Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Faking The Fancy At Brunch

People freakin' love brunch. Not only is it an opportunity to drink before noon and over-eat, it's also one of the few occasions for which pajama bottoms and sundresses are both equally accepted attire. People even love brunch so much they use the term brunch to refer to a meal that is very obviously only breakfast or lunch and not really a combination of both. Case in point, last weekend I hosted a 9:30am brunch, and then attended a second brunch at 1pm. Both were delicious.

The other factor that I suspect contributes to brunch's universal appeal is fanciness. Every day foodstuffs -- eggs, bread, fruit -- are dressed to impress. This is all well and good, but when you're hosting brunch, or bringing a dish to a potluck style affair, now the burden is on you. How can you be expected to throw together a gourmet delight when you're hungover, up way too early in the morning, a mom with a distracting toddler, or some combination thereof?

I have solutions! Here are my go-to brunch dishes that seem fancy, taste yummy, and take very little skill or effort. All of the ingredients can be purchased at Trader Joe's. If you don't have Trader Joe's near you, I feel bad for you in general.

Smoked Salmon Potato Pancakes

- 1 4oz package wild smoked salmon
- 1 block cream cheese
- 1 box frozen potato latkes
- 1 package fresh dill
Bake latkes according to directions on the box, which takes about 18 minutes. While they are cooking, cut the salmon into 8 strips. Then loosely roll the strips and set aside. When the latkes are done, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool for just a minute. Place a dollop of cream cheese on each, then top with one of the salmon portions. Then, top each off with a sprig of dill because sprigs of things really ratchet up the fanciness. Done.

As you can very clearly count, this produces 8 pancakes, which translates to 4 servings in my opinion because no one will eat just one of these little suckers. This recipe will leave you with lots of leftover cream cheese and dill, so if you are planning on making a larger batch don't buy more of that stuff.

Kale Pear Salad 

- 1 bag of kale
- 1 bottle of champagne pear vinaigrette
- 1 pear
- 1 bag of candied walnuts or candied pecans (I go back and forth, I've never decided which is better)
- Optional but not pictured: gorgonzola crumbles. I reserve this addition for when I really know my audience because for some reason not everyone enjoys hunks of stinky cheese.

Dump half the bag of kale in a large bowl. You can do the whole bag but it makes a lot of salad. Maybe you're throwing a big brunch. Congrats on having so many friends. Drizzle the kale with some olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Make sure your hands are very clean, then massage the kale for a few minutes. This softens it up and brings out the flavor. Next, chop up the pear into thin slivers and add to the salad. Then, toss in about half the bag of candied walnuts or pecans. Pour on some of the salad dressing, to taste, and mix it all together. Transfer to a nicer bowl for serving. Done.

Now pour yourself a mimosa and relax.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Time We Went To Washington DC But It Was Closed

Months and months ago, we were invited to the wedding of Devin's lifelong best friend. As if this wasn't exciting enough, it was also going to be held in Washington, DC, a city neither one of us has ever had a chance to explore.

"Let's make a vacation of it!" we said.
"Let's stay for a long weekend and do some sightseeing!" we said.

Flights were booked, plans were made. Devin's mother was set to join us and supervise Oscar so we could partay. Then, two weeks before our scheduled departure, the government shut down for reasons I never took the time to completely understand.

"It'll all be cleared up by the time we get there," we said.

But it wasn't. And our long weekend of touristing was whittled down to a long morning spent looking at the outsides of important buildings.

Oscar doing his Uncle Sam impression
The cool side effect of the shut down was that the whole scene was almost totally devoid of human life. "It's like being on Earth the day after," Devin's mom commented as we came up to street level from the metro station.

 Of course this probably had something to do with bad weather, a tourist off-season and it being the weekend. But it still felt delightfully eerie. 

And speaking of the bright side, the rest of the city is filled with nice people and good stuff. Georgetown is completely charming. We went to several chic hotels for cocktails, and each one was tasteful and not overcrowded. We even lucked out and scored a bartender on his last night of work, just dying to give away free glasses of champagne.

The public transportation was clean and easy to navigate. And there's a bus called The Circulator that's only $1.00 and hits some major hubs.

Our hotel was actually just over the river (well, over a river... there are several in the area and I don't know which is which) in Rosslyn, VA. It was a peculiar little urban pocket of mostly office buildings and newer apartment structures.

The view from our hotel
 There were plenty of shops and eateries for us to walk to, but the real find was the fire station holding an open house on Saturday afternoon.

And, right behind the fire station, a playground.

The gray and gloomy weather also helped win me over. I've noticed that I tend to fall in love with a city if it rains the first time I visit. While the natives run for cover, I move slowly from door to door, relishing the rainfall. Everything feels magical, every experience is like a discovery. And usually by the end of my stay, I announce, "I could live here."

I guess it was maybe a good thing capital hill touristing was a bust. Think of all the time we would've wasted being shushed in marble corridors instead of taking in, and falling in love with, the rest of this wonderful city.