Some Days I Just Want to be Average

Last week I had a free cholesterol test taken at work as part of my employer’s a heart health initiative. My dad and Kirios both had their checked recently, and my mom pointed out that I’ve been eating a lot of cheese lately. They do not provide the results by phone, so when I went back to the clinic to get my results, the nurse and receptionist asked me if I was a vegetarian. “An itty bitty thing like you, you’ve got to put some meat on those bones.”

Something told me my results were atypical.  “No,” I said, “but I do have Crohn’s Disease.” The women both nodded before escorting me to a patient room for a consultation, where they showed me the test results indicating that my cholesterol levels were abnormally low. Most people would be glad to hear that they don’t have high cholesterol, but this was not news that I wanted to hear. I wanted, for once, to have a medical report telling me that I’m average.

My first thoughts were concerns about Crohn’s Disease – I’ve been feeling well, but is it possible that I’m suffering from malabsorption anyway? If my cholesterol is low, what else am I low on? Then of course I returned to my desk and googled – low cholesterol can be caused by Crohn’s Disease. It can cause anxiety and depression, and if pregnant, increases the change for a premature baby. Would I really worry less if I had higher cholesterol?

I called my mom to tell her, and I emailed my Dad. Then I told Kirios via gchat, and lightheartedly suggested he defrost steaks for dinner when he came home that evening. Next I emailed my doctors. None of them seemed concerned with the results. The PA who regularly administers my Crohn’s infusions agreed to do additional blood work during my next appointment to recheck my vitamin levels just in case.

Kirios surprised me by stopping at Koshermart on his way home from work. When I got home, he urged me to check the refrigerator to see what he bought. There was a package of beef short ribs and a package of kosher lamb bacon. There was also a new hunk of cheese from Trader Joe’s. He was serious about fattening me up! Or at the very least, he was serious about keeping me cheery, and distracting me from any anxious health thoughts.

“Are we having ribs instead of steak for dinner?” I asked with a smile on my face.

“That was the plan at first,” Kirios replied. “But then I stopped next door and picked these up.” He pulled two warm and massive laffa bread sandwiches out of the oven, one with falafel the other with schwarma. “We can have the short ribs tomorrow.”

Valentine’s Crepe Cake

When it came time to make plans for Valentine’s Day, we knew we wanted to skip a pricey prix-fixed evening out. Cooking something special together would be a nice treat. Before we moved in together, Kirios and I would frequently plan recipes to cook together on weekends. Now a days  cooking can sometimes feel like more of a chore that a treat – especially since I come home almost an hour and half later than I did with my last job. We still enjoy home cooked meals almost every night, but it’s hard not to be a tad tired and hungry in the evenings, or rushing around to do see friends on the weekends. Sometimes if Kirios has work to catch up on for a couple of hours during the weekend I will spend some time preparing fun dishes at a relaxing pace, or if I’m working from home I may throw something together and let is roast for a while.

 

A little over a year ago Kirios and I purchased a blue steel crêpe pan and a recipe book with pretty crêpe pictures. We like to make crepes together at home, but it’s a bit involved for a normal weeknight. We made crepes for Valentine’s Day last year which was a big hit. So this year we perused the recipe book and a recipe for a Savory Florentine Crepe caught my eye. Well – the picture did. The Florentine Crepe was actually more of a crêpe cake – crepes laid flat and piled on top of each other with savory filling in between each other. There were two different filling recipes – one with diced tomatoes, onions, and parmesan cheese; the other with spinach and heavy cream. We stacked nine herb crepes into a pie pan and alternated filling flavors for each layer. We cut “slices” of the creation like a cake. The result was a rich buttery dish with well-developed flavors. It was a tad difficult to slice when warm, but the refrigerated leftovers gave us no problems. Despite the challenge, the presentation of red and green layers was impressive and sophisticated. It looked just like the picture in the book, and tasted like a special occasion indulgence – mission accomplished.

 

The best part about our Valentine’s Day meal though, was not the food itself. It was the fact that Kirios was so proactive in preparing the food before I made it back from work. He has seen me struggle as I adjust to arriving home around 6:15 instead of before 5:00 in the past few months. He knows that I get stressed when there’s a lot to be done and it’s getting late. And he knows by the time I get home he’s already hungry. So Kirios prepared all the crepes before I arrived and was at work on the first filling by the time I arrived. He also washed some of the dishes while he was still preparing the food (something my Dad does obsessively). There was still plenty to do together, but we were able to eat at a reasonable hour and relax for a bit before cleaning up.  

 

Kirios has stepped up a lot since I switched jobs. He often starts on dinner while I’m still commuting, and he’s experimenting and learning to cook a greater variety of things on his own. He wasn’t slacking before, but I appreciate the help even more with my new routine. His thoughtfulness and initiative is something I’m thankful for year round.

Good Things Coming Soon!

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of looking back when it comes to writing blog entries. I fall behind in posting, and then a million great things happen and I try to pick through the highlights, which leaves me writing about meals I had 2 months ago (see last post). Obviously it would be ideal to write about things right after they happen when they’re still fresh in my mind. [Live tweeting a meal will never be my thing; I still don’t have a twitter account.] But realistically, most of my posts will end up being at least a little behind when things occur.

Good memories are a great part of life and should be shared. Just this past week, I attended a small alumni happy hour for my elementary/middle school. I spent the night reminiscing with two of my best friends from those days in Pittsburgh along with one of their mothers who is the current head of school. We told so many stories and I was reminded of so many wonderful experiences, and we could have kept going all night. (We almost did, I didn’t get home until 11, which is pretty late for me on a Monday night.)

Before memories are ever made, there’s frequently an equally wonderful period of anticipation. It may be winter, work might be stressful or frustrating, but you know something awesome is going to happen soon. It might be something small – a coffee date with a friend or a new movie opening up. It could be seeing your favorite band in concert, a trip, or even the start to a whole new stage of life: going off to college, changing cities, getting married or having a child.

Sometimes things in life don’t live up to our expectations and it’s disappointing. It can be downright depressing. Nothing ever goes perfectly according to plan, but I’ve been lucky enough to have things work out often enough that I can generally stay positive. There’s something great about that excitement. It can put a smile on your face, motivate you to keep going or push harder, it can even keeps you up at night. I usually fall asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow, but the night before my bat mitzvah trying to fall asleep was torture.

In the spirit of celebrating that it’s the weekend, here’s a list of the top things coming my way which make me excited, big and small:

· I’m planning to spend a relaxing long weekend with my parents in my hometown

· Kirios made dinner reservations to celebrate my birthday at Rasika, the upscale Indian restaurant I always mention and am dying to try!

· After struggling to learn grammar from books and Rosetta Stone, I finally got into a beginners Greek class in DC which starts this week.

· Kirios and I are planning a springtime adventure in Spain, my first trip to Europe since studying abroad in Rome during 2007. (ilanainitaly.blogspot.com)

What are you looking forward to?

 

Food Wine & Co Date Night

After going to Volt for his birthday, Kirios decided (and I didn’t protest) that he missed taking me out on the town for date nights. Especially since we started living together, we’ve spent a lot of time watching tv/movies together on the couch or hanging out with a group of friends, but neither of those activities count as dates! So we decided that a nice meal out – trying a new restaurant or repeating a GREAT one, was worth it about once a month or so.

In December, we went to Food Wine & Co, in Bethesda. Kirios had wanted to go for a while, especially since it’s so close by. When I first read the menu, I could tell why – it’s got all of his favorite things! I started things off with a wine. I ordered a flight board with 3 half glasses of red wine.  Kirios ordered a cocktail. For food, I had a hard time ordering, mostly because all the appetizers and sides sounded so good to me. We decided to start with the artisanal cheese plate, which included a yummy fig spread. My wines complimented the cheeses quite well.

For our main courses, I had the Bucatini Pasta with roasted butternut squash, sage, hazelnut, croutons, and brussel sprouts. It was creamy and hardy – perfect for a cold evening, and the hazelnuts gave it nice texture in addition to flavor. Kirios chose one of the specials – a duo of pork belly with a sweet potato purée and rockfish with sautéed kale. He ranted about the sweet potato purée, and I happily finished his well-prepared rockfish.

We did save room for dessert. Although it sounded like overkill, I took our attentive waiter’s suggestion and ordered the fried apple pie. It came with cinnamon spiced port, candied walnuts, and caramel ice cream. I’m a big apple pie fan, this was divine. Kirios was more dubious of the apple pie, so he hedged his bets by ordering a second dessert – molten chocolate cake with grand marnier, chocolate-covered almonds, cocoa streusel, and chocolate ice cream. It was tasty too, but I was pretty enamored with my fried pie.

After a meal like that, it’s safe to say that there will be many more date nights in our future!

Still Alive, Still Eating

I’m having a hard time adjusting to my new routine with the new job and keeping up with the blog lately. Mostly because I don’t get home until 6:30 these days, and I’m either running out of the door to meet up with friends or frantically trying to make something for dinner before passing out in front of the television for the rest of the night. Despite the fact that I’m still struggling a bit with the workplace transition, there have still been many blog worthy times I meant to write about.

In light of my work transition, it’s been important to me to keep up with my Postal friends lately. Leading up to my departure from the Postal Service, Kirios and I hosted my coworker and her boyfriend for a wine and cheese night. Kirios and I picked out four new cheeses at Whole Foods:

-Mitica caprichio de cabra pepper – tasted rich like goat cheese with hot red pepper on the outside

-Somerdale Wensleydale with Blueberries – sweet and desserty, but not a soft/spreadable cheese. I liked the blueberry flavor a lot, but it tasted better on sweet things than salty crackers. (we had variety pack of crackers which included some that were graham cracker style)

-Igor gorgonzola piccante mountain gorgonzola – a bit salty for me, but made for good variety, and the leftovers were great in salad!

-Rosemary and olive asiago – this was probably everyone’s favorite cheese of the night. The rosemary flavor shined, and while I wouldn’t say it was a particularly special or interesting cheese, it’s definitely the kind that you want to keep eating with crackers – very satisfying.

We also served some leftover smoked gouda and leftover toscano with ground black pepper. Yum!

More recently, two other Postal friends of mine came over for brunch. Kirios and I made pancakes with chocolate chips and nuts in them, and served pumpkin bread, fruits, challah with nutella, and chai tea.

I think I’m going to have to come up with some healthier ideas for keeping in touch my former colleague friends!

In addition to seeing Postal people, Kirios and I kept busy over the holidays. We attended eight holiday parties over the course of a month. I made Argentine Chimichurri bread with onions, parsley, cayenne pepper, and other spices for a potluck. It was a recipe from my dad that I found on my computer and I was a bit nervous about it. I’ve never thrown that many random ingredients into the bread machine before, but it ended up being pretty tasty and there weren’t any leftovers by the end of the night. I also made my dad’s chocolate bourbon tart recipe (but substituted the bourbon with Johnny Walker red label) for a party which was divine. It’s a chocolate tart crust with a dense fudgy filling. It was very rich, so despite being a big hit there were lots of leftovers – most of which the host and hostess were glad to keep. I’ll definitely be making that recipe again.

In addition to trying out recipes from my dad, Kirios’ parents taught me how to make some of their favorite Greek cookies over the holidays this year. We made kourabiedes and melomakaroma. Kourabiedes are my favorite of the cookies they make – almond butter cookies coated in rose water and powdered sugar, traditionally served at weddings. Melomakaroma are Kirios’ favorite cookies – first you make a simple cookie with flour, oil, orange juice/zest and spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, all-spice. Then you take your sugarless cookie and completely drench it in a warm spiced honey syrup and top it with crushed nuts, so in the end, it’s basically the cookie equivalent of baklava. It’s completely parve, and you can substitute out the honey for sugar making it vegan too. Plus, because of all of the syrup, the cookies stay good for a very long time. Next I’ll have to start learning how Kirios’ dad makes such delicious cakes… My parents are both great cooks, but that’s one thing they’ve never mastered. (My mom is famous for having hilariously bad outcomes when cooking cakes – she even exploded the pan once!)

My Shabbat Club is Cooler than Yours

Every month, the large Conservative synagogue in Washington DC hosts a Friday evening happy hour followed by Shabbat services for young professionals. I’ve attended fairly regularly for the past three plus years since graduating from college and seeking a Hillel alternative. The first time I went, I dragged my roommate who was still at student at University of Maryland to come out with me. We made some friends there, and convinced other friends to join us for future events. It usually draws somewhere around 200 people each month. An anonymous donor enabled to program to include free Shabbat dinner for a year, and now there’s a small fee if you stay for dinner.  Originally, I went each month to meet people. I wasn’t in college anymore, it was time to meet new friends. But after the first year, I wasn’t ashamed to admit that I go as often as I can to see my friends. It’s not that I’m opposed to meeting new people, but let’s be honest, a noisy crowded room with 200 people isn’t the best place to meet people, and it’s hard enough to get the friends that I do have together on a regular basis. Especially now that so many of my friends have moved to the Virginia suburbs while I remain the Maryland ones.

It’s not surprising that after a few years of attending we decided that we could do better than hanging out and celebrating Shabbat together once a month. So we formed a Shabbat club. It started with an email thread and a google spreadsheet. We have a core group of about 10 people and let the host or hostess decide if he or she would like to invite a few more. We meet the second Friday night of the month, and everything is potluck. Naturally, I made a plug for theme Shabbats, because who DOESN’T want a theme dinner party each month?!?

Our first Shabbat Club dinner was dairy “make your own burrito” night. Kirios and I made a fresh pico de gallo. Everyone made something yummy and we filled our plates to capacity. It was a resounding success. And then we had our second Shabbat club dinner, which Kirios and I hosted – Kosher (Meat) Indian theme. It exceeded my expectations by far. We made challah, garlic naan, and a delicious yet simple Chicken Korma recipe which uses coconut milk to create the thick, creamy sauce characteristic of Indian food. The recipe, found here -http://parttimecruisers.blogspot.com/2008/09/chicken-coconut-kurma.html was a great choice. And thanks to our friends, we had a full thali platter. Everyone else tried out new recipes – we had a cold cucumber peanut chili salad, spicy eggplant, a chickpea dish, and a spinach dish, plus fruit for dessert.

Indian Shabbat was followed by Shabbat club’s Channukah dinner last month. My friend made her spinach lasagna recipe I used to devour when we were roommates. There was kugel and salads, latkes, etc. Kirios and I made spinach latkes with a Greek yogurt and feta sauce – Jewish and Greek ;) We all brought our menorahs and lit candles together. After dinner, we made cookies with dreidel and menorah cookie cutters and decorated them with sprinkles and icing. We also had a never-ending bracket-style dreidel match. I was beat badly in the championship round.

This Friday will be our fourth Shabbat club extravaganza – a football playoff tailgate themed feast with chili, challah-wrapped “pigs in a blanket,” corn bread, cole-slaw, and more. Plans are in the works for February’s make your own sushi dinner, and I’m confident that there are many more awesome meals together in the future.

Just when I was finally getting used to my new routine with Kirios as a roommate, I switched jobs. I left the Postal Service at the end of November and transferred to work as a contract specialist at another federal agency. It was exciting and sad. It’s a great opportunity for me, but I really did love my last job and many of the people with whom I worked. My first month on the new job has been a bit slow… you know how things play out around the holidays. It’s been a difficult transition to go from chatting with my coworker/friends in our cubicles to new faces of people working in offices with their doors closed. Additionally, I started a new compressed work schedule where I’ll be working 9 hour days most of the time in exchange for a Friday off every other week. I’m still trying to get used to coming home later and going to bed at a reasonable hour. I think it’ll be easier when the days are longer.

Anyhow, despite all of the transitioning, Kirios and I have continued to keep up with our busy social calendar and our foodie appetites, I just haven’t had much energy to reflect on our adventures and share them through the blog. But maybe I’ll make time to write up some of the highlights from the past two months. Here’s one to start things off…

Kirios and I ventured out to the DC Convention Center to attend the Metropolitan DC Cooking and Entertaining Show the first weekend in November. I’ve wanted to attend in the past, but the event is a bit pricey around $25 for general admission. And speaking of prices, if you want to see any of the presentations by celebrity chefs, it’ll cost you even more. Cookbook signings are more than that, and there are even VIP celebrity events if you’re willing to shell out around $500 per person. When I saw a living social deal for admission and entrance to a presentation by Tom Collichio and Gail Simmons and a second one by Giada de Laurentis for $30, I felt it was the right year to check it out. I also may have bribed Kirios to go with me – not because it wasn’t the type of event he would enjoy, but because it was the type of event which he would expect to be free.

We arrived at the cooking show about fifteen minutes before Tom and Gail’s presentation, and we found seats near a friend of ours who was also attending. It was a big theater area with most of the front rows reserved for people who paid extra, but compared to watching Top Chef episodes through the television I felt closer to them. Tom cooked a rabbit, which made me a little sad because bunnies should be hugged, not butchered. He actually stole the rabbit from two-time Top Chef contestant (and former executive chef of Kirios’ favorite Zaytinya) Mike Isabella’s kitchen at Graffiato, because the show was right after Superstorm Sandy hit and he couldn’t bring food with him from New York. Tom pan cooked the rabbit with basil, dates, and pistachios, with some earthy mushrooms and carrots. He told everyone they could replace the rabbit with a chicken or duck, but encouraged people to try rabbit. Gail made a cocktail basil ginger cocktail and a no-bake basil ice cream pie. Her crust was made from crushed ginger snaps mixed with candied ginger and dried pineapple. And she swirled the basil simple syrup from her cocktail into a container of ice cream before pouring it into the crust and refreezing. Tom and Gail weren’t allowed to provide any hints about the 10th season of Top Chef which started the following week, but they cheerfully answered questions about their favorite dishes from the show, shared family cooking memories, and provided advice to amateur chefs looking for meal suggestions.

After Tom and Gail, we sampled vendors’ products – mostly small companies making salsas, hot sauces, and baked goods. We tried sweet potato butter which tasted so good it would be problematic to own. We also saw our favorite local Greek olive oil salesman. Kirios and I had spent a long time talking with him at a Greek festival over the summer and purchased a bottle of blood orange olive oil for ourselves and lime olive oil for my parents at the festival. He appreciated hearing how much we love it, and that we use it on everything. (We’ve since ran out and refilled our bottle with the rosemary flavor.)

Giada’s presentation didn’t actually include her cooking. She had volunteers follow her instructions and prepare a shrimp bruschetta, lamb chops in barbecue sauce, and more. This freed up more of her time to answer questions. Regardless, the food sounded pretty good. She told the audience how her young daughter will eat anything that’s cooked in a muffin tin these days, and she frequently makes mac’n’cheese with veggies and chicken in muffin tins for dinner. She also gave advice on preparing large Thanksgiving dinners.

After Giada’s presentation ended, Kirios and I frantically went from booth to booth to visit the rest of the vendors before the show closed. We were moderately successful at that. But I was disappointed we didn’t have time to check out the recipe book store. Of course there are always other places to buy cookbooks. Overall, it was a fun day and I’m glad we attended. I’d go back again, but I’d probably wait a few more years before doing so.

The Last War

The matzav (situation) in Israel and Gaza is pretty bleak right now. Failed efforts for a temporary cease-fire to the rockets being launched at both sides and preparing ground troops sound like a recipe for war to me. And if that’s what’s for dinner, I’m not very hungry.

The last time Israel was at war was the summer after my freshman year of college. I was interning at the local Federation office in Pittsburgh and things had been pretty quiet in the office. I divided my time there working on both fundraising and community building projects. I spent my days making flyers for women’s philanthropy events, and I planned activities for an upcoming visit from Israeli teenagers. We had sent 93 Pittsburgh teens to Israel for the summer, and they were going to bring some Israeli peers back with them for two weeks.

The day war broke out with Lebanon, my summer changed. My parents sent me to work with a check – an early donation for the Israel Relief Fund that was surely being created as we ate our breakfast that morning. When I got there, I had an email from the Federation CEO inviting me to join his senior staff in the board room. It was 8 am, and they had already been dividing up tasks. First and foremost we needed to closely monitor the safety of our youth traveling in Israel. Second priority was keeping their parents well informed. At that time, it was determined that minor itinerary changes would be made, but the touring would continue. Then there was development – raising funds from community members like my parents to provide relief to families affected by the war. There was public relations to take care of – preparing talking points for supporters and responding to inquiries from local reporters. Finally, there was community engagement. We hold a pro-Israel rally for the community. It was 9 am and the meeting was about to adjourn. “Any questions?” our CEO asked. I had been a fly on the wall up until that moment. But now it was my turn. “How can I help?” I asked.

I was assigned to the rally team. With two other people, I planned a community rally in just three days that was attended by over 1,000 people. The other members of my team had experience in this. They found their notes from the last rally which took place during the Second Intifada. They even found a picture of me and my old friend sitting in the crowd at their last rally – I was in middle school at the time. We secured a venue, invited local politicians, ordered blue and white balloon arrangements, and solicited bottled water donations. We handed out flyers to local businesses and press releases to email lists and newspapers.

Meanwhile, the fundraising gurus held a caucus for their relief fund. The leading philanthropists from the community sat together in a room and pledged their financial support. An older man stood up and proudly declared that he and his wife would give $20,000. A middle aged woman stood up next, promising $5,000. This went on for an hour, with supportive applause following each pledge. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. Later that night, I helped collect donations in water cooler bottles during a lecture at the JCC. People gave loose change and small bills they were carrying. People gave what they could, large and small.

As the war intensified in those first few days, parents grew more fearful for their children abroad. The Federation booked flights for all 93 teens and our local staff to return home, just hours before the rally took place. It wasn’t easy. There weren’t a lot of planes going in or out of the war zone.

The day of the rally was a scorcher in high 80s (by DC standards, that’s not bad. For Pittsburgh, it was a really hot day). I spent over 10 hours outside setting up, attending the rally, and cleaning up, with a walkie-talkie on my hip. Two of the returning teens spoke and the whole group attended. My mom showed up. So did many of my friends who were home for the summer. There were a couple Pro-Palestinian people protesting the rally but everything was very peaceful.

At the end of the day, I felt like I had accomplished something. I know that rallies don’t save lives or end wars. At best, they provide an outlet for people who feel otherwise empowered to show their support and solidarity. At worst, they become riots with more casualties. But at the time, I still felt like I was doing something.

This week, I find myself in a different city, in a different stage of life, and still asking the same question. How can I help?

Cohabitation Purchases

I’ve been busy lately. The end of the summer was filled with weeknight dinners with visiting parents and weekend getaways with Kirios. September went by in the blink of an eye – must have been the Jewish holidays, which I spent with family and old friends in Pittsburgh and in Baltimore. October was a crazy transition month – in addition to bringing cooler weather and pumpkin flavored treats of all sorts, Kirios moved into my (now our) apartment the last weekend in September. The move went smoothly – Kirios didn’t have much in the ways of furniture since he was living at home, and his extensive wardrobe of rainbow polos and plaid shorts miraculously fit in the closets.

Beyond the initial move, there were a few high priorities on our to-do list. Kirios’s two-monitor setup for his self-built computer is of paramount importance to him. We often joked that the day he’d officially be moved in was the day his desktop moved. (Joking aside, we both knew it was true.) When I moved into my last apartment three plus years ago I needed a lot of furniture. My father found a desk in relatively good condition next to the building’s dumpster and we decided to take it, first spraying it with half a bottle of Clorox. The desk wasn’t ideal – there was a bookshelf attached to it which was convenient for storage, but didn’t have a high enough clearance for computer monitors. Luckily I had a laptop. And my laptop was usually on the coffee table. Even when I began working from home on Friday, I never used my desk except to store office supplies and papers. I like to spread out on the kitchen table. (That’s even how I liked to do my homework in high school too.) Nonetheless, I got three good years out of that zero-dollar investment. A week before moving in, Kirios ordered an attractive corner desk with enough room for his heavy-duty computing equipment. The day he moved in, we broke the old desk into pieces with his father and fittingly sent it back to a dumpster.

Kirios' "Office"

Personally, there’s one major purchase I had wanted to make for a while, and Kirios’ arrival seemed like the perfect excuse to finally do it. I’ve wanted a new mattress set. My last mattress, which I bought three plus years ago (at the same time I found the desk) was not a high-end investment. Despite its 10-year warranty, its degree of comfort and quality decreased dramatically after the first two years. It’s really squeaky, and did I mention it’s only a full size?!? Considering I (ideally) spend 56 hours per week in bed sleeping, I figured it was definitely time to upgrade. So Kirios and I went mattress shopping and a funny thing happened. We laid down on a Stearns and Foster floor sample and we both fell in love with the same mattress. What are the odds! …Then we realized that the side he was lying on was plush and the side I was lying on was firm. Naturally, Challahbear knows best, so we “agreed” to get a firm mattress. I’m not heartless; I splurged for the pillowtop so Kirios would still be pretty comfy. I spent another week researching prices and mattress sales on the internet and finalizing my negotiation strategy during long calls with my dad. I do, after all, have a business degree and work in purchasing! So in mid-October Kirios and I implemented said negotiation strategy according to plan. The “Honey, the price is just too high. Let’s go,” approach worked like a charm. Of course the salesman insisted all Stearns and Foster mattresses are price fixed and there was nothing he could do to lower the cost right until my hand was on the door to leave the store. I’m now the proud owner of a big girl bed! And it only took a few days for Kirios to stop complaining about how hard it is.

Now that's a bed!

Finally, Kirios was super excited about creating a “home theater system.” He had talked about speakers for some time. I’ve never lived anywhere with external speakers for the television, and I’ve never really felt like I was missing out. I rarely go out to the movies these days, and when I do, it’s usually too loud. (Maybe I am getting old!) Kirios and I do enjoy cuddling on the futon and watching a movie when we can and we usually turn on subtitles so it’s easier to understand the dialogue. I encouraged him to create a modest budget for his stereo equipment and research his options. I told him I’d want to review anything before he purchased it, and I wasn’t likely to approve of enormous ugly black towers taking up half of our living room. For over a month, Kirios conducted internet research on speakers, subwoofers, receivers, even hi-tech remote controls. He told me about them excitedly after work, he sent me emails with pictures of his favorite models, and he developed a lengthy excel spreadsheet showing market prices for the different models he was considering and the other components with which they worked best.

After weeks of planning, we made a pilgrimage together to a large home theater store in Fairfax, VA. We went into a sound-proof listening room with our salesman James. James had an uncanny resemblance to Matthew Perry’s Chandler Bing years which distracted me for the first hour or so were there. Could you BE any more familiar? James played video clips for us on two different types of speakers had Kirios asked about. They both sounded great to me. A little different, but it was so hard to tell what was the side speakers vs. the center or the subwoofer, receiver, etc. This was totally out of my area of expertise. James discussed sound quality and pricing with Kirios, mentioning one of the items he wanted was on sale. He asked whether we had decided whether we wanted the black ones or the dark cherry. “Cherry,” I said, making my only contribution to the discussion. They match our wood floors and décor much better! At some point, the conversation transitioned from a typical sales pitch to a complete and utter geek-fest. Kirios had done his research and James no longer pretended some models were on sale and others weren’t, they united for the purpose of identifying the most effective sound system to highlight dialogue given his technical/price tradeoff preferences. I went back and forth from being entertained by nerdiness of it all and bored by how completely over my head everything was. We left with some reasonable price quotes, each product slightly lower than what was available online, and James’ business card.

Kirios returned to the store a few days later to negotiate a package deal for a center speaker, two side speakers, and a receiver. He still hasn’t settled on a subwoofer yet (for which I’m sure our neighbors are quite thankful), subs don’t need to match the other speakers. (I did pay some attention.) We also ordered cherry wood colored speaker stands separately since James said he couldn’t beat the online retailer’s price.  We ordered a nice TV stand with a swiveling TV mount from Walmart.com which got delayed by Superstorm Sandy, so we had to get creative finding a place for everything for a while. Thankfully, Kirios’ best friend offered a hand in putting together the stand once it did finally arrive. It was rather heavy and a bit beyond Ikea level in terms of assembly!

Home Theater System, Phase 1... because we all know it's only a matter of time until he expands/upgrades

A month and a half into living together, we’re not quite done buying all the things we want and need for our home, but we seem to be making things work. And it sure is nice to come home to a hug from Kirios every day after work!

Kirios’ Birthday Brunch

This year Kirios decided to surprise ME with a fancy meal out for HIS birthday. He refused to tell me where we were going, but told me it was fancy and somewhere I wanted to go. Obviously that meant it would be somewhere expensive… I was hoping that Kirios had scored coveted reservations to Rasika, the highly regarded Indian restaurant on the top of my “fancy/expensive places I’d like to go one day” list. (I believe I’ve mentioned that on this blog before). When Kirios asked me for when he should make the reservations, only a week or so prior to his birthday, I knew that wasn’t the case. Oh well, my birthday is only 4 months away! At that point, I had no clue where we were going and the possibilities seemed endless. A few days before, Kirios blocked off about an hour to travel to our restaurant on our calendar – this didn’t limit things too much, since Metro is quite unreliable over the weekends. But when Kirios said we wouldn’t be metroing into DC I had another guess as to where we’d be going.

Two days before our birthday date, Kirios said we needed to pick up a bottle of wine for his friend/colleague and his wife because we’d be visiting them in Frederick, MD after our meal – confirming my suspicions that we were headed to Volt. Volt is a fine-dining farm to table restaurant owned by its head chef Bryan Voltaggio. Bryan was the runner up on season six of Top Chef, my guilty TV watching pleasure. Bryan’s younger brother Michael beat him out to claim the Top Chef title that season in an exciting battle showcasing their differing culinary strengths. Obviously I’ve wanted to go to Volt ever since, but it had been extremely difficult to get a reservation for some time after all the TV hype, not to mention the $95 price tag for their seven course kitchen menu. Yes, even the vegetarian food is $95 per person. Luckily, Kirios made brunch reservations, allowing us to order from the much more reasonable $35 pre fixe menu.

Kirios and I arrived in Frederick early, anxious for our reservations. We walked around Market Street, downtown Frederick’s main drag, peering into the cute storefronts. Since it was significantly colder weather that day, we stopped in Café Nola, a coffeehouse/restaurant/bar, for a warm beverage. The café had a bustling brunch crowd of its own and looked like a nice spot to catch live music in the evenings. We split a soy “Ninja Turtle;” a latte with hazelnut, caramel, and chocolate. We were in an indulgent mood.

We walked back to Volt and admired its garden as we walked in. If only it were warmer out… Our table wasn’t ready yet, so we sat at the bar by in Lounge and ordered cocktails. Kirios probably ordered something strong and manly. I got a drink called “Airmail,” since, you know, I work for the Postal Service. It was flavorful, bubbly, and served in a champagne glass. We were seated by the window and given bread sticks with sea salt to munch on while we looked over the menu. After much deliberation we ordered. A waitress came around with a bread basket for us to pick a roll from. There were several which looked tasty, some with fresh herbs. Since it was brunch, I opted for a biscuit. Kirios had a sticky bun with pecans. Perhaps our biggest complaint of the whole meal was that the bread (and later the donuts) weren’t warm when served to us. They did however come with deliciously flavored butter. I don’t usually butter my bread but Kirios insisted I try it. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what flavor it was, perhaps lavender.

My first course was ravioli with sweet corn, green garlic, and chanterelle mushrooms. There was foam on the side of the plate – I wasn’t sure which ingredient was foamed, but it tasted good with everything else on the plate. It reminded me of Marcel, and old Top Chef cheftestant known for being unable to resist foaming at least on ingredient on every dish he served. Overall, the ravioli was tasty, but left me wanting more food. Kirios’ first course was salsify with apple, country ham, and hazelnut. I won’t pretend that we weren’t expecting some salsa-like dish, but we soon learned that salsify is in fact an edible root. Kirios went with it and dug in. Also served with our first course was an a la cart item Kirios ordered – maple glazed bacon donuts. Since they had bacon, I didn’t try any, but Kirios insisted they were the best donuts he’d ever have. (But should have been warm) He saved one to enjoy with each of his courses and was a happy birthday boy.

My entrée was rockfish with artichoke, maroon carrot, fennel, and basil. I was surprised and excited that rockfish, a local treasure, was featured on the menu. And it was cooked perfectly. The vegetables were simple, not to over shine the fish, simmering in broth next to the fish. The portion wasn’t large, but it was adequate for a fancy restaurant. Kirios ordered rabbit (which made me a little sad, since they’ve always been my favorite animals and I used to sleep with a bunny puppet/security blanket). His rabbit was served with maitake mushrooms, english peas, green garlic, and pearl onions. Kirios loved the mushrooms and claimed the onions were the best he’d ever had. (Kirios is not an onion fan, and the onions weren’t listed as an ingredient when he ordered the dish.) Unfortunately he was unimpressed with the rabbit itself which evidently just tasted like chicken.

I would feel bad for Kirios being let down by the rabbit dish, but he had another maple bacon donut and perked back up quickly. Before our last course, a waiter brought out a dish of orange flavored liquid nitrogen ice cream and orange dark chocolate shavings with a candle to wish him a happy birthday. Interestingly enough, this is exactly the flavors and type of dessert I’ve enjoyed with Kirios and his dad in the past, just a bit fancier. I knew he was enjoying it.

Finally it was time for our last course. We shared one cheese plate and one sweet dessert. The cheese plate featured five domestically produced cheeses; one cheddar, one Parmesan style, one blue cheese, one Camembert style, and one brie style. The cheeses were served with walnut raisin toast. Our sweet dessert dish was raspberry sorbet and fresh raspberries with vanilla ice cream, frozen shortbread, and basil granite. It was quite tasty. Kirios had a double espresso to finish the meal, and added the final crumbs from his maple bacon glazed donuts to his cup. Our check came out with mini coffee cakes packaged up to go – a perfect tea time snack.

Kirios and I walked .2 miles from the restaurant to visit our friends. We shared the coffee cake with them – I had a slice. I didn’t eat for the rest of the day.

Happy 26th birthday, Kirios! Here’s to many more tasty birthday celebrations!