits are distributed throughout the pilaf. Mmm, dark brown crispy bits. Taste before serving, the pilaf will probably need a little more salt and pepper.

* Vegeta is a very common seasoning blend found in Eastern European cooking. A little goes a long way, I've had that big can for several years now, and it's only about half empty. I know that you can get it on Amazon if you can't find it in your local Russian or European food mart. I highly recommend it for soups and rice dishes, however, if you don't have any on hand, the above pilaf still tastes good without it...not the same, but good.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Conversation With OL

The scene: OL and I, sitting down at a crowded little restaurant with a marginally overpriced menu. The waiter is hovering to get our drink orders.

OL: "I vant a hamburger. How much is the hamburger."
I consult the menu, and unwisely blurt out the real price. "Nine dollars."
The waiter snorts softly.
I glance at the waiter apologetically, and then hiss at OL: "We are at a restaurant, that is what a hamburger costs at a restaurant."
OL, completely unmollified: "NINE DOLLAS???"
I look at the waiter again. He's trying really hard not to laugh. "We'll have some water."
"No problem! I'll just give you a minute to...err...go over the menu."

The waiter taken care of, I return my attention to OL. She's still both indignant and disbelieving. "I betchya it isn't nine dollas. That crazy for a hamburger!"
I pretend to study the menu again. "Oh, you know what, you're right, I made a mistake, it's cheaper than nine dollars." At this point, I glance at her for some sort of guidance to a proper hamburger price.
OL, gleeful to be proved right, obliges me right away. "I bet it's five dollas" she says.
"Wow, you've guessed exactly right! It's five dollars."

At this point, OL senses that things are a little too good to be true. She tries to trap me. "How did you make a mistake like that?? Saying it was nine dollas instead of five!" But I am too canny to be tricked by such an easy ploy, and use her own prejudices against her.
"Oh, I was looking at the cheeseburger price."
OL makes a disgusted face, and then nods sagely, ready to believe anything terrible about the abomination that is a cheeseburger.* Lunch proceeds more or less smoothly.

* Although she doesn't keep kosher, OL hates mixing meat and diary products. I've never been able to make her coherently explain why.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Trivia Update

I stopped mentioning trivia here several months ago, as the constant updates made pub quizzing seem like our only social outlet. This is categorically untrue…we also play long and complicated board games with The Pit’s friends, as witnessed by my sister, who whimpered through one bout of Shadow of the Emperor while visiting here last week. But we’ll get back to Dina in a bit. For now, let’s focus on trivia.

Trivia…well, let’s just say there have been some ups and downs since I last reported to you in early November. We had one glorious week of winning with our usual team of three after I drove away various annoying hangers on, and then The Pit had to go on a series of business trips. Left to our own devices, A and I placed 3rd one week, giving us completely unwarranted confidence in our Pit-less trivia abilities…a confidence that was promptly shattered the following week, when we plummeted all the way to 6th place. It goes without saying that we were less than pleased at having to pay in full for dinner:

When The Pit returned, he lectured us about doing so poorly without him, but apparently the fates don’t like his tsk-tsking any more than I do, as that week we got 4th place. Witness a very grainy version of The Pit’s agony:

The following week we were joined by my friend Eric, in DC visiting family for the holidays. Eric helped us recover a little momentum, and we placed second. The joy, it is self-evident:

Unfortunately, this momentum was apparently lost somewhere in Switzerland, because last week, with my lovely sister in attendance, we once again placed fourth. Sadface:

Fortunately, the evening was redeemed by a long, politically incorrect, and decidedly adult story describing A’s escapades on New Year’s Eve. I won’t go into the details here, but let’s just say he finally made his bachelorhood pay off.

This week…well, this week things have returned to normal. Dina flew back to California, A is once again being ignored by various eligible young ladies, and The Furious Sporks have regained our spot at the top of McGinty’s pub quiz hierarchy. It came down to a tie-breaking question, but I’m pleased to report that we claimed first place last night.*

The only pictures taken were of A's triumphant face, so I cannot post them here, but trust me, the thrill of victory was well represented.

* That makes ten 1st place, two 2nd place, two 3rd place, two 4th place, and one sad 6th place finish in seventeen weeks of playing.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


So, a great big hello to the four of you diligently checking every day I was gone on vacation. The clicks, they make me feel loved. Anyway, as the rest of you may or may not know, first I was back home in California for a few days around Christmas, and then I was in Frankfurt for two days to celebrate New Year's Eve, and then I was in a cabin in the Swiss Alps, along with Dina, The Pit, two of my favorite OC residents, my German friend Raphael, and a whole mass of other Germans I'd never previously met. The Swiss Alps! Like someone rich and famous!*

The vacation, it was awesome. Highlights:
  • Knowing I was home for sure, when my first morning back in Fremont, Dina came out of her room stark naked, hair tousled, and very excited, yelling "I downloaded a metal detector to my phone!"
  • Seeing my family and both sides of The Pit's family in several whirlwind days, and feeling so warm and loved wherever we happened to be.
  • German New Year's Eve food, consisting of little plate things you fill with meats and veggies, then cover with cheese, then grill at the table. Genius!
  • Standing on the roof of an apartment building in Frankfurt, watching the official firework displays around the city, and then seeing thousands of unofficial fireworks go up at the stroke of midnight. Being amazed as the unofficial fireworks continued for the next hour, with rockets illegal in all but the most redneck parts of the United States. Those Germans, they take fireworks seriously.
  • In the backseat with Dina and Cat, laughing hysterically every time we passed an Ausfahrt sign. Dina constantly yelling the...impolite...German name for Austrians, which happened to be the very first German word Raphael and company taught us upon entering the country.
  • Giant German schnitzel, to all appearances made out of half a pig. Watching each of the boys eat said schnitzel and actually finish. Meat: another thing the Germans take very seriously.
  • The magical view when we finally got to our cabin in the Alps.
  • More views from the slopes, each better than the last. Hoping that the rest of the group really enjoyed the views as they waited for me to shuffle step down the expert slope I was dragged to.
  • Documenting my friends, to all appearances a little insane from too much skiing and too little sleep, running back and forth from the sauna to the snow, howling the entire way.
  • The cutest picture of them all.
  • Fondue for The Pit's birthday, and never ending arguments about the foulness vs. goodness of mushrooms.
  • Our tour through Geneva, complete with yet more magical views, delicious crepes, roasted chestnuts, snowball fights, giant chess, and a lady walking a cat.
* Although someone rich and famous would probably be a much better skier. It's a good thing Cat was skiing on a recently broken ankle, or I would have been left to fend for myself on the slopes.