Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for July, 2013

We interrupt your regularly scheduled furlough pattern for a spontaneous Furlough Monday.

Yep, I took Friday and the following Monday as furlough days, resulting in a four day weekend. Since my brother and his family were coming through town on a vacation, I decided I’d leverage my day off to the beginning of the week so I could hang out with them.

Hosting my brother, sister in law, and their three teen/tween kids was the largest group we’ve ever had stay with us before. Thankfully, our rental home is quite spacious, so with our two spare rooms upstairs and a cot plus air mattress in the basement, everyone had their own bed and plenty of space. Laura, my SIL, says I missed my calling as an owner of a bed and breakfast. Maybe she’s got a real idea there…renting rooms to tourists might be a way we could help subsidize a mortgage out here. 😉

They arrived Sunday evening and had dinner with us. We grilled chicken on the Egg, and I also made some chocolate oatmeal cookies, the final recipe from Pat’s cookbook that I’ll be sharing with you…watch for that soon!

Monday morning after rush hour we headed into town with my brother driving and me navigating. I’ve got the drive to the observatory down pat, but the last couple of miles to the national mall aren’t so familiar to me. But we made it and found a parking spot in a garage on 15th Street near the national aquarium and the White House.

Our first stop was the archives, where we waited in line a little while to see the founding documents, but it wasn’t too bad. Then we meandered toward the Capitol, grabbing some lunch along the way. This was the closest I’ve been to the Capitol since I moved; I still haven’t been in yet, but I’d love to take a tour one day.

20130730-221036.jpg
We started back down the mall and spent a little while at the Air and Space Museum. Then we took in the sights of the national mall as we strolled toward the White House. We got a view of the front amongst a throng of other tourists. I think you can get a slightly closer view if you go around to the back, but we didn’t have the time.

We opted to not continue walking down the other half of the mall to the Lincoln memorial, as we’d have to walk all the way back to the car afterward, and it’s really quite a hike, especially if you’ve already walked the first half. We opted to head a block back to the car and drive over there. Parking was a little scarce, but my brother found a spot a ways down the street. I volunteered to sit with the van while they went to the Lincoln memorial; that way I could save them the hike back when they were finished, and we cut some time off our exit (very important, as we were approaching the beginning of the evening rush hour). That worked out just right, and we made it home from downtown in practically record time.

Evidently, some loser chose yesterday to vandalize the Lincoln memorial, the National Cathedral, and a statue outside the Smithsonian Castle with green paint. It was evident on Lincoln, though we didn’t see the other two. She was eventually apprehended yesterday, but not before defacing those objects. Not super cool on her part.

So, I enjoyed spending my furlough day with family. It seemed like the perfect way to spend forced time off. I should be back on schedule next Friday, but it’ll be hard to top that!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

For my second Furlough Friday, I imagined making grand plans for a spectacular activity that would really amaze and impress you. However, I didn’t actually come up with anything like that. The best I could do was to string together some moderately interesting alliterative items that still made for a fruitful furlough.

  • Fancy Flowers: technically I accomplished this yesterday, but I just considered it a prelude to my FF festivities. I’ve kind of wanted an orchid since we moved here; I have seen them every single time we’ve gone to Home Depot in Rockville, and I’ve been tempted numerous times. For some reason I decided today was the day for one. So Bart helped me pick out an appropriately fabulous one, and now it’s gracing our dining table. Now to figure out how to care for it…

20130726-210829.jpg

  • Furniture Finds: today I wanted to check out ReStore, the Habitat for Humanity thrift shop up in Gaithersburg. People donate lots of junk that gets resold, and the proceeds go toward Habitat. I just knew I was going to find an awesome piece of vintage furniture just waiting for me to upcycle it into some unique statement piece for my home. It didn’t quite work out that way, though a couple of items caught my eye. One was a salt and pepper shaker set of two silver birds, very quaint and vintage. The other was a mid-century cedar chest with an interesting wood grain. I passed on both today, but who knows…I may get a notion to go back tomorrow with Bart and see if they’re still around.
  • Foaming Facewash: A boring, practical need, but I successfully accomplished it while packaging it with an overall fun trip to Target.
  • Funky Flats: I also hit the shoe store with great expectations, as I saw a cute pair of kelly green flats that really caught my eye on an advertising email they sent out this week. I was just sure I needed them. However, they had neither that color or my size in the store. Alas.

Very green…..very not quite going to happen I guess.

  • Feathered Friend: surprisingly, my most successful accomplishment today was just playing around with yarn scraps from my recently completed mitered square blanket. Armed with my new mad crocheting skills, I’ve been thinking of trying some of those cute little amigurumi animals. However, I look at the patterns and realize I don’t actually have crochet skills; I just know how to single crochet. While it is my modus operandi to dive in way over my head with a new crafting skill by taking on a project way beyond my faculties, I decided I should take a step back this time and ease in with a simpler yet still adorable project. So I made this little guy:

20130726-212211.jpg
He actually turned out super well! I learned how to crochet in the round with the magic circle, and I learned to increase. Plus, small projects that you can finish in two hours are quite satisfying after spending multiple years working on that dang blanket.

So, my Furlough Friday wasn’t Fabulously Flabbergasting, but it was Fun and Fulfilling. While nobody enjoys being furloughed, taking the time to do some cool things makes up for it a bit.

Read Full Post »

It would be just plain wrong not to do something as fundamental and southern as a buttermilk biscuit as a tribute to Pat. She was a genuine Southern lady in all ways. I picked this recipe for Southern Living buttermilk biscuits to share, and they turned out better than just about any other southern style biscuit recipe I’ve tried.

I attempted to elevate my photos of this recipe by using our fancy camera instead of my cell phone, but even with a fancy gadget, flour just isn’t that photogenic. Thanks for your patience as I hone my skills as a food photographer. Of course, I still stand by my assertion that I am no food blogger, though this week might just whip me into shape.

Best Buttermilk Biscuits from “Southern Living”

From “A Pinch of This, A Smidgen of That” by Patricia Rains
  • 2 1/4 cups self-rising flour (see directions if you don’t have self-rising flour)
  • 1 1/4 cup buttermilk (see directions if you don’t have buttermilk)
  • additional self-rising flour (or substitution above) for counter surface to knead dough
  • 1/2 cup (one stick) cold butter–real butter! If you don’t have real butter, there’s nothing I can do for you. Just go to the store already.
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter

As always, gather your ingredients.

Gather a few simple ingredients.

Gather a few simple ingredients.

There are really only three items here, but you might not have two of them lying around (I didn’t). Fortunately, Pat has supplied clever work-arounds if you lack the self-rising flour or buttermilk. First, the flour. As a general rule, simply add 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (not baking soda!) and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for each cup of all purpose flour. For this recipe, that’s 3.375 teaspoons of baking soda and 1.125 teaspoons of salt in this particular recipe (since I don’t have a .375 teaspoon measure, I just estimated). Then I suggest making one extra cup of flour this way for the kneading.

For a quick buttermilk stunt double, use one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice (something acidic) plus enough milk to make one cup; let mixture stand for 5 minutes before using. For 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, you’ll need to add an extra quarter of a tablespoon  to the mix.

Make your own buttermilk substitute in a pinch.

Make your own buttermilk substitute in a pinch.

Now start assembling. First, cut your cold stick of butter into quarter inch thick slices. Make sure it’s cold!

Slice the butter.

Slice the butter.

Sprinkle butter slices over flour in a large bowl, then toss the butter with the flour.

Toss butter in flour.

Toss butter in flour.

Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender until crumbly and mixture resembles small peas.

Cut with pastry blender.

Cut with pastry blender.

At this point, cover and chill for ten minutes; we want the butter to be hard, not melty. If you haven’t already prepped your buttermilk, now would be a great time–actually, it would be your last possible opportunity, so it’s now or never. Also, go ahead and preheat your oven to 450 degrees and lightly grease your baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.

Now the real work begins. Add buttermilk, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.

Add the buttermilk.

Add the buttermilk.

All dry ingredients are just moistened; don't overstir.

All dry ingredients are just moistened; don’t overstir.

This is where things got hairy for me. I recommend extra flour–and lots of it–because this dough is crazy sticky. Make sure you cover your work surface with plenty of flour; I would even recommend adding flour to the top of the dough before you turn it out onto the counter.

Sticky mess! Use extra flour liberally.

Sticky mess! Use extra flour liberally.

Now for the kneading (for the record, it’s a tad difficult to get pictures of yourself kneading dough, so you’ll have to use your imagination here). Knead 3 or 4 times, gradually adding additional flour as needed. With floured hands, press or pat dough into a 3/4 inch thick rectangle (about 9 in x 5 in). Sprinkle top of dough with additional flour. Fold dough over onto itself in 3 sections, starting with 1 short end. (Fold dough rectangle as if folding a letter-sized piece of paper). Repeat entire process 2 more times.

Press or pat dough into 1/2 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface; cut with a 2-inch round cutter, and place, side by side, on a parchment paper-lined or lightly greased baking sheet or jelly-roll pan (dough rounds should touch). If I recall, I believe this baking sheet was actually a wedding gift from Pat! How apropos.

Cut out biscuits.

Seriously, cut it out.

Make sure the edges touch!

Make sure the edges touch!

Bake at 450 degrees for 13 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven; brush with 2 tablespoons melted butter.

Brush with butter.

Brush with butter.

Serve while warm with whatever you desire….or just eat them plain. Stuff as many down as humanly possible. What to do with leftover biscuits is irrelevant as it’s unlikely there will be any. And, as always, enJOY!

Delicious, southern-style biscuits.

Delicious, southern-style biscuits.

Best Buttermilk Biscuits from “Southern Living”

From “A Pinch of This, A Smidgen of That” by Patricia Rains
  • 1/2 cup (one stick) cold butter–real butter!
  • 2 1/4 cups self-rising flour (see directions if you don’t have self-rising flour)
  • 1 1/4 cup buttermilk (see directions if you don’t have buttermilk)
  • additional self-rising flour (or substitution above) for counter surface to knead dough
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter

Cut butter with a sharp knife or pastry blender into 1/4-inch thick slices. Sprinkle butter slices over flour in a large bowl. Toss butter with flour. Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender until crumbly and mixture resembles small peas. Cover and chill 10 minutes. Add buttermilk, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead 3 or 4 times, gradually adding additional flour as needed. With floured hands, press or pat dough into a 3/4 inch thick rectangle (about 9 in x 5 in). Sprinkle top of dough with additional flour. Fold dough over onto itself in 3 sections, starting with 1 short end. (Fold dough rectangle as if folding a letter-sized piece of paper). Repeat entire process 2 more times, beginning with pressing into a 3/4 inch thick dough rectangle. Press or pat dough into 1/2 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface; cut with a 2-inch round cutter, and place, side by side, on a parchment paper-lined or lightly greased jelly-roll pan (dough rounds should touch). Bake at 450 degrees for 13 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven; brush with 2 tablespoons melted butter.

MAKE YOUR OWN SELF-RISING FLOUR: Simply add 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (not baking soda!) and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for each cup of all purpose flour. That’s 3.375 teaspoons of baking soda and 1.125 teaspoons of salt in this particular recipe (since I don’t have a .375 teaspoon measure, I just estimated).

MAKE YOUR OWN BUTTERMILK: If you do not have buttermilk, you can make your own using vinegar or lemon juice. One tablespoon plus enough milk to make one cup; let mixture stand for 5 minutes before using.

Read Full Post »

One of my ongoing culinary quests is to find the perfect corn chowder. I try a new recipe every once in a while, and I have finally found a couple that I really like. Coincidentally, one of these happens to be Pat’s Chicken Corn Chowder featured in her cookbook!

Pat’s Chicken Corn Chowder

From “A Pinch of This, A Smidgen of That,” by Patricia Rains
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 strips bacon, cut in small pieces
  • 2 cups cubed potatoes (Pat likes red potatoes; I had yellow this time)
  • 2 cups diced cooked chicken (leftover grilled/broiled breast works great)
  • One 8 oz. can cream style yellow corn
  • One 8 oz. can white whole kernel corn, extra crispy
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup chopped yellow or sweet onion
  • 3 ribs celery, diced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups to 2 cups of half and half or light cream
  • Chopped parsley for garnish, optional

Assemble your ingredients and chop up those veggies. For the chicken, as recommended by Pat, I used one large chicken breast that Bart grilled on the Big Green Egg a couple of days ago. It supplied the added benefit of already having some seasoning and charcoal flavor, making this soup even yummier. Note that I used frozen corn instead of canned whole kernel corn, and I also used milk instead of cream/half and half, since that’s what I had on hand.

Chicken corn chowder ingredients

Chicken corn chowder ingredients

Use oil to lightly grease the bottom of a Dutch oven to prevent bacon from sticking (it’s okay if it sticks a little, because it leaves drippings for your veggies and chicken to cook and pick up the flavor). Cut the bacon into small pieces. Here’s a tip I learned on a cooking show: try dicing your bacon partially frozen; the fat really never freezes solid, but it is easier to cut when it’s firm and less squishy.

Dice up the bacon....frozen is easier!

Dice up the bacon….frozen is easier!

Heat on medium-high heat until the bacon sizzles, then fry until crisp. Keep stirred so it doesn’t burn. I chose to drain the fat two or three times during cooking so it wasn’t drowning.

Fry diced bacon, stirring frequently

Fry diced bacon, stirring frequently.

Remove bacon to paper towels to drain; cool and use these “bits” later for garnish. Or for an extra flavorful chowder, add them back to the soup near the end of cooking.

Sauté onions and celery in bacon drippings in the Dutch oven until tender (about 8 to 10 minutes). Add diced chicken and seasonings (Salt, garlic powder, and pepper) and stir frequently to cook through. Add potatoes, chicken broth, whole corn, cream corn, light cream (or half and half), and bring to a boil.

Add remainder of ingredients.

Add remainder of ingredients.

Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender. When potatoes are tender, you can add the bacon back to the mixture, or save it for a garnish (I did the latter). Serve warm, and garnish each serving with parsley and crumbled bacon bits. I couldn’t resist adding a bit of grated colby-jack as a finish. Of course, you should wash it all down with some iced tea.

I remembered to take a picture this time!

The finished product; I remembered this time!

The finished product; I remembered this time!

Beautiful and delicious. Bart and I enJOYed this for dinner last night, and I’ll have some yummy leftovers for lunch at work today.

Pat’s Chicken Corn Chowder

From “A Pinch of This, A Smidgen of That,” by Patricia Rains
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 strips bacon, cut in small pieces
  • 2 cups cubed potatoes (Pat likes red potatoes; I had yellow this time)
  • 2 cups diced cooked chicken (leftover grilled/broiled breast works great)
  • One 8 oz. can cream style yellow corn
  • One 8 oz. can white whole kernel corn, extra crispy
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup chopped yellow or sweet onion
  • 3 ribs celery, diced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups to 2 cups of half and half or light cream
  • Chopped parsley for garnish, optional

Use oil to lightly grease the bottom of a Dutch oven to prevent bacon from sticking (it’s okay if it sticks a little, because it leaves drippings for your veggies and chicken to cook and pick up the flavor). Cut the bacon into small pieces. Heat on medium-high heat until the bacon sizzles. Fry until crisp. Keep stirred so it doesn’t burn. Remove bacon to paper towels to drain; cool and use these “bits” later for garnish or for an extra flavorful chowder, add them back to the soup near the end of cooking.

Sauté onions and celery in bacon drippings in the Dutch oven until tender (about 8 to 10 minutes). Add diced chicken and seasonings (Salt, garlic powder, and pepper) and stir frequently to cook through. Add potatoes, chicken broth, whole corn, cream corn, light cream (or half and half), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender. When potatoes are tender, you can add the bacon back to the mixture, or save it for a garnish. Serve warm. Garnish each serving with parsley and crumbled bacon bits. Serves 8.

Read Full Post »

A couple of months ago, I lost a very dear, sweet friend. Patricia Rains was a friend of mine, a friend of my family, and a friend to so many people in my hometown. It was astounding how many people I would meet in various ways who were also friends with Pat!

You’ll recall that Bart and I have been able to visit recently with her daughter and son-in-law, Kenda and Nathan, during their recent move and on our trip to New England. Our latest visit was bittersweet as we grieved together over her mother’s recent passing, but we shared some great memories together about her.

Known firstly for her love of God, Pat was secondarily known for being an amazing cook. You could never go over to her house without the kitchen being full of delicious goodies! Ever the writer, she maintained a cooking blog, A Pinch of This, A Smidgen of That, and even published a cookbook of the same name a few years ago. Not long after it came out, I was visiting back home for a few days, and she gifted a signed copy to me. As a tribute to her mom, Kenda is continuing on with the blog and sharing some of her mom’s favorite recipes.

While I was processing all of this after our trip, Bart came up with a wonderful idea last week. At his suggestion, I’ve decided to dedicate this week of blogging to Pat by featuring some of her recipes from her cookbook and sharing them with you. Today I’m going to start with her “Easy Pot Roast and Vegetables.” This was fitting because we had house guests this weekend, and it was an easy, flexible one-pot meal to share with them. Plus, Pat was all about using food to bring people together, so it was perfect to serve for a group.

Easy Pot Roast and Vegetables

From “A Pinch of This, A Smidgen of That” by Patricia Rains

Ingredients:

  • 1 beef chuck pot roast (2 1/2 to 3 lbs)
  • 3 to 5 medium baking potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 2 to 4 large carrots, cut in chunks (or use whole baby carrots)
  • 2 ribs (not stalks!) of celery, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Cavender’s Greek seasoning, to taste
  • 1 cup flour + 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium beef broth

First, gather your ingredients. I didn’t have Cavender’s Greek seasoning, so I looked up the ingredients and substituted basil, rosemary, parsley, and salt to get a rough approximation. I also opted for the baby carrots, since I had those around. For beef broth, you’ll note that I primarily use a beef bouillon base instead of cartons because I find the form factor much more convenient, and it lasts a while for me. But either way is just fine!

Gather your ingredients

Gather your ingredients

Wash and blot roast dry with paper towels. Sprinkle liberally with meat tenderizer (I didn’t have this, either, so I skipped it), garlic powder, then Cavender’s Greek seasoning (or my substitutions). Roll in flour/paprika mixture to coat all sides and place in slow cooker.

Season the roast

Season the roast

Then transfer to slow cooker

Then transfer to slow cooker

Then, Bart and I (okay, just Bart) chopped up the veggies. Note that we left the onion slices bigger so they would cover the top of the roast.

Chop those veggies

Chop those veggies

Place onion slices on top of the meat to cover and arrange other veggies evenly around or on top. Now, I have a huge slow cooker, and my poor roast was drowning in veggies! Yum yum.

All tucked in!

All tucked in!

Pour broth around the edge of the slow cooker crock so it drains to the bottom without washing seasonings off the beef. The recipe says to cover and cook on low 8 1/2 to 9 hours or until beef is fork-tender. I was running shorter on time, so I put it on high and cooked for 5 to 6 hours, and my roast was perfectly tender. Once it’s finished, remove beef to serving platter and arrange vegetables around beef. Remove and discard bay leaves.

Of course, I forgot to take a picture of the beautiful and tasty final product; I was too busy chatting with our visitors and stuffing my face to think about a photo op. But I promise it was delicious and certainly fulfilled my needs for a quick, hands-off, and satisfying meal for a group. Plus, slow cookers can be a great option for those hot days you don’t want to fire up the entire oven for a meal. I hope you’ll give it a try the next time you need a hearty meal to feed family or friends. EnJOY!

Easy Pot Roast and Vegetables

From “A Pinch of This, A Smidgen of That” by Patricia Rains

Ingredients:

  • 1 beef chuck pot roast (2 1/2 to 3 lbs)
  • 3 to 5 medium baking potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 2 to 4 large carrots, cut in chunks (or use whole baby carrots)
  • 2 ribs (not stalks!) of celery, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Cavender’s Greek seasoning, to taste
  • 1 cup flour + 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium beef broth

Wash and blot roast dry with paper towels. Sprinkle liberally with meat tenderizer, garlic powder, then Cavender’s Greek seasoning. Roll in flour/paprika mixture to coat all sides and place in slow cooker. Place onion slices on top of meat to cover and arrange other veggies evenly around or on top. Pour broth around the edge of the slow cooker crock so it drains to the bottom without washing seasonings off the beef. Cover and cook on low 8 1/2 to 9 hours or until beef is fork-tender. Remove beef to serving platter. Arrange vegetables around beef. Remove and discard bay leaves.

Read Full Post »

Technically, my first furlough day was last Monday, but since I craftily leveraged it to create a five-day weekend for our New England trip, it didn’t really feel like it. Today, however, is the first day I’ve been forced to stay at home after working four days the rest of the week. Rather than be frustrated, annoyed, angry, peeved, or otherwise malcontent about an unpaid day off because DoD couldn’t get their act together, I’m going to choose to enjoy my days off when I don’t have to get up ridiculously early and fight traffic and try to use them productively. I’m tentatively scheduled to take Fridays off, but I can shift them around so as to be of the most convenience to me. So, let’s get started with this temporary (no more than 11 weeks, at least during this fiscal year) feature on the blog: Furlough Friday.

Today, my main focus is preparing for two rounds of visitors we have coming in the near future. My uncle, aunt, and their grandson (my second cousin? twice removed? I have no idea) are arriving Sunday for a couple of days of touring Federal City. They were gracious to let Bart, Murphy, and me stay with them on our cross-country trek when we moved out here last November, so we are happy to return the favor. My brother and his crew will be coming the following week on their family vacation. Therefore, I’m taking the opportunity to address some neglected areas around the house, plan some meals, and otherwise tackle routine household chores. I confess that renting makes me less motivated to keep everything gleaming and ship-shape, but that’s no excuse to let things pile up!

My progress today has been interrupted by the local wildlife. I put the bird feeder out yesterday since I would be home to enjoy watching the birds out the kitchen window. However, a whole friggen squirrel posse showed up throughout the morning to raid the goods. I don’t mind feeding them; they’ve got to eat, too, and they are actually fun to watch. It’s just that they decimate the birdseed and don’t like to share with the actual birds. I have let Murphy sic ’em a few times, as it’s good entertainment for him. I’ve also let him out and in and out and in and out and in about two dozen times when he was desperately intent on investigating something outside. We also had another bird trapped in our sunroom, which happens at least once a week. It’s totally screened in, but we leave the door open so Murphy can access the yard, but that also allows critters (including bugs) and dirt to get inside. Here’s a bird I can’t identify from a couple of weeks ago.

Little bird trapped in our sunroom. Can anyone identify?

Little bird trapped in our sunroom. Can anyone identify?

Usually the birds make it out eventually, so when I lost track of this one, I assumed he’d made his escape. However, Murphy was quick to find the bird lying right up against the step down, completely inert. I was just certain he was dead and alerted Bart to the situation; however, when he looked more closely, he realized he was indeed still alive, just maybe hurt a bit. A gentle poke with the broom handle sent him flying around again, and within a few seconds he found the door and flew off into a tree. I hope the little guy’s okay. We decided it was probably time to shut the sunroom door and not keep it permanently propped open, although it’ll mean letting Murphy out the other back door, which is slightly less convenient but still possible. We’ll see how it goes.

My morale was also sidetracked by a trip to the grocery store. Now, I realize I was purchasing more food than usual due to our house guests, but I was pretty peeved at the grand total for this trip. I make a big effort scour sales, clip e-coupons, and use my store card for maximum savings, yet it’s incredibly disheartening to see the bill sometimes. Groceries are so ridiculously expensive here, even compared to Colorado, which I assumed had a relatively high cost of living, too. But it’s nothing on Maryland. Everything is expensive, and the quality of the produce is less than stellar. Also, I stock up on items that are at their rock bottom sale price, which saves in the long run, but when it is time to purchase those items, it makes one particular grocery bill artificially inflated, too (part of the issue today). I made it out of the store without an aneurism, though, so that’s a victory for the day.

I’m currently on a mid-afternoon snack-and-blog break, but I’m about to get back to my list of tasks for the rest of the afternoon. Cleaning and picking up are rather unsexy tasks to tell you about for my first Furlough Friday, but hopefully once that’s out of the way, I can share some more interesting projects in the coming weeks. Hope you’re having a wonderful Friday, either at home or at work!

Read Full Post »

Completing one item on our 101-in-1001 list in a week is awesome, but completing two is downright spectacular. Not only did I finish my mitered square blanket this week, Bart and I unexpectedly knocked out a very delicious list item yesterday.

One of our food-related goals was to have fondue. Neither of us had tried it before, so it seemed like a fun thing to experience sometime. When we overnighted in Zurich last September, we thought it would be an unparalleled way to experience some local cuisine. However, we didn’t have much time and weren’t able to find a place for fondue (we did have schnitzel, though…winning!).

We still had plans to make it happen sometime, though, either at home ourselves or at a fondue restaurant. The latter option is typically pricey, so I wasn’t sure I’d be willing to shell out the cash for it unless it were maybe for a birthday or anniversary. However, early this week I snagged a social coupon on Amazon Local for two-for-the-price-of-one classic four-course fondue experience from The Melting Pot in Gaithersburg, making it a much more affordable way to complete our 101-in-1001 experience. So Bart and I decided to give it a go for a mid-week date on Wednesday.

(I should write a whole post about how social coupons, like Groupon and Amazon Local, have been an awesome vehicle for getting out and about in a new town and for helping us accomplish some of our fun goals.)

I assume most Melting Pot restaurants are about the same, but this is the first one we’d ever been in. It was quite dark, and the two of us were seated in a uniquely shaped, private booth for two, making for an intimate setting (and also poor cell phone photography…apologies in advance!). It was just Bart, me, and the fondue pot on a hot plate on the table.

20130718-202901.jpg
Our deal was for the classic four course experience: cheese fondue, followed by salads, the classic main entrée, and dessert. How we were going to eat all this food was beyond us, but we were determined to give it our all.

For cheese fondue, we chose the classic Swiss style with gruyere and emmenthaler (the stereotypical “Swiss cheese,” though it all came grated for easy melting…no holes). Our waitress prepared our fondue table side, which I didn’t anticipate. Once melted, we proceeded to dip away with some cruditĂ©s, some fresh apple slices, and the traditional and oh-so-yummy chunks of bread.

20130718-204246.jpg
The cheese fondue was quite yummy, but once we had our fill of that course, it was on to the salads. Nothing too notable there.

Finally, it was time for the main course, various bite-sized pieces of raw meat that you stab with your fondue fork and boil to cook in a simmering broth or oil mixture–we opted for the traditional broth. We had chunks of chicken, pork, shrimp, and two kinds of beef along with some veggies, with six different kinds of sauces to top them off. Insanity! Delicious insanity.

20130718-210021.jpg
We ate until we were stuffed and couldn’t eat any more. And then it was time for dessert.

While preparing for our one evening in Zurich, Bart and I were sad to learn that chocolate fondue is, in fact, not a traditional Swiss development. I’m sure most would consider it a sacrilege. But to us Americans, it is utterly transformative. Bart and I had our choice of multiple melted concoctions to chase out entrĂ©e, and we went with the Flaming Turtle, a flambĂ©ed milk chocolate and caramel concoction topped with candied pecans and served with a ridiculous assortment of chocolate delivery vehicles: marshmallows, brownies, pound cake, Rice Krispy treats, cheesecake, bananas, and strawberries. Oh still my beating heart (probably insulin-induced palpitations).

20130718-211038.jpg

20130718-211050.jpg
Needless to say, this was my favorite part of the meal.

20130718-211139.jpg
I guess Bart enjoyed it well enough, too. 😉

20130718-211220.jpg
We were so miserably full at the end. There’s no denying that this place is usually saved for a splurge-worthy event, considering price and the sheer amount of noms. However, there are other options than the four course experience; you can come just for cheese fondue or dessert or whatever suits your fancy. If we return, it will probably be for a scaled back meal or just dessert. It would also be fun to experience with friends or family.

Social coupon deal = total win on this one. If you’re looking for a unique experience for a special night out, consider giving The Melting Pot or a fondue restaurant a try. And if you haven’t had fondue before, maybe put that on your own bucket list. Along with a trip to Switzerland. And have some schnitzel, too.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »