Friday Questions

Winter2014-2015-276 Winter2014-2015-277 Winter2014-2015-278 Winter2014-2015-279 Winter2014-2015-280 Winter2014-2015-281 Winter2014-2015-284 Winter2014-2015-286 Winter2014-2015-287 Winter2014-2015-288 Winter2014-2015-289 Winter2014-2015-292 Winter2014-2015-293Just in case you were concerned due to the recent prevalence of healthy food on this blog, I bring you an onslaught of photos to show you that my doughnut love is alive and well. After Zeke’s in Dupont closed I have been hard pressed to find an amazing fluffy yeast doughnut in the city. Astro Doughnuts is great, but sometimes over heavy and a little pricey. District Doughnut isn’t bad, but they do mainly cake doughnuts and I am a fluffy yeast-dough lover through and through. I had heard about Sugar Shack that just opened in Old Town and yesterday I convinced my friend Christine to hit it up with me.

Y’ALL.

They were perfect. Relatively cheap, huge, fluffy (though that had cake too!), and amazing flavors. As in, I had a Somoa doughnut, and I woke up this morning thinking about when I can have another. I brought one home for James and in a show of truly sacrificial and noble love, I didn’t eat it when he was late home from work.

But enough about doughnuts (though, I can never have enough doughnuts), I come to you, dear Internet, today with some questions.

What is the best product to make my hair less blah?  I am in a hair rut. When I dry my hair overnight, I still do my routine curl it big and spray it hard routine, which I love. But lately I have been feeling like my hair is just blah, flat and lifeless when I let it air dry during the day. While I am a pro with the hot tools, I know NOTHING about the products one puts in their hair when it dries. Also, I recently got my first blow dryer (yep, finally a woman). What are the best products to use on my hair if I am blowing it out or diffusing it? Help people! I need some serious woman to woman feedback to save my sad winter locks that are currently receiving a random cocktail of whatever products I rummage up in my drawer.

What is the best BB cream? I feel like my discovery of BB cream was a game changer. It was prompted by the time I texted a selfie to my mother to show her my new hair-do and she responded “Those freckles are cute, but they are irreversible damage to your skin that you really should avoid.” Thus, I marched myself to CVS and purchased some SPF BB cream, because there is no way I am remembering to apply sunscreen and foundation. Plus, I love the light and natural finish. But, I don’t really have any clue what are the best ones. Recommendations people – give em!

What is the best personal finance managing website and ap? My brother uses Mint and raves about it, but I’m curious what you think. Do you use any sort of web finance tracker? I’ve been rocking the spreadsheet and calculator for just a little too long.

I think that’s it for today, though you can bet I will pester you with more questions in the future. I hope you all have a great weekend and that you eat as many doughnuts as your biggest pair of elastic waist pants allows!

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Roasted Chicken & Collard Greens

Can we just have a moment of total culinary transparency? chickenandcollards-2

Last week I cooked the worst dinner I have made in marriage, perhaps in my entire life. It was a ghastly chicken mole mess that tasted like sickly spiced yet creamy chicken goo and it looked like how food should look going out, not coming in. I took all of four bites before I pulled a trick I learned from babysitting toddlers and refused to take another bite, arms staunchly crossed over my chest. James bravely chewed on for another half serving … but he would later regret that decision. Nothing I can say can do justice to how truly terrible this dinner was. chickenandcollards-3There were ultimately two tragedies to the Chicken Mole Disaster of 2015. One, I had made enough to have leftovers, which meant a huge waste of money and time. Two, this was a recipe from an actual published cookbook that I had followed exactly, and from which I have cooked many other delicious things with success. Mine even looked like the picture. What this means is that I succeeded in making chicken mole. It also means that I hate chicken mole and should have guessed from the ingredient list that this dish was not for me. As we sat around the table and made fun of our piles of sad food, christened “Puddle Meat” by James, he had me start listing off the many ingredients. I got half-way through when he stopped me to announce that the mystery was not Why is this so bad? but rather What made me ever think this would be good in the first place? chickenandcollards-4 After the Chicken Mole Disaster forced us into eating cookies for dinner (let’s be real — we could have technically fought back had we so chosen), I had a little PTSD in the kitchen. The next night I pulled an audible and we trudged through the snow for pizza. I cooked some pretty excited things when we were holed up in the Whole30, but that infernal pile of brown chicken set me back something fierce. It had me craving afresh simple foods, meals with few ingredients and crisp leaves. Food bursting with color and lacking in strange combinations of tastes.chickenandcollards-5Which brings me to collard greens, the nice mild cousin of that bold brash kale. Collard greens are cheap and can sit for awhile in the fridge without getting slimey. They are a beautiful deep hunter green that makes me want to blow up those collard close ups and just roll around in them. And they are pretty hard to mess up. You just keep cooking them in any sort of good fat and they get better and better. They are a humble vegetable of the South, keeping good company on the veggie list with mac n’ cheese and fried okra. Collard greens carry no pretense.chickenandcollards-8 Once upon a time I tore a recipe out of a magazine for chicken thighs baked with collard greens. I have since lost that piece of paper, searched that recipe the Internet over, and then resigned myself to recreating it. This is food at its simplest: dump some stuff in a pot and cook it till it’s done. Should you be sans dishwasher like myself, nothing is more enticing than dinner made in one pan.  And when the dinner in that pan also happens to be Whole30 approved and oozing with southern comfort food goodness? Even better. chickenandcollards-10Of coursein my new distrustful of recipes state, I hesitate to even share this. What if this is your chicken mole, your perfectly executed recipe that tastes offensively bad? If that is the case…. might I invite you to leave a lengthy comment of protest below. In return, I shall send you a case of Puddle Meat. Perhaps it will be to your liking. chickenandcollards-13Roasted Chicken and Collard Greens

  • Chicken thighs with skin on (the skin is crucial here, though the cut of meat is not*)
  • 1 large bag or bunch collard greens, washed, hard stems removed and cut in strips
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Hot Paprika
  • Ghee or butter
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Pat chicken dry with paper towel and season generously with salt, pepper, and paprika. Heat a dollop of butter or ghee in large ovenproof dish on stove. Cook chicken skin side down until skin is golden and starting to become crisp. Remove.
  3. In chicken drippings, cook onion and garlic until soft. Add collard greens and tomatoes (with juices), and a dash of all spices. Cook until greens have reduced by a little less than half.
  4. Return chicken to pan, skin side up. Cover and bake until chicken is fully cooked, about 30-45 minutes. Meat juices will flavor the greens and make them just the best thing ever.
  5. This makes a perfect meal for two, or you can use more chicken thighs and roast some sweet potatoes alongside and use the greens as a side.
  6. *I have heard mixed reviews on eating chicken skin on Whole30. While Paleo allows it, some Whole30-ers were out there bashing skin. I decided that if bacon is acceptable, a little skin isn’t going to kill us.*

Ok, be honest: what are your kitchen failures? Please tell me you have a Puddle Meat in your past.

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Highs & Lows

… from the weekend.winterweekend

High: Leftovers for dinner Friday night, and if there is one thing I love, it is feeling like a thrifty domestic boss because we ate up the yummy [and only slightly freezer-burnt] leftovers I found behind the ice-cube trays.

High: Topped off leftover dinner with way too many gooey brownies hot from the pan and dripping in salted caramel sauce.

Low: Aforementioned brownies did not do so well with recently purified Whole30 stomach.

High: Got in an early morning 6 mile run on the mall with my running buddy.

Low: That run was cold, so cold, and my knees spent the rest of the weekend protesting.

High: Followed run with the world’s longest hot shower, after which I changed back into my pajamas and had breakfast sandwiches in bed.

Low: Spent the rest of the day grading papers, tests, and homework.

High: Used grading binge as excuse to catch up on all my TV shows, which, as I have mentioned before, are Legion.

High: DC had a beautiful blizzard all day Saturday, and there’s nothing better than being snug inside while snow swirls outside.

Low: I made us go out in that blizzard to had dinner with friends in Alexandria Saturday night and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t live to see Sunday.

High: We didn’t die, and we got to eat tacos.

High: We stayed up late and finished Arrested Development.

Low: I always feel kind of sad when I finish a show because I love them so much… and then they are over.

Low: Seriously overslept Sunday morning and had to do the holy walk-of-shame into the back row at church during prayer.

High: Oversleeping always means more sleep, so that’s an automatic high.

Low: A week of snow and sludge meant a very dirty house and some Sunday afternoon cleaning, which we usually try to avoid.

High: James cleaned the floors while I power walked around the city to appease my Fitbit and binge listened to Jason and Molly’s Bachelor podcast.

High: Oscar viewing party Sunday night!

Low: I’m officially out of touch and old, as I had seen all of three movies nominated (none of which won) and was too sleepy to stay up till the end.

High: It’s was the weekend. And in a handful of days, we get another one.

Any highs and lows from your weekends?

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Friday I’m in love.

“How sweet it is to hear stories /Those stories of time gone by When the tree branches are black /When the snow is thick and burdening the frozen earth.”

-Alfred de Vigny, La Neige

AaronandSusan_11 AaronandSusan_67 AaronandSusan_69 AaronandSusan_75A couple weeks ago I was asked to photograph someone’s engagement. Not just pictures afterwards, but the actual moment of asking, the actual act of making that big decision and saying those few precious words. I waited in the catwalk of the Botanic Gardens for an hour, and then just as I was being chased out by security guards for closing, Aaron and Susan walked in and I sprinted back to my perch for some quick shots of that moment. Afterwards we took advantage of one of the prettiest sunsets of the year to snap a few more pictures.

There’s something exciting about the beginning of love stories. February always makes me think about those starts, those exciting moments, those beginnings of stories. And I think my man de Vigny — one of the few and obviously non-monetary perks of a degree in French literature is being able to refer to underappreciated dead French poets as “my man” — is right. In those cold and bare months of winter we sped more time looking back on our stories.

It makes me think of the cold and snowy February weekend seven years ago when this guy I had been friends with for well over a year FINALLY asked me to dinner. I remember every minute of that evening, from the painfully awkward waitress who wouldn’t leave us alone, to how excited I was when he told me how he felt — so excited that I kept on talking and didn’t even respond or acknowledge his declaration. I think about how he was so distracted that he ate all of one slice of his pizza… and I ate the rest of it because obviously my excitement leads to the munchies. I think about how we had no clue then where that story would go, that what was just a silly college crush story would become a love story.

But I also think about the other sorts of love stories from my life that have roots in these cold winter months, stories of the people who would become my closest friends. I think of my college roommates who loaned clothes and stayed up to celebrate after that first date. I think of a friend from freshman year who spent many a cold evening crying on the floor of my dorm with me over the fact that WINTER WAS HARD. Now I see her every week for lunch and text some of those college roommates daily.  I think of the bestie I found late in life when I taught in Kentucky, and our snowday traditions of doing Jillian Michaels workout videos followed by lying on the floor and talking for hours. I think of the childhood friends I was blessed to live near again when I moved back to Kentucky, of cold weekends spent huddled on couches watching yet another BBC miniseries.  Our lives often are made of an endless series of diverse and interlocking love stories.

What are your love stories? Anyone have a good engagement, meeting, or friend-finding story they are just dying to share? Take over those comments below! It’s winter afterall — we have the time for stories.

PS: A really great article about love by one of those aforementioned besties.

PPS: The comments would also be the appropriate place to share your current feelings about the love story I’m  tracking closely this winter, that of Farmer Chris.  For real people — the last couple episodes have been crazy!!!! Dear Chris: marry Becca. Or Whitney. Dear producers of the show: CARLY FOR BACHELORETTE. Because she is the voice of everything we are all thinking, all of the time. Or Whitney, should Chris be an idiot and let her go. Or Kaitlyn, because she is confident and sassy. Plus, she rocks that center part, something to which I currently aspire. Can they do a sister wives thing and work together? And Can Jimmy Fallon become a regular co-host?

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February snow.

Winter2014-2015-269 Winter2014-2015-272 Yesterday we had our first big snowstorm of the winter and that meant a snow day for the city! I actually work from home on Tuesdays, but I was still all like…Winter2014-2015-271 Winter2014-2015-273… and since James still needed to walk to his office he was all like …Winter2014-2015-264 … despite the fact that I sacrificially tromped through the snow alongside him in a show of support. Ok, so really I just wanted to play a while and throw fluffy white stuff in the air before cloistering myself inside to study, to which James was all …Winter2014-2015-270 … until I gave him this endearing facial expression…Winter2014-2015-267 … and he caved and let me have a snow throwing fest, party of one. Winter2014-2015-266 Winter2014-2015-268AND IT WAS MAGICAL, just like this city when it’s all coated in white. Despite his apparent lack of enthusiasm in these pictures, James actually did enjoy our snowy tromp across Capital Hill. How can you not? Everyone gets a little ridiculous with the first snow. Everyone was racing down the streets on sleds, building motley snowmen on sidewalks, and catching flakes on lashes and tongues. It won’t be this exciting if it’s still coming down in March, but for February, this snow was just right.Winter2014-2015-274 Winter2014-2015-275How about you all — who had snow days this week? I know that our measly 8 inches pales in comparison to Boston’s million feet or any winter survived by Laura Ingalls and co, but it was still wonderful enough to slow us down for a day. How have you been spending these snowy winter days?

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All the love for love day.

Winter2014-2015-254Winter2014-2015-243 Winter2014-2015-250Winter2014-2015-251Winter2014-2015-249 Winter2014-2015-253 Winter2014-2015-255 Winter2014-2015-257 Winter2014-2015-260Winter2014-2015-261 Winter2014-2015-262Happy belated Valentine’s Day! Around our home it was basically nothing but nonstop romance last weekend. Here are a couple of the ways that we celebrated love day.

We went out for dinner Friday night, because we aren’t Valentine’s rookies, and we know that this city traps diners on Februaury 14, forcing them into an overpriced fixed menu. We reveled in our post-Whole30 culinary freedom and left with rocking tummy aches that had me walking laps around our neighborhood park at 11pm, trying to calm the storm.

We laid in bed and cried (me, that is) over the Parenthood finale, because it reminds you that loving means you will inevitable feel hurt and loss. Bravermans, I will miss you.

We got all our paperwork in order for our taxes, because nothing is more romantic than fiscal responsibility.

We tried out a new place for brunch on Sunday, because if there is something more romantic than fiscal responsibility, it’s biscuits and butter that you didn’t have to wait for because you actually remembered to roll over groggily in bed Sunday morning and make brunch reservations before church.

We also had brunch with a friend on Valentine’s day itself, because this weekend shouldn’t just be about couples and boxes of chocolate. It should be about deep belly laughs with friends and Tex-mex brunch.

I went to Starbucks on Saturday afternoon and studied while James stayed at home and worked, because love without real-life responsibility is untried and shallow.

I covered the hallway with paper hearts that had things I love about him and he procured the my favorite roses. Because love means showing how you feel ever day of the year, but sometimes we forget and I’m glad we have this day to remind us.

We stayed in on Saturday night, eating on the couch while we burned through the latest X-Men movie and multiple episodes of Arrested Development. Because romance can mean laughing together, popping another bowl of popcorn and settling in in the quiet comfort of the home you have built together.

Happy Valentine’s Day y’all! How did you celebrate?

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The Whole Whole30

I know that you have been waiting on pins and needles for the post where I tell you all about all the Whole30 fun we’ve been having the last month. Well, I live to please, complete with question prompts that you never thought of asking. Whole30collage3

Did you actually do it without cheating? Yes… mostly. By that I mean there were a total of three times were a couple bites crossed my lips that weren’t totally clean. Two out of three were premeditated decisions…. does that make it better? But on the whole, we were hardcore. I made my own mayonnaise, read endless labels at the grocery store, pretended that ghee was awesome, and nary a donut or spoonful of mac n’ cheese crossed my lips.

What were the awful parts? Other than the night where I had dream after dream that I was chasing a loaf of bread? We love eating out. I didn’t realize how much until it was rendered super difficult by our restricted diet. It isn’t even that we eat out all the time, but I really missed being able to meet friends for dinner without scouring menus before, being able to grab lunch at work if I forgot it, and being able to take part in all the fun eating that happens at social events. The table is a place for gathering, and limiting how much we can take part proved kind of isolating at times.

I also got so tired of the time I had to spend planning and making my meals. So many hours grocery shopping, planning meals, roasting endless trays of veggies. One night I almost cried thinking of having to cook again the next day. By the the end though, I had a system. I mastered some simpler meals and got in the habit of planning for more leftovers and throwing extra veggies on the edge of the roasting pan at dinner so that I could toss them in a omelet the next morning. Initially I also bemoaned the money spent. People, eating like a caveman is not cheap. But by the end, we had re-embraced the wonder of compliant canned and frozen veggies, and smaller portions of meat. Plus, when I did a big comparison, I think that the lack of eating out balanced out the surplus spent on groceries.

Finally, in the beginning, we were hungry. It took awhile for our stomachs to adjust, and for us to figure out that you have to eat a LOT of veggies to get that full feeling you get from tasty grains.

What made it easier?  We did this as a team, joined by my parents, my brother and his fiancé, and another couple we are close to in DC. My dad and I texted each other multiple times a day, checking in and encouraging. He and my mom are actually making it a Whole60 because they felt so good. Having friends near and far joining us meant that we had people who could join us for drink-less and dessert-less dinner parties or text sessions. We had people to share recipes with, to join us in our crazy. I also did a happy dance daily over my Good Earth Sweet and Spicy tea, the only tea I have that was tasty without any sweetener. Not sure I could have done this without my tea and fruit crack, aka clementines. I also spent an inordinate amount of energy looking forward to my almond butter and Lara Bar snacks.

What did you eat? Because I am a list maniac and I wanted to be able to look at everything in retrospect, I actually kept a list of all dinners and any standout lunches and have added it at the bottom of this post. You’re welcome. Links provided if they exist. Many without links were inspired by the feeds of both Whole30 Recipes or Bitsofbbskitchen. If there is any so tempting you can’t even handle it, leave a comment and I will rummage up the recipe. I also enjoyed a week of lunches from DC Power Supply  that I won through their #mypowermoment contest. I can’t say enough good things about these tasty meals. It was so nice to have someone else make my high maintenance Whole30 lunches. If you are in the area and want to let someone else do the work of cooking, use the code DTRZ to get a free meal added to your first order!

Was any of this worth it? Yes, a thousand times yes. There are the obvious things, like the fact that I easily dropped a little over ten pounds in a month and started falling asleep instantly — something that my insomniac self could hitherto only dream of. My skin feels a little glowy and I enjoyed a month without routinely feeling that sick-full feeling.  But this “diet” did so much more than that. I feel good, profoundly good. My body just feels in line, in touch with itself and able to work to its best ability. Even more than that, this diet slapped some much needed discipline in our lives, just like we wanted. And in a weird sort of way, it set me free from food in a way I’ve never been before. That shouldn’t be the case, as I literally had to think about food all the time. But I didn’t feel controlled by it, didn’t feel stressed about getting more or less. I realized that I am strong enough to make good decisions about what I eat, something I never really thought possible.

Still, it also taught me that no diet is a perfect solution, a Holy Grail to all our problems. I still had the same pesky breakouts that a woman far past her teens just shouldn’t have. James actually felt worse on the Whole30, or at least never really got past feeling hungry. It’s a good reminder that food matters, that what we put in our bodies has a huge effect in how effective those bodies are in this world. But it is still just food. It cannot overcome our genetics, cannot fix our problems, cannot curb our emotions. It is one element of a full life, one that demands daily decisions to be met with wisdom. But it is still just food. A whole life realizes that, keeps it in its place, and moves forward.

What now? Well, I’m done making my own mayonnaise and James texted me “BREAD!!!!!!” excitedly the day we were done. But I think we are going to try to still cook mostly Whole30-esque at home. And when we are out, when we are with friends, when we have that lazy Sunday night pizza craving — we are going to eat what we want and not feel the slightest bit guilty. An important part of any discipline is knowing when to let go and live a little.Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset

And now the epic list of what we ate: Avocado burgers over arugula, sauteed mushrooms, sweet potato fries / Chicken thighs roasted with collard greens and tomatoes (recipe coming soon!) / spaghetti squash with spicy sauce (sausage, onions, peppers, mushroms) and green beans / roasted chicken and potatoes (from Smitten Kitchen cookbook) with spiced green beans / stir-fry chicken and broccoli with cauliflower rice /  cabbage with sausage and potatoes / steak with Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes / roasted chicken and veggies with cauliflower mash / Shepherd’s pie and roasted asparagus / Chicken lime burgers with avocado, spinach, and salsa /  rosemary pork tenderloin with roasted butternut squash and green beans/ shrimp and veggie kabobs with steamed broccoli/ Zuppa Toscana / Almond “fried” chicken with collard greens and roasted parsnips / (compliant)  bratwurst and sauerkraut / chicken enchilada soup / paleo chili / cumin rosemary pork chops and roasted broccolini / Roasted chicken and kale / walnut grape chicken salad / creamy tomato cauliflower soup / sweet potato and leek hash with eggs/ brunch with bacon and an egg and veggie scramble topped with avocado and salsa

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