Friday, September 19, 2014

What I Read and Write

The big news around here is that our internet connection has worked for more than 24 straight hours. It's been a trying couple of weeks with fading signals and new modems, but last weekend, I made fast friends with a Verizon tech named Phil who worked his tail off to figure out the root of the problem that has plagued our lines since...oh, pretty much since we moved in. Nine years ago.

Anyway, moving on. I will be happy to put all of that behind me. Because I've spent so much time researching articles on my cell phone, shuttling back and forth between Atwater's (where the wireless is free and easy) and on the phone with Verizon, my work schedule has been a mess. As ever, it's the blog that suffers.

So, instead of writing about the stuff I've eaten lately, here are some fun things I've read and written:

Source: Sylvana Ward Durrett via Vogue
Outdoor tablescapes from Vogue. Alicia sent me  link to this slideshow, knowing that long tables, outside, beautifully set for dinner are my kryptonite. Seriously, they fill me with so much joy, I can almost forget how much time I've wasted on the phone with Verizon lately.

Hangover food, courtesy of FWx. This would have been especially useful during my twenties - but it's still full of good recipes. The baked huevos rancheros is actually a go-to dinner around here. In fact, we had it last night!

Shop Girl at Baltimore Fishbowl. Last week, I wrote my first article for local website Baltimore Fishbowl - a super fun piece about where to shop in Baltimore. I bet you can't even tell I researched the whole thing using my cell phone...or maybe you can.

This weekend, it's off to Severna Park for my mom's birthday festivities. We have a big weekend of Waskom ahead of us...and I still have some cooking and shopping to do!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Pretty Boozy

Minimalism + Deep Color + Information + Cocktails?

Oh, Nick Barclay. You had me at hello.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Last Night's Dinner: Woodberry Kitchen at the CFF Passion for Food & Wine Event

Warning: I do a lot of gushing in this post. I couldn't help it. I had a really special dinner last night.

Last month, I wrote an article that I loved writing, from start to finish. It was about a Baltimore event, called Passion for Food and Wine, that raises money for the Maryland chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

As I explained in the article, the event, which is held at the Four Seasons, is a special one. Seventeen awesome chefs from around the city participate, each cooking an incredible meal for a table of twelve guests. But first, there's a cocktail reception with killer drinks from the city's most special bars. And after, desserts and coffee from amazing baristas and pastry chefs. And wound in, an auction that raises piles of money for a very worthy cause.

The event is truly chef-driven and as a result of the time they spend together planning and strategizing, the chefs who participate have all become good friends. They're funny and creative and totally dedicated to the cause. It's a great thing to see.

So that is a long introduction to this: we had a ridiculously great meal last night. It started with seriously gorgeous drinks from Bookmakers Cocktail Club and Wit + Wisdom (Bookmakers, BTW, is going to just kill it in Federal Hill. There's no way around it).

Then, after being ushered into the dining room, we introduced ourselves to the Woodberry group chefs who were there to cook - Spike Gjerde and Opie Crooks, plus pastry chef Sarah Malphrus, a couple sous chefs and several waitresses. They were all very nice - and watching them work, their attention to detail, was more than a treat. For Cooper and I, who spend so much time eating, cooking and just thinking about food, it was a thrill.

When we arrived at the table, the first course was already laid out - in the form of the longest charcuterie board ever. It was so pretty. Between the pigs in croissants and the totally spicy pimento cheese, we could have filled ourselves on that.

Next, we ate Chesapeake oysters with Snake Oil hots sauce and pickleback mignonette (surprisingly mild!), a light crab salad and a couple Marvesta shrimp.

The third course - and probably the most fascinating in terms of plating - was a delicate salad of thinly sliced carrots and radishes with tomatoes, fried okra and - awesomely - chicharones and grilled pork belly. Pig + veggies + crazy texture and color. It was Chef Opie's creation and so impressive, both in terms of actual taste and texture and because it was just cerebral. I loved it.

The main course was more of a homestyle preparation - but just as impressive. The team had cooked a large prime rib, and it was so gorgeous. It was served with braised collards, super sweet corn, potato gratin in cast iron skillets to share and - as a final surprise - a crab cake. I couldn't even come close to finishing...which made me very sad. There was a ton of meat left, too, which chefs from the other tables kept grabbing as they walked past. (Chef Spike sent us home with a carry-out container of meat, too - which was awesome.)

Finally, just when I thought I was going to burst, it was time for dessert - panna cotta with a dusting of buckwheat shortbread, dots of blackberry preserved, a perfectly smoked peach and a few sprigs of some of the mintiest mint I've ever tasted. Somehow, I ate the whole thing.

Each course was paired with an equally amazing wine - W+W sommelier Julie Dalton was responsible for the pairings and, at our table at least, she did a phenomenal job.

Then - at the very end - Chef Spike sent us home with Snake Oil and jelly and coffee and a growler.

Dinner was truly spectacular - both the food and the opportunity to watch the chefs at work (and to watch them joke with each other - it warms my heart to see that sort of community). But as the meal wound down, we watched a video about cystic fibrosis, the impact it has on people's lives, and the importance of what CFF does.

It was a sobering reminder that we weren't just there for fun - the event raises hundreds of thousands of dollars that goes toward research for a cure (92 cents of every dollar raised by CFF goes directly to research - that's a number that wows me). It's impressive and inspirational - and I woke up today feeling honored to have been in the room.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

This Week: Summer's Not Over Yet

Dixon went back to school this week...but summer's not completely over just yet! Here's a quick report on this week's exploits, starting from the top left and moving clockwise:

  • Blog Candy: Last week, Cail texted me about these Chimes mango and ginger chews. For obvious reasons. I ordered some right away and am happy to say that I think they are delicious - all chewy and spicy with just a little sweet mango. However, all my friends think they're gross. Which is fine. More for me.
  • Spice & Smoke: On Sunday, we had some friends over and Cooper smoked a batch of bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed jalapenos. We have a lot of jalapenos. Our garden is pepper central. And these...well, they were the best he's ever made. Not overly spicy and just really smoky and nice.
  • Fancy French Poulet: Last night, I made this House Beautiful recipe for Chicken Veronique. It was super quick and easy and I would definitely do it again. However, I don't think it's necessary to open a bottle of sparkling wine, unless you're going to drink the rest with the meal. Regular old white would do just fine.
  • Salsa!: We have more tomatoes than we know what to do I have made several batches of fresh tomato salsa (it's also a good way to use some of our overabundance of jalapenos). I started with this Alton Brown recipe, tweaking and subbing - I didn't do any roasting, for example, and instead of anchos, I used dried cayennes left over from our garden last year.
  • Shoo-Fly: We had such a good, spontaneous dinner at Shoo-fly on Saturday night. It was just the three of us and we sat downstairs in the diner space. Dixon drank tons of birch beer, I had killer fried chicken, and Cooper had a really solid pork barbecue entree. Plus, a couple great drinks (the one pictured above had bourbon and bitters...but it wasn't overly bourbony or bitter). It's settled into itself, I think, in a way that's really smart for the neighborhood. Which is nice.

This weekend...summer's swan song at the beach. There will be softshells. Among other things...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Making the Most of August

The end of summer means amazing food...and a mad rush to do everything everything everything before school starts again. Here's a smattering of what we've done and eaten recently, starting middle top and working clockwise:

1. We're sailing! Last weekend, for the first time all summer, I had a chance to go out on the boat with my dad and brother and sister - plus Cooper and Clark (Cail was on her way home from vacation, so she didn't make it). There was absolutely no wind but it was a beautiful day, so a good time was had by all.

2. Early August cupcakes at the pool. We've been all over the happy hour/dinner hour at the pool this summer, including one random Tuesday night in early August, when Alicia made some of her best cupcakes yet. They were snickerdoodle cake with light cocoa buttercream...and so good.

3. Jalapeno jelly time. Every year, Mary's parent's neighbors, Frito and Cindy, turn a bunch of their jalapenos into a kick-ass jelly to be served over cream cheese. A little spicy, a little sweet and old school in the very best way. It's awesome.

4. Haircuts. Our deal this summer was that as long as Dixon was good, we wouldn't make him have his hair cut until it was time to go back to school. It is now time to go back to school. Yesterday, he had his mop chopped off and styled at Salon Method...and it looks great in the cutest little boy band way. He is less enamored, since his fierce lax mullet is now gone. But he looks so cute! (And it will grow back.)

5. Pie! Post-sailing, Cail arrived at my parents' house, bringing lots of fun with her, in the form of her dad...and pie! She had been on vacation in Little Compton, Rhode Island (my brother was with her for a week then he had to go back to work, so her dad joined her for a week). In Little Compton, they frequent a pie stand called Wilma's at Walker's. She brought two pies for dinner - one blueberry and one peach raspberry. They were so good words can't do them justice. Seriously, just amazing.

6. Tooloulou at Belvedere Square. One of the city's most fun carry-outs, Tooloulou, has recently relocated to Belvedere Square. I'm thrilled that it's so close by. The other night, we gorged on fig and goat cheese pizza, a muffaletta sandwich, dirty rice and a whole lot of pecan pie. Welcome to the neighborhood, Tooloulou!

7. How 'bout them O's? Seriously, how about them? We're not huge baseball fans but I love all the energy around the Orioles right now. It's so fun. We took Dixon to his first game recently. Though he lost steam somewhere around the fourth inning, he was quite taken with the swag - and the food. His new fave snack: the pretz-cho. Soft pretzels, nacho cheese...what more could you really want?

8. Busting out the good stuff. Back in early 2006, just before I found out I was pregnant, we started buying Bordeaux futures from Wells. All of a sudden, this year, we realized that it was just about time to start actually drinking some of those wines, including the 2003 Cap de Faugeres - a part of our first big purchase. Early in August, we celebrated Mary's birthday with dinner at our house and a couple bottles of the wine. It was delicious, of course, and felt very special. It's weird to start actually drinking something you've been cellaring for years. Makes dinner feel super fancy.

9. Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes (in the center). We are growing them - successfully - but I also can't help buying them. They're just so gorgeous. And they taste so good. I'm in a rush to eat as many as possible before this gorgeous time of year ends.

Because it is ending...and soon. Dixon goes back to school next week and we will be back in our regular routines. I'm ready for the structure and I love the fall. But still, some days, it's easy to wish that summer would last forever.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Caftans and Dreams

I would wear this every single day.
Caftans and Dreams is, by the way, one of my favorite blog names/themes I've come up with after it was too late, since I went all in on Mango and Ginger. (Others include the chef gossip blog Creme Melee - everyone knifes each other - and the monogrammed gun blog The Preppy Prepper.)

Alternate blog histories aside, I still love caftans. Which means I really love this slideshow of fabulous ladies in caftans. And by "fabulous" I mean everyone from Queen Elizabeth to J. Lo. It's good.


Earlier this month, we went to the 35th annual Ertter Family Reunion, otherwise known around these parts as "Mary's family reunion." Mary grew up in a small town about an hour outside Pittsburgh; her parents still live there, as do a whole bunch of other relatives.

The reunion, which we've been lucky enough to go to three times, is held on a big piece of Ertter land just across the street from Mary's parents' house. There's a pool and an old tennis court (which becomes beer pong central at night) and a pavilion next to a giant fire pit. There are grapevines and blueberry bushes and apple trees...and overall, it's just awesome.

This year, right after we arrived, I jumped right into a wine tasting lead by one of Mary's cousins (I think - there are a lot of people and sometimes it's hard to tell exactly how they're all related). The guy who leads the tasting sells wine in Ohio - and he totally knows his stuff. This year, it included about 20 wines, half white, half red, and an interesting selection of similar varietals from different parts of the world. We'd taste a red syrah/grenache from Spain, for example, then follow it with a similar blend from California. It was great.

Other highlights included cheese-stuffed, grilled peppers topped with cheese (and so much butter), the zillions of salads, apps and desserts the family makes and, as ever, a Genessee beer truck.

We make a nice little road trip out of it, too. On the way to PA, we stopped at Family Meal to have breakfast with Sarah G. (My goat cheese and caramelized onion omelet was lovely but the potatoes - so crazy crispy - are the thing not to miss.)

During another stop, Cooper picked up the weirdest local birch beer - it tasted like wintergreen Lifesavers - and I had the probably not that exciting epiphany that Martin's Potato Rolls are a Pennsylvania product. (I just think of them as global. Who doesn't love a potato roll?)

On the way home, we stopped at Bedford Diner, where last year we had a surprisingly amazing breakfast. Unfortunately, this year's experience was not as good - thanks in part to a waitress who probably shouldn't be working in a diner (she was so scattered). But, just like last year, the scrapple I ordered was magical. Seriously, some of the best ever, and I consider myself a connoisseur.

As always, it was a weekend filled with so many laughs, so much fun, and so much love. We're so lucky to not only have great friends - our friends also have great families.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Gluten-Free and Glorious

Gluten-free eating is kind of a big deal these days, huh? According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, about 1% of the population has celiac disease - a condition for which a completely gluten-free diet is the only treatment. But on top of that, a 2012 Mayo Clinic survey found that about 6% of the population has some sort of gluten sensitivity. And on top of that, there are a whole lot of other people who like trendy diets - and being gluten-free is definitely on trend.

Fortunately, I do not fall in that 1% or the 6% or the trendy diet category, either. I love gluten and will continue to inhale floury food products at every possible opportunity. So it is with some interest that I report this: I made two gluten-free meals this week. And I liked them.

The first (pictured on the top right) was grilled chicken over a salad of tomatoes, herbs, grilled corn and scallions, all doused in jalapeno-lime dressing. The recipe came from the August issue of Food and Wine - and it was good. It made good use of what we're growing and all of the summery flavors were fantastic. I liked it even more as lunch the next day, served taco-style with tortillas (not gluten-free).

That meal was sort of a gluten-free accident - I just wanted to make the dinner and wasn't thinking at all about gluten. But Wednesday night, when we had Tommy and his lady friend Sarah over for dinner, I was more careful. Sarah is both gluten-free and dairy-free, which means I got a quick grocery store lesson in everything that has some trace of milk or wheat. Which, for at least one defeated moment when I discovered that gluten-free bread crumbs include dry milk, felt like everything.

But in reality, it's not everything and we ended up having a really good dinner. To start, my trusty go-to heart of palm dip with plantain chips, cucumbers, artichokes and peppers. For the entree, rockfish (from Conrad's), rubbed with olive oil and marinated in white wine and herbs from the garden, plus heirloom tomato relish over corn grits (made with Earth Balance vegan "butter"), and sauteed spinach and garlic.

And for dessert, a selection of chocolate from Pure Chocolate by Jinji, the local vegan chocolatier that just opened up a stand in Belvedere Square. The chocolate is crazy rich - a little goes a long way - but it also looks so pretty that I wanted to buy everything.

It was good! All of it! And as far as I know, Sarah is still standing, which means I didn't accidentally slip any gluten or dairy into the mix.

Reading labels so carefully adds an extra layer of complexity to cooking. I don't envy those with gluten sensitivities - not at all. But at least these days, it's possible to eat a good meal without gluten.

Especially, of course, in August.


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