Saturday, December 31, 2011

Trip Flashback: Washington, DC 2009

Being in DC this week reminded me that I've never posted about the little road trip Roger and I took there in 2009.  I can honestly say that I don't remember what we did on Day 3, but that I do distinctly remember searching endlessly for good food after I wrote this, and that we ended up going back to the hotel exhausted, and ordering Dominos online.  It was actually a pretty fantastic meal.

August 15-16, 2009 - Washington, DC
Roger and I are having a lovely time in Washington. We came so that Roger could do a little research for his honors thesis, at the Museum of African Art, and to do a little sightseeing. Other than a quick overnight visit with my friend Vrinda last March, I haven't been here since I was 12, and Roger's never been, so we're enjoying our time exploring.

Yesterday, our Megabus was a little late (when isn't it?), and we arrived in DC at 2:30pm or so, and headed to our hotel, Rouge, which is hypertrendy, and a little trashy.  The trendy part: everything is bright red and they have free hangover brunch of bloody marys and cold pizza every weekend morning.  The trashy part: there's a huge mirror overlooking the bed and everything is bright red.  Still, it's close enough to everything (about a mile away from the White House and monuments), and was pretty cheap.  We grabbed a late lunch at Old Ebbitt Grill.  The restaurant is from 1856 (the oldest bar in DC) and has gorgeous green velvet booths and gas lamps.  It's pretty touristy, so even though it looks fancy (and there was a wedding going on when we came), they're fine with coming in in shorts and the prices are nothing more than you'd find anywhere else.  After, we walked around the monuments, and Roger catered to my desire to have a picture of us in front of the Monument.  That night, we went to a Thai restaurant with Vrinda, followed by walking around DuPont Circle area and visiting Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe, which had fantastic books, including Handmade Home, and a very cool ampersand decor.  We finished up the night by getting fantastic ice cream at Larry's, which was really good (almost as good as Blue Marble, and with more flavors), but had a bizarre mural based on "Guernica" with ice cream.

Today, we had bloody marys and cold pizza, and headed out to the National Museum of African Art, by way of HSBC (we'd found a stray credit card on the street yesterday, and returned it there this morning).  Roger had been planning to do part of his thesis on the permanent collection there, but after we arrived, it turned out that just about none of the permanent collection is on display, which was pretty upsetting.  They had a really lovely ceramic water bottle, but not too much else.  I liked a lot of the art in the exhibits, but there were some really big problems with their presentation.  We then wandered around in the heat, before deciding to get lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian, which was pretty good, and divided up by region.  After that, we headed over to the National Museum of American History, where we saw the First Ladies' gowns, Julia Childs's kitchen, and some presidential memorabilia.  Completely exhausted after seven hours of walking and visiting museums, we headed back to the hotel, and are now enjoying the air conditioning, because it's hot outside!

Roger wants me to note that we're having a debate about whether we should go out or get pizza with garlic butter dipping sauce delivered to the hotel.  We're really not, though.  We're definitely going out in a little while.   Overall, though, we like DC.  The city is spread out, so it's been a lot of walking, but the city is very lovely with all its white marble, and the museums are mostly free, which is fantastic.  We're still not sure what we'll do this evening or tomorrow, so we're open for suggestions.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Business Time: Day 2 - DC

It turns out that business trips are mostly that - business.  Despite my best efforts to wake up before I needed to and spend two hours luxuriously getting dressed and eating breakfast while reading the paper, I woke up about a half hour before I needed to get downstairs and then went down early to help finish with set-up.  The rest of the day was spent being a bookseller at a conference - taking down requests for exam copies, explaining some of the highlights of our books, generally talking to professors about the classes they're teaching - which, it turns out, is quite different from either presenting at a conference or attending one. This conference is much bigger than any of the others I've been to, and it's been fascinating to see all the interviewing, book-proposing and general networking that goes on at it.  It's really making me consider going to the AWP next year.

After hours, I met up with Sarah, who was wonderful enough to come out and meet me for dinner on short-notice.  We ate at Mai Thai, which was really delicious, and spent about two hours talking which was, frankly, exactly what I needed today.  It was wonderful.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Business Time: NY to DC

I consider myself to be reasonably well-traveled, but one thing I've never done is travel alone.  Sure, I've flown by myself a few times, navigated with a map on my lonesome, and I've been in charge of my own passport for as long as I've had one (ten years this spring!).  But I've never spent a night alone in a hotel room.  Never not had someone with whom to eat dinner.  Never gone to a place I didn't know well without another person to back me up.

Until now. 

I'm in DC for a big conference right now, and this was always supposed to be my first business trip, so that on its own would have been interesting enough for me (now I can write about what to pack when you travel for business!).  But, Roger was originally supposed to come down with me.  There are several art exhibits closing in the next few weeks that he wanted to see, so the plan was for him to spend the days meandering around the city, and for us to share evenings and a fancy hotel together.  Unfortunately, his grandmother passed away last week, and the funeral arrangements meant that he couldn't come any longer.  So, I'm flying solo for the first time ever. 

Penn Station & Trip Reading

Thus far, it's been fine.  I'm trying to take this opportunity to get to know myself a little better, but, as it turns out, I know myself pretty well, and also, I have a lot of work to get done, so that's interrupting my self-discovery a bit.  The train ride (my first Amtrak ride ever - I am in love) was uneventful, and I spent a good amount of time gazing out the window.  The presence of technology (in the form of my smartphone) makes it much more difficult to really unwind, and to get reading/writing done.  I'll keep that in mind when planning our next trip.  Once work was over for the day, I was faced with my first awkward-alone task: dinner.  I decided on a Lebanese restaurant that was really good, and ordered take out to eat in the room.  On the king size bed I  have all to myself.  Then I crawled into a hot bath, and now I'm posting this before reading some more.  Mostly, it's what I would be doing if I was alone at home, except that everything has a small air of difference.  It's nice and relaxing and strange.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Traditions: Gifts

I think presents are a pretty big part of Christmas traditions for everyone, but certainly one worth noting.  My Christmases have always been filled with gifts.  They flow from under the tree like two giant waves: my gifts on the left side of the tree, my sister's on the right, and we used to open them wearing matching pajamas.  One particularly precocious year, perhaps my sister's first, my mother asked me on video camera what I thought of Santa.  "I think Santa has the same wrapping paper we do!"

My parents, who are wonderful at all times of year, really shine at Christmas.  My father's crazy lights, my mother's amazing cooking, and their dual ability to know what we want and get it, even when we give them lists at the very last minute, and even when our gifts previously involved "every single toy in the JC Penny's catalogue."  Of course, the pile of gifts under the tree has grown smaller as we grow larger, but it's still more than any two daughters could ever deserve - to say nothing of the year my mother hid iPods in the stockings, usually opened after my parents have opened their gifts, and generally filled with candy, soaps, and little trinkets. We've been spoiled Christmas after Christmas, and I could not be more grateful for all the happy memories that it has created for us.

I also really love buying Christmas presents.  It's been a bit of a trial the past few years, with less spending money than I'm used to, but I try to find something thoughtful whenever I can.  I can't spill any of the details here, in case a gift-receiver is reading this, but I hope everyone enjoys what I've given them, and I hope it's all a surprise.

Also, this year, I received a wonderful gift from a twitter gift exchange.  I love the little community that has built up around twitter and this blog, and I could not be happier to have received this wonderful little bundle from Meghan.  She sent a winter care-package, filled with wonderful things to keep me warm: tights, tea, and the prettiest yarn you can imagine.  It was the perfect package, filled with things I really need, and I was so glad to open it during a hectic day at work (and at the prodding of a friendly co-worker - the other thing about me and gifts is that I love to savor them, and so it takes me forever to open them.)  Thanks so much, Meghan - it's all perfect! 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Traditions: Feast of the Seven Fishes
So, this tradition appears to have an actual basis in one of my "old countries," Italy.  The feast of the seven fishes is thought to have originated in southern Italy, and since my grandmother's family was from Calabria, and my grandfather's family was from Naples, it makes sense that this is something that was carried over with them.  Anyway, I think it was.  I haven't actually asked either of my parents if this was something they made at home. 

My other grandparents were off-the-boat Irish and one-generation-off-the-boat-"German," so I have no idea what my mother ate on her Christmases as a child, but she's the one who makes our seven fishes now.  Our Christmas Eve dinners are probably the greatest meal we eat all year, and my mother, who does everything in her power not to cook most days, whips it together like it's no big thang.  She's a champ, and I really think she could hold her own with the best Italian grandmothers out there.

In case you aren't Italian American (ahem, Shelby!), the basic premise is that you can't eat meat.  I have no idea where this comes from - Christmas Eve isn't a fasting day like Fridays in Lent* - and the truth is, we don't actually follow it.  Our appetizers include lots of hard sausages along with fresh mozzarella, olives, and roasted red peppers.  But, the rest of the meal is meat-free and filled with seven different types of fish, one to represent each of the seven seas.  One day, I'll post some recipes, but for now, here's our list of what types of fish we usually make:
  • Clam dip, served with fresh bread during appetizers
  • Lobster tails
  • Crab legs
  • Stuffed flounder
  • Shrimp scampi
  • Coconut shrimp
  • A "grab-bag" fish, where my mother experiments with new recipes.  In the past, this has included baccala, trout and salmon, and this year, we're trying sea bass.
It's also the one time each year that we use the leaves in the dining room table, and set it with the Christmas china and fancy silver.  Even though we open most of our gifts on Christmas morning, Christmas Eve has always felt like the most special part of the holiday to me, and this meal is the main reason why.  Every year, it's the same,** even as the people around the table change, it always feels like home.

What special meals do you cook for the holidays?

*My parents and I share the same lack of religion, but growing up, we followed Lent under the watchful eye of my grandmother.  It actually wasn't such a big deal - Fridays were pizza day in our house anyway, and even now, I prefer eating vegetarian anyway.  Hearing coworkers at my last job complain every Friday about not knowing what to eat for lunch except tuna-fish sandwiches and pizza basically made me want to slap them.
**Unlike Christmas Day meals, which seem to be forever in flux.  We've had lasagnas, turkeys, and hams, and while dinner on Christmas Eve starts at a civilized 7pm, dinner on Christmas Day is more like Thanksgiving and begins around 2pm, when you still haven't recovered from your food-hangover.  This year, I'm gunning for a light brunch.  We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Traditions: Weihnachtsgurke

I have long wished for a Weihnachtsgurke.  Like many Americans, I was taken in by the myth that German children search the tree for it on Christmas, and the first to find it is awarded a special present.  I can't remember when exactly I decided I wanted one, but I'm pretty sure it was before I turned 12.  Our Christmas traditions have been a pretty hearty mix of Italian-American and Baby-Boomer, so it seemed like a nice way to bring in my German heritage.  Alas, they always cost about $50.  (I was, apparently, always finding the Christopher Radko ones.)

Imagine my excitement when, on a spontaneous shopping trip a few weekends ago, I discovered an affordable one at Sur La Table, on sale for just under $5.  Of course, I immediately bought it and added it onto the tree, totally ignoring the tradition of hanging it up on Christmas Eve and letting one lucky child find it first the next morning and get an extra gift.  Because, well, there are no lucky children around here, and it seemed silly to have Roger find it on the tree.

And, of course, immediately after that, I googled "Weihnachtsgurke," because, naturally, I wanted to share my findings with you folk.  Turns out that the tradition really isn't one at all.  Which might seem disappointing, but I also recently learned that my German heritage probably isn't German either - it's more likely Austrian or Czechoslovakian.  So, it seems all these heritages and traditions are a bit arbitrary (and, need I say, commercial) anyway, and I can make the pickle my own tradition if I want.  And I do, and I will.

And, the rest of these days leading up to Christmas, I'll be writing a little bit about my family's holiday traditions, the ones that have gone on for more than the past three weeks.  Not to give anything away, but my parents are pretty big on Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Weekend Wanderings: December

Oh my, it's actually only been 10 days since my last post, but it feels like ages.  A lot of little pleasures have been had, many of which were recorded with my camera phone.*  I will proceed to tell the story of December-so-far with them now.

12/03: Inspirational Emily Dickinson lecture at Poets House.

12/04: Painted the bedroom in Ryegrass. Lovely.

12/10: Friends and the Kings County Distillery

12/11: Becky and Shaelyn and an afternoon of shopping for holiday presents.

12/15: Earshot reading (my first ever reading where my work was selected by strangers!)

12/17: Holiday shopping, HIMYM, dancing until 3am at Beauty Bar.

12/18: Ducks and a cat in the park on the way home from getting a delicious brunch of bagels.
12/19: Corbis sends us their annual holiday thank you gift - posters!

*I tried to find a quick way to round the edges on these to make them look better, but it didn't easily work for me, and let's be honest - this post is overdue enough.  If anyone has suggestions on how to make me a little more hipster (other than getting instagram), let me know and I'll do my best.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Peppermint Bark

I made peppermint bark for the first time yesterday at around 11:30pm.  It was incredibly easy to do, and since it's one of my favorite candies, I'm pretty glad to have made it on my own.  I used Paula Deen's recipe and followed it pretty closely, except that I also sprinkled a little bit of the mints on the top for a festive look.  If I ever get more time, I might try Orangette's recipe, but for now, this one works just perfectly.  If you're looking for a quick make for your cookie exchange, secret Santa, or holiday party, I'd definitely recommend this.

Peppermint Bark
  • Crushed candy canes, to yield 1 cup
  • 2 pounds white chocolate
  • Peppermint flavorings, optional
Place candy canes in a plastic bag and hammer into 1/4-inch chunks or smaller. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Combine candy cane chunks with chocolate (add peppermint flavoring at this point if desired.) Pour mixture onto a cookie sheet layered with parchment or waxed paper and place in the refrigerator for 45 minutes or until firm. Remove from cookie sheet and break into pieces (like peanut brittle.)

Monday, December 5, 2011

December Already?

Oh my.  It seems just when I think I'm caught up, things start all over again.  I can cook or take out the trash or do the laundry.  I can finish my schoolwork or keep on top of my work-work or paint our bedroom.  And for enjoyment, I can blog or knit or read or decorate for the holidays.  I'm always sad I can't do all four, but last weekend decorate I did:

I really love the idea of creating an advent calendar tradition, where each evening is a different activity (most of these have cute ideas), but I sort of realized that even though this is our first Christmas living together, it really isn't the right time for us to start such an intensive tradition.  Instead, we've been making up smaller traditions as we go along: popcorn while we made our Christmas cards (and listening to Sufjan Stevens as I filled them out); talking about all the places we've been while putting on the ornaments; lots of television and schoolwork in our pajamas.

Before the holiday itself, I'm hoping to add just a few more: making peppermint bark, visiting Rockefeller Center with my parents, and watching at least one holiday-themed movie.  There's time, in years to come, for knitting and baking and popcorn chains and paper crowns and good-luck drunkard's brunch on New Year's Day.