Discovery: Savory Artisan Cookies by Carla Hall 08.28.2013

I made a quick stop at Whole Foods today picking up six pounds of chicken and there she was:  a woman sitting behind a folding table handing out little paper cups of petite cookies made by Carla Hall (a finalist on the fifth and eighth seasons of Top Chef, and chef and owner of Alchemy Caterers in Washington, DC).  My 4-year-old son was with me so obviously we had to try them (twice).  I can't even talk about the entire collection on display because only hours later, I am addicted to the cheddar pecan cookies.  Seriously addicted.

If you, like me, prefer savory over sweet, you're going to love these little bites.  Not to mention they are packaged perfectly for hostess gifts.  The various holidays are just around the corner, you know.  Ingredients:  premium flour, butter, sharp cheddar cheese, pecans, salt, cayenne -- and you do taste that cayenne at the end.  Nice.

You can buy Carla Hall's cookies online, or at Whole Foods and other stores (click HERE for locations).  

And Carla Hall has a cookbook, Cooking With Love.  I don't know about you, but when I see a recipe for Down Home Deviled Egg with Smoky Bacon, I owe it to humanity to make a tiny effort to try it out.

Happy noshing all!

Beer Report: Dogfish Head Sixty-One 08.27.2013

I am not what one would describe as a beer person, but over the years, I've come to appreciate and love beer.  Sure, wine has nuances, but so does beer.  I'm not entrenched enough to talk about beer by using words like "nose" and such, but I know what tastes good, and what tastes mediocre.  

Last week my family and I vacationed in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and I attended the first Taste of Rehoboth, which featured four Dogfish beers, including the Sixty One, which is pictured here.  It's damn delicious:  hoppy, but not too hoppy.  

I love IPAs and can take them at their strongest.  The Sixty One is on the lighter side:  it's the brand's 60-minute IPA with California syrah grape.  You can taste the grape on the first sip. And I'll tell you this: you're either going to love or hate this beer.  I love it.  

Before we left for Rehoboth, our neighbor Bill loaned us his Dogfish beer growler, which we had filled with the Sixty-One at the Dogfish restaurant at our last lunch in Rehoboth.  Growlers are a gallon (can be less) and most commonly used by craft brewers.  If you're serious about your beer, get a growler for your next visit to your favorite craft brewery.  They're tight and keep for a bit.  I am thoroughly enjoying our stash of Sixty-One.

If you're not familiar with Rehoboth Beach, let me tell you that in addition to a lot of beach, there is a lot of food.  And a lot of drink.  And it was actually quite surprising that this was the first year that they had a "taste" of Rehoboth:  the restaurant scene is respectable.  Go.  Beach it up, eat it up.

In addition to Sixty-One, Dogfish featured Indian Brown, Etrusca, and Midas Touch.  I enjoyed tasting all of them, but Sixty-One was definitely my favorite.  

Soooo...what's your favorite Dogfish?

Happy sipping all!

At Taste of Rehoboth 2013


Important Advice for Parents Making School Lunches 08.26.2013

1.  Keep the faith.
2.  Do not lose your mind.

That's it.  That's all I have for you.

If you thought you were heading into a list of healthy suggestions for school lunches to feed your beautiful children, you are in the wrong place.  Anyone who tries to offer you such a list does not – I repeat – does NOT know your kids:  grain of salt, tread carefully, etc. etc.

Today is the first day of school and for those who make bag lunches for school-going kids, we're back in the trenches!  And if you've ever been in any kind of trench, you know that it totally blows.  It's repetitive, you lose your creative edge after a while, and you can't wait for an opportunity to get the hell out.  

Obviously, I want to feed my kids but packing lunches day after day after day after day after get the point.  Your kids either take lunch from home or eat school lunches (out of desire or necessity); mine have lunch boxes from home.  I fantasize about not making lunch, but I’ve seen the school lunch and it’s just not going to happen.  So, I’m choosing to make lunches, and I will whine about it. 

When I was in elementary school, a lunch from the school cafeteria meant corn dogs, hamburgers, and greasy pizza, and back in 1970s Houston, Texas, well, that was just fine.  Once or twice a year now, I get hold of a corn dog and it is pure decadence.  

Several times a week, when she had time, my mom would make bag lunches for us.  And by far my favorite lunch food was her tomato sandwich:  in between two slices of white bread spread with mayonnaise, three slices of tomato sprinkled with black pepper, salt, and mango powder.  And the creme de resistance?  A slice of American cheese.  And by the time lunch rolled around, it would be slightly soggy, the tomato and mango powder flavors having sunk into the bread, and the processed cheese was softer than it had started.  I didn't care because that sandwich was so damn good. If my mom made it for me today, I’d ask her to let that tomato sandwich sit in a brown bag for a few hours, get to room temperature, and then I’d eat it. With pleasure.

Now healthy eating is all the rage (well, more mainstream at least).  We aim to provide the healthiest food, but sometimes the goal to inject calories is greater than what children are willing to eat.  But we keep pushing, right?  That’s what you do when you’re in the trenches.

My kids have a stable of four things they love to eat for lunch and that is it.  The side items fluctuate from time to time:  my daughter went through a carrot phase, which pleased us to no end.  That phase is now over, and now she is going through an extended chocolate pudding phase.

And aside from the all the healthy-versus-not-so-healthy arguments we have in our heads, there is the time we spend making the lunches.  Its redundancy is up there with loading and unloading the dishwasher, but it must be done. 

Last year when my daughter started kindergarten, I was anxious and had everything ready the night before.  I carefully wrapped her sandwich in wax paper and secured it with Spider-man stickers.  I contemplated heart stickers to express my love, but that's not her:  Spider-man makes her happy.

This year I made both lunches in the morning, with a significantly lower level of anxiety.  I stuck love notes in each lunch ordering the kids to have a good year and professing our unconditional love for always and forever.  

Whenever Friday rolls around, I refantasize that next week I will be on top of things, I will plan, I will always make lunch the night before, and I will turn my 6-and-4-year-old kids into lovers of quinoa and hummus and portabella mushroom sandwiches, and not just cheese sandwiches and chicken nuggets (organic, of course) and chicken curry.  I know there are children already feasting on such treats (I’ve seen it with my own eyes) but I also know the complete opposite.  We straddle the middle and on most days achieve healthy with a side of fun.

Hope everyone out there with a first day back had a good one!  Happy eating all!

Have You Tried The Aviation? 08.19.2013

Not too long ago, a restaurant opened in our neighborhood that (fortunately) had an extremely talented bartender.  He made his own bitters and such and the drinks he served up were crazy.  He once enticed us to try a gin cocktail called The Aviation, and now I'm going to entice you.

In addition to being so tasty, the Aviation is a gorgeous drink:  after the gin, lemon juice, and Luxardo are poured into a martini glass, the last step is to gently pour in creme de violette, which sinks to the bottom and gives the rest of the drink a blue-purple, cloudy hue.  It was created in the early 1900s and is meant to look like the sky as the Wright brothers ascended into the sky (or so the bartender told us).  

Eric has been making Aviations and the measurements below are for one glass, which I promise you is delightful.  Because creme de violette was so difficult to find, there are recipes out there that eliminate it.  I strongly urge you to find it: in addition to being gorgeous, it's just so damn good.  

And this drink is good all year:  cool and fresh on a hot day, and it'll warm you up in a snow storm.

And now, a warning:  this drink is very, very strong.  Have one, relax, enjoy the buzz and go about your evening.  If you have two, do not drive, do not change your will, do not call your ex, do not get on Facebook.  You've been warned.

The photo above is my friend Katya enjoying an aviation Sunday evening.  


The Aviation

3 oz gin (Eric's favorite gin is Plymouth)
1/2 oz Luxardo (maraschino liquer)
1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
Generous dash of creme de violette 

Easy Summer Sandwich for a Hot August Day 08.11.2013

I love sinking my teeth into a crisp, cool summer sandwich, especially one that is not insanely unhealthy.  I created this pita sandwich with fresh ingredients we happened to have on hand and I'm excited that it's vegetarian.  My father is vegetarian and I love finding new things for him to eat.  

Two of the key ingredients -- hummus and roasted bell peppers in olive oil and garlic -- were made from scratch by my husband, but if you don't have the time or the inclination, they can easily be found in any grocery.  I experimented a few times with how the sandwich was layered and think I've found the right formula.  It does have a different textural feel (and taste) if you layer differently.

Also, make sure all of the ingredients stay refrigerated until you are ready to make and serve the sandwich.

Okay, ingredients for 2 servings:

Pita bread, sliced and divided into two circles
4 tablespoons hummus 
1/2 red onion diced
2 sliced roasted bell peppers in olive oil and garlic (use different colors)
1 medium tomato, sliced 
Crumbled feta cheese (as much as you like)
Salt (use sparingly)
Finely chopped mint leaves

1.  Toast the pita for 45 seconds, just getting it warm enough to be flexible without tearing.  This is a cool sandwich so you don't want anything to be warm.

2.  Spread 2 tablespoons of hummus on each pita, then sprinkle diced onion (as much or as little as you like) onto hummus, followed by crumbled feta.

3.  Place slices of roasted bell pepper on top of hummus-onion-feta layer, foliowed by tomato.  You will not use all of the roasted bell pepper on two servings but if you've made it fresh, it will keep for a few days.  I also drizzled on a little of the olive oil in the mixture for added fun.

4.  Sprinkle salt  and a generous amount of chopped mint leaves.

5.  Fold each pita slice over, cut in half, and secure with a long toothpick.  Serve, and enjoy!

Pairing:  I tried the sandwich with a sauvignon blanc and it was a solid pairing, but this sandwich could easily hold up against something stronger.  

I'll be making this a lot -- it's easy and tastes so good.  And I need all the ease I can get today.  I'll be honest with you:  I'm sad that Breaking Bad is ending.  It's a brilliant show and Bryan Cranston's Walter White is more addictive than his meth (which I've heard is awesome).  So, meals, lunches, outfits for tomorrow will all be organized and kids will be asleep.  I have a date with Heisenberg.

Love of the County Fair 08.10.2013

When I graduated from college, my first job was as a beat reporter for the Gazette Newspapers in Montgomery County, Maryland.  I had big dreams of reporting on big things, and growing into in an astonishingly talented writer.  So when my editor assigned me to the county fair, it would be fair to say I was mildly devastated.  Surely my talents exceeded reporting on pig races and fried dough?  Aside from the fact that my talents did not exceed reporting on pig races and fried dough, that assignment was all it took to love the county fair.

From where I live and stand, there is not much insight and appreciation of agricultural life in America but that life does exist.  Not perhaps at the capacity of the last century, but at whatever level, it's a part of our economy.  And an important part of any self-sufficient nation. Can you imagine how vulnerable we would be if everything we ate and drank was imported from other countries?  There are children learning to grow food and sustain an agricultural lifestyle, and you can see (and support) all of that at the county fair.

And maybe I have a soft spot for the fair from having seen the original Charlotte's Web when I was six, or the rides, or the little animals, or the demolition derby, or the fried everything...there's so much going on and it's all fun.  Even if you don't participate in any of the activities or events, just looking at everything and everyone around you is an experience.

And now that I have offspring, I want to force the county fair on them to show them just how fun life can be.  And it's really not that hard:  show a kid a tiny animal and love happens.  It's impossible to pry your child away from cute animals, or gigantic carrots, or cotton candy, or games where they can win toys that will clutter up your house.

The Montgomery County Agricultural Fair started yesterday and runs through Saturday, August 17.  The schedule can be found HERE.

The photos here are from the 2012 Montgomery County fair.  We unfortunately went in the evening (and a rainy one at that) so no farm animals were seen.  This year we are headed out first thing in the morning.

A Washington, DC Dining Room 08.08.2013

I recently walked into the dining room at the home of my friends Rob and Lucy and had to catch my breath: the chandelier was breathtaking.  This is the Caboche Suspension Lamp designed by Patricia Urquilo (a Spanish designer) and Eliana Gerotto (an Italian designer), and made by the Italian lighting company Foscarini.  

I'm no expert on lighting or lighting fixtures, but I know when a room feels good, and Rob and Lucy's dining room feels really good. 

The suspension lamp is a recent acquisition in their home, but it wasn't easy getting it.  First, the couple had to get on the same page about the lamp:  Lucy liked it more than Rob, but eventually they both agreed.  Then, there was a wait list that went on for months.  Finally, it arrived and after two adjustments made by the electrician, it was in.  And now?  The whole room looks spectacular and warm at the same time. 

There is a mid-century feel (my favorite kind of feel) to the polymethylmetacrylate bubbles, but it could easily fit into a retro or ultra modern space.  Click HERE to watch a brief video of the designers talking about how the lamp is inspired by a '30s woman's bracelet.

Rob and Lucy found the table (made in Burma) in Thailand and shipped it here.  I have been fortunate to sit at that table a number of times and eat really wonderful, satisfying food. Both Rob and Lucy are great cooks and have no fear approaching adventurous food.  The last meal I had at their home ended with homemade beignets:  who does that?!

I saw a table lamp version of the suspension lamp in the Showtime series "Ray Donovan".  In episode six, one of the characters is getting it on with a lady who is trying to get his genetic material and boom!  There they are:  two Caboche table lamps.  (The lamps, obviously, are not the point of that scene.)

By the way, if you're not watching "Ray Donovan" you are missing out.  Even if it wasn't for the compelling storyline, interesting characters, and tremendous acting, it would only take the following two words to get me to watch this show:  Liev Schreiber.  He had me at "The Daytrippers".

Have an interesting dining room story?  A space that's gone through an evolution through years of uncertainty and angst?  Send it to me:  No more than a page with a photo.

Previous posts from the Dining Room series:

This Black Bean Salad Will Knock Your Socks Off 08.07.2013

Last month, I wanted to create something delicious with two cans of black beans that were sitting in my cupboard and went on a search for a salad recipe.  I found an excellent one on Food Network that involved other vegetables with the black beans that was full of flavor and had a little kick: sold!  

The first time I made this salad, I inadvertently made a major change:  the recipe involves cooking all the vegetables -- I used all raw vegetables.  It gave the salad a nice texture and probably kept it viable a little longer than if it had been cooked, which would have made the vegetables soggy eventually.  My friend Katya made the salad with cooked vegetables and found it disappointing.  

It's also pointless to make one batch of this; you and everyone you serve it to is going to love it so much you may as well make a double batch.  Am I over confident?  You'll just have to find out.  Not all of the ingredients in the dressing are doubled because I didn't want it to be too oily; it turns out just fine with the measurements below.

The Food Network recipe makes the garlic and salt in the dressing into a paste, which I do not do, so in my salad, you're running into little pieces of garlic.  If that's wrong, I don't want to be right.

Okay, here is the recipe (doubled) with my changes noted.  The directions are easy:  make the dressing, make the salad, combine.  Enjoy!


3 garlic cloves
1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
Juice of 1.5 limes 
3/4 teaspoon chili powder (I use the really hot powder I get from the Indian grocery)
1/4 cup olive oil


1 red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 orange bell pepper, diced
2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
Fresh black pepper
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 Hass avocados, seeded and diced
1 bunch chopped cilantro

Party Planning Tips: So You've Decided to Throw a Baby Shower 08.06.2013

baby clothes,baby showers,events,females,gift boxes,gifts,infants clothing,packages,parties,party,people,persons,presents,special occasions,women

Have you ever been to a baby shower and thought, "When the hell can I leave?"  Or, "Why is everyone acting like an alien?"  I have.  Far too many times.  I have thrown two this year and have attended countless baby showers in my adult life.  I have many thoughts on how to entertain (Martha can't be the only expert around here) and am writing today about throwing an off-the-hook baby shower.  That's right:  Off. The. Hook.  

People are constantly getting knocked up so there is always opportunity to host and/or attend a baby shower.  But let's start by stating what we all kind of generally know:  baby showers suck.  They do.  This age old ritual of getting a woman ready for one of her biggest jobs has turned so cute I just can't stand it.  

And it only takes some simple steps to turn what could be a painful, boring event into a fun few hours for everyone involved.  In the first of my "how-to-entertain" posts, I have formulated questions you may have about throwing a baby shower, and I have answered them.  You are welcome.

What are my priorities for the baby shower?

Good question.  You have two priorities:

1.  The mother feels spoiled.
2.  Everyone in attendance is well-fed and has access to alcohol.

Should the baby shower be women-only or coed?

Entirely up to the mother.

I think shower games are a super-fun idea.  Which games should I plan?

You know who loves sitting through baby shower games?  No one.

I was thinking of putting out some cookies and tea sandwiches and a cake.  Do you think this is enough food for a baby shower?

No, it is not.  Make/order more than you will need.  Even if your shower is a cocktail party, make more food than people will eat.  And make sure you're not serving anything that the guest of honor cannot eat.  

I am concerned that the mother will feel alienated if I serve alcohol.  

First of all, you are going to be so attentive to her needs that it won't matter.  Second, because baby showers suck, people will be really happy that you served alcohol.  I promise.  And it's fun to have a signature drink.  When I was pregnant with my daughter, my brother contributed a case of Veuve Clicquot pink champagne to the shower.  Classy and awesome.  

Should the mother open the presents at the baby shower?

Up to her.  

How crazy do I need to go with decorations?

The location of the baby shower should look fabulous.  As with any party you are throwing for another human being, the honoree should feel honored that you paid such attention to details.  Flowers, balloons, etc. are great.  Go for it.  But no cute banner signs.

I've been to baby showers with favors for everyone attending...should I have favors?

No.  No one cares about favors.  Just have lots of yummy food and everyone will be happy.  I promise.

What should I do if my pregnant friend goes into labor at the baby shower?

Make sure she calls her OB and someone who has not been drinking at the shower has her en route to the hospital.  After she leaves, refill everyone's drinks, put on music, and start dancing.  Good vibes for a healthy delivery are in order.

I don't know some of the people that the mother has included on the guest list.  Should I have asked her to only invite people I know?  

Again, this is not about you.  It's about surrounding a pregnant woman with love.  Besides, don't you like meeting new people?

There are several people coming to the party who are not in relationships or don't have children and I think it might be a little tough for them to see this woman getting so much attention for something they don't have and really want.  How can I ease their pain?

You cannot.  There are always a band of people nursing thoughts of "When the hell is going to be MY turn?" and "Why can't I have the happiness this couple has?"  If someone starts whining, tell him or her to buck up.

What about the annoying people who have kids -- how can I keep them from acting like they know everything?

You cannot.  Experienced procreators are suddenly renowned parenting experts with sage advice and stories from the battlefield that are scary for new parents and should not be told.  But, much like the "awwwwwing" during gift opening, it's unavoidable.  People cannot help themselves.  They think they are doing you a favor by warning you about projectile diarrhea.  No one needs to know that in advance. 

Have more questions about entertaining?  Send them to

I Know Why the Soccer Mom Cries Into Her Pink Champagne 08.02.2013

Soooo .... I have no real proof that any soccer mom cries (although why wouldn't she?) or drinks pink champagne (again, why not?) or cries into her pink champagne (a perfect substitute for a 50-minute therapy session).  I'm assuming they do because that's what I want to do since I've been driving all over creation since June 30 when my husband broke his right foot and I am now the sole driver in our family.  I have been driving everyone everywhere and it is mind-numbing and I now hate driving, something which I used to love to do.

I've read all sorts of articles in the last five or so years about how our lives as Americans have gotten more intense, we have horrible commutes, crazy work hours, etc.  And there is always the question, why?  Why are we allowing all this insanity to occur?  Why do we choose to work the hours we work and have the demands we have?  Yes, yes super-power-awesomeness I know I know.  I realize also that the stress and insanity varies geographically, but I am speaking directly to all those areas of our great country where this insanity does exist:  why the hell do we drive children all over the place?!  When did we shift from a society where children had fun in their neighborhoods to a society where legions of parents chauffeur their children to soccer, fencing, swimming, ballet, or whatever?  And why the hell am I doing this?!  I do not remember signing up for this!

But the crazy-making party is that I so very much want to drive my kids to these activities. I don't want them to miss out on anything.  I want them to relish, learn, and thrive.   But there's a limit, right?  I cannot do all of that at the expense of my mental health, or (and more importantly) at the expense of their overall health.

I always knew I would have kids and I always knew I would cart them around to sporting/arts/cultural events.  I had this fantasy of being on the sidelines watching, reading, writing, getting work done.  But for the most part, it doesn't work out that way.  There are interruptions.  There are long stretches of time where you just want to watch your children.   

And since my husband's injury, it has struck me even more that we need to spend less time on the road.  We need to choose wisely where we are going, what we are doing, and determine exactly what our priorities are.  This may seem obvious, but the thrill of having a kid and doing all this great stuff...well, let's just say it's pretty heady and before you know it, you are seriously overbooked and you are driving all the time.  

And when crappy stuff like foot injuries happen?  That's the "in sickness and in health" part.  You have to gather your inner resources and find time to make yourself feel good because you (as the soccer mom/caretaker) are taking care of everyone in your family.  So, for example, no one gets out of the house in the morning until I've put my makeup on.  I am the driver:  you need to get to an appointment?  You need to wait until my mascara is on.

This has not been our best summer; Eric's injury has been exhausting for all of us.  We didn't think to explain to our children that the giant boot on his right foot was temporary until our 6-year-old daughter flatly stated that his foot was never going to get better.  Did you just hear my heart breaking?  I wanted to buy her a pony on the spot.  It is going to get better and I will have a co-pilot once again, and little girl will have a dad who plays soccer with her.  It will be fine.  But -- trust me -- I will be crying plenty into my pink champagne until then.

And my pink champagne of choice?  Veuve Clicquot.  Hashtag YUM.  And for everyday use:  Balducci's Rosato Spumante -- not too shabby!

Happy sipping all!

DC Brau's The Public: Damn Good Beer 08.01.2013

You know how you discover something and you wish you had discovered it earlier so that all this time didn't seem like you just missed out on something?  That is how I feel about DC Brau.  I picked up a six-pack of DC Brau's The Public today at my local beer and wine.  The Public is a pale ale and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I first tasted bitterness, which, after a little while, I realized would go so well with fish and chips, which I did not have on hand.  I did, however, have Mrs. Paul's fish sticks.  Not the same, but not entirely different.

I am excited about DC Brau and can't wait to try their other beers, particularly the Corruption, an IPA style beer.  Also on my list of things to do: a tour of the DC Brau brewery. I might even take the whole family.  

DC Brau is now being distributed in Montgomery County, Maryland -- not an easy feat.  Happy sipping all!

DC Brau Brewing Company
3178-B Bladensburg Road, NE
Washington, DC 20018