Monday, November 30, 2009

A Beckoning Pecan Pie

A pecan pie is sitting on my kitchen counter as I write this, calling to me to come have just a little taste, it's only a taste.  Two days ago, a sliver was gone.  Yesterday, there was half.  And tonight, I have managed to widdle the remaining slice to less than a quarter of its original circular shape.  I made this pecan pie myself.  In fact, I made two pecan pies, which together made up my first attempt at one of my favorite Thanksgiving treats.  My Aunt also made a pecan pie (she didn't know I would be making two) and an apple pie, my other aunt bought two pumpkin pies, and my mom bought pumkin and lemon meringue pies. 

Eight pies for 18 over-stuffed people after our Thanksgiving dinner last Thursday.  We touched only three of the eight; hence, there are several still left, and naturally these leftovers have remained at my house, enticing me to finish them before they go bad.  There is nothing that bothers me more than wasted food.  And so, every time I think of it (which turns out to be at least once every 60 minutes), I head to the kitchen, grab a clean fork, and nibble on my pick of the hour, right out of the pie dish (no sense in using another plate for only a couple bites), just enough so that the edge I'm re-sizing is straight when I'm done.  I put my used utensil in the dishwasher every time, thinking it will lessen the chances of me repeating my habitual snacking, but this technique has only led to a shortage of forks by dinner.  But really, what is Thanksgiving if not for eating large quantities of food with people you love, and then eating that same food for days after?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Art (or Lack) of Smoking a Cigar

Step 1: get cigar. In other words, call whoever's cigar box you're rummaging through, ask which is the cheapest, least-valued cigar, and apologize in advance for the likely waste of said cigar.

Step 2: bite off round end of cigar. Bite?!? OK, I tried this and it really didn't work. Not at all. Instead of a clean chop through the thing, I got pieces of brown paper all over my mouth.... not so pleasant. I tried this technique twice more, to no avail. What was I doing wrong??

Step 3:  while picking bits of cigar paper out off your tongue, find scissors and cut the by now gooey cigar end.  Why am I doing this again?

Step 4:  light cigar.  aka go through 9 matches before bringing out the torch-sized lighter, which does a pretty sufficient job. 

Step 5:  enjoy cigar, while remembering not to (cough cough. ooops) inhale.

As you can probably guess, this was my first time at preparing a cigar to smoke, and it obviously didn't go so smoothly.  I'll have to seek instruction from someone who, say, has worked in a cigar shop before attempting this again.  Or maybe I should just steer clear of cigars instead.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Only in Annapolis

There are quite a few Irish pubs in downtown Annapolis, each one claiming to be 'authentic,' hanging their white, orange and green flags on their walls and serving pints of thick Guiness to prove it.  My parents have always joked they're going to open another one.  I doubt they ever will, but if they did, I always wondered what it's chances would be, especially up against Galway Bay on Maryland Avenue.  I would say of all downtown's Irish-themed places, Galway is the best: the most authentic, serving the most delicious food in a cozy, yet lively atmosphere. 

Last night I sat perched on a stool at Galway Bay's bar for a couple hours, nursing two glasses of house Cabernet, snacking on corned beef poppers from my friend's plate.  It was a typical quiet November mid-week night, and the bar was half-full until around 9pm.  All of a sudden, a surge of midshipmen arrived, as boisterous as forty 22-year olds are when they've just received their assignments for the next 4 years of their lives.  But they didn't act like the stereotypical crazy college seniors on a wild night out.  They were excited, but polite, and listened with respect as the leader (commander? captain?) gave a toast to their futures.  We spoke with a few of the mids, who shared their assigned positions with us.  Each was so enthusiastic, not only to have a guaranteed job for the next four years, but to be helping our country in a time of need.  Talking to them gave me a sense of pride... I'm not really sure why- I hadn't done anything.  I guess I was just proud of these people, all strangers to me, on the brink of their futures, getting ready to go out into the world.  It's similar to the position I'm in myself.  I only hope we will all find our ways and accomplish great things, wherever our paths may lead us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Walk/Drive on the Wild Side of NC

Another weekend = another opportunity to take a road trip, this time to visit my friend Jennie, who lives somewhere in the midst of the triangle cities of North Carolina.  In preparation for the 5+ hour drive, I brought lots of snacks so I wouldn't have to stop and eat, and checked out a few books on CD to keep myself entertained.  Unfortunately, about a 1/2 mile from my house, the CD player in my car suddenly stopped working.  And then my radio stopped working too (I had to start singing to myself at one point; fortunately, there was no one else in the car to hear me).  It was about halfway through the drive that the ache in my right leg prompted me to look for the cruise control function, at which point I realized it does not exist in my car (I am a new owner of this 2000 Toyota Corolla).  And once I got close to my destination, my mapquest directions led me astray, landing me in what I later learned was a not-so-safe area of Durham.  Oh the joys of road trips. 

Jennie's place, which I finally reached slightly later than planned, is south of Durham, in an apartment complex complete with an outdoor pool, open year-around, a gym, and a coded gate to get inside.  It could have been a dilapidated trailer park for all I cared - I was just happy to finally be out of my car.

Saturday was a gorgeous fall day, the kind where you can't help but do something outdoors, no matter how badly you may be feeling from the previous night's festivities.  We forced ourselves up and out of bed, grabbed a greasy breakfast at McAlisters where we shared a supreme 'spud' i.e. open-faced baked potato topped with turkey, bacon, ham, olives, cheese, chives, and sour cream with some of the most amazing potato soup I've ever tasted, then headed to the William B. Ulmstead State Park

The park is tucked between Raleigh and Durham, and has over 20 miles of winding trails to hike.  We chose a 7.2 mile route to casually walk/jog (mostly walk), and were off.  The trail winds along Crabtree Creek, gently rolling up and down with the hills.  Trees surrounded us, completely covering the landscape, their leaves a full range of shades, from glowing red to shriveling yellow.  We saw a huge birdhouse, squirrels, mushrooms, and a few deep holes in the ground, surely inhabited by creatures I'd rather not come face to face with.  At one point along the creek, we came upon what looked like a beaver's den - with a buck lying on top, crushed by a tree that fell on him.  That poor deer really was in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

We finished in about 90 minutes, feeling refreshed and energized.  I'd say this beats a treadmill any day.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Birthdays and Cake Conundrums

I think birthdays, whatever age they happen to usher in, warrant a celebration of some sort.  Whether you're turning 11 or 81, the day deserves recognition, a distinction to divide one year from the next, even if you feel no different waking up that morning.  There will always be those people who ask "how do you feel now that you're 13?" or 21? or 25?  Those are all milestone years in growing up, marking additional privileges (that is, if, at 25, you consider being able to rent a car a privilege).  I never felt any particular change with each passing year, even the big ones- at least not like I'd imagined I would feel when I was, say, 8 years old.

I bring up the topic of birthdays not because mine is coming up, but because we just celebrated my mom's big day.  We had a small get-together for her, somewhat belated but still a surprise.  I love surprising people, and also love being on the other side, having something planned without my knowing about it.  Anyway, I made her a little cake- chocolate with chocolate frosting and bananas and raspberries on top.

There are some factors to consider in making a cake (or anything, really) for a group of people: a) making something you think the majority of those attending will like and b) making something you think the majority of those attending can eat.  The cake I made happened to be a gluten-free chocolate cake from a mix I found on the pantry shelf.  (Is it wrong to use a batter my mom bought to make her birthday cake?  To my defense, it had been sitting there for at least a few months, if not longer.)  So there was no wheat.  But then it called for gluten-free vanilla, which I didn't have.  So the cake had some small percentage of gluten contained in its 1 teaspoon worth of vanilla.  The frosting was another issue, as Whole Foods had only one choice (why is that when it is supposedly the third largest on the entire East coast?), and contained all-natural ingredients, but was not gluten-free.

So do I label the part-gluten-free cake as such?  Or just leave it, and assume people with concerns will ask?  I went with the latter, and no one asked.  It tasted great, and the night was a success.  My mom was thrilled, and I'd say she brought in her next year in a style of someone at least 20 years younger.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

To the Big Island

Last weekend, I ventured beyond the city limits of Annapolis on the Greyhound bus to New York City for a long-overdue college roommate reunion. I got a glimpse of NYC life, from the fast pace and constant stream of people everywhere to the lovely apartments that I invaded with my overstuffed luggage. I entrusted my friends to arrange the itinerary, and went along for the ride.

One of the weekend's highlights was a trip to Manhattan's West Side Saturday afternoon.  A level above the streets of the Meatpacking District, lays a long line of railroad track which dates back to the 1930s: the High Line. Originally built to transport goods into and out of the city's industrial neighborhoods without disrupting traffic, it has been abandoned since 1980, left for the weeds to grow between its wooden slats. As it turns out, those weeds were the basis of a vision that started the non-profit Friends of the High Line's project a few years ago to reinvent this unused space.

Today, the High Line has been transformed into a public park, 30 feet above the city's bustling sidewalks.  A winding path flanked by slatted stone benches divides the beds of vegetation- tall grasses, black-eyed susans, wildflowers- growing amid the old tracks.  The park starts on Gansevoort Street and goes to 20th Street, but is due to open through to 30th street next year.  Walking through the park on a weekend afternoon was crowded, but we could still appreciate the creative design of such a unique space. 

After our stroll along the tracks, we explored Chelsea Market, nestled beneath the High Line at 15th and 16th streets.  We entered a tunnel of small food shops and restaurants lining a cavernous hallway, full of lots of delicious fare from bakeries, chocolates, meat stands.  We explored every option before making our selections (these choices are very important), and sat down with cannolis and coffees.  The afternoon faced into evening as we people watched and caught up on the last year we'd been apart.  I have to say the catching up was far better than all the Italian pastries in the world.  Thank you for a wonderful weekend!

A few things I learned on my trip:
-the tiny mice scampering through London's tube are nothing compared to the rats of NYC's subway
-there may be plenty of cabs in NYC, but they're all full exactly when you need them
-the definition of hipster, if there is such a thing, in action
-expect angry looks and words when navigating your way through rush-hour foot traffic towing a rolling suitcase behind you

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Morning After

The tricking and treating is over, the witches are in from their flights.  The candy wrappers have been strewn about, littering the floor beneath every kid's bed as they sneak pieces from their stash.  And the extra hour has been graciously welcomed as we reach the darker days of autumn.  It will be another 364 days until it's socially acceptable to dress up however you choose, no exceptions.  Or to knock on strangers' doors in expectation of some delicious sweet.

The Eve of All Hallows is one of my favorite holidays: the excitement of wearing a costume, the lighting of the pumpkins, the spooky decorations made to scare even the most collected passer-by.  And of course, the crowning moment, after lugging home that pillow case full to the brim, of counting the bounty.  I like to think my number was often somewhere in the 300 or 400's, but that could be my mind only imagining that much. 

This year I was a Greek goddess, digging a white sheet out of an old pile in the garage to make a toga.  There hasn't been a Halloween when I didn't dress up, even if it was only the desperate, last-minute head through a hole in a trash bag (pretty lame, I know).  I'll admit I trick-or-treated a few years more than most do (there are some perks to being not-so-tall and having a juvenile-sounding voice behind that mask)... but I'd do it again if I had a chance. 

And then there's the next morning.  It's funny what (and who) you find wandering the streets through the rain, searching for remnants of the previous night's festivities.  Wine glasses half-finished, the bottles collected on the doorsteps.  Smashed pumpkins, burned out or moldy from a slightly-too-premature carving.  The token partier, still dressed as a cow, just not ready to be done with the night.  Don't worry, it'll be back next year.  And as always, I'm sure I won't be planning my costume until probably around 5 o'clock on the day.  Wouldn't want to ruin that element of surprise.