Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sweaty Beast

Yep – come summertime, that is me. I am a sweaty beast. To the max. And for the most part, I’m A-ok with that. I’ve never been one to shy away from a little sweat. Through running, Niger, and more recently Bikram Yoga, I have become accustomed to being completely drenched -  it’s not gross. Sweat is a natural by-product of work. And I like to work.

However, since moving to DC (and Niger), I’ve completely revised my evaluation of how much sweat is humanly possible. I mean, there’s sweaty, and there’s sweaty. And a run when the dew point is 70 degrees falls into the latter category. 

A moderate run leaves me wet, and a long run results in me just-got-out-of-the-pool soaked.

You know it’s humid out when you have to hang your clothes to dry before you wash them. And when you pull out your hair tie and water (aka sweat) splashes onto the bathroom floor (is that just me? Too much information? Welp. We're all friends here.)

So humidity…nope…not my fave. I’d never really experienced it until a couple years ago. Sometimes Petaluma gets hot, but never humid – always dry heat. And Colorado is dry heat as well. So DC has been new and *interesting* weather-wise…I’m surviving, but only barely. Luckily the humidity broke last night and my apartment stopped feeling like a sauna. Win! (I appreciate the small victories.)

Unfortunately, humidity is not an excuse to stop running. (It’s a reason to blame for how extraordinarily crappy I feel on my runs, but no excuses, play like a champion.) So I will be out there, every other day, doing my running thing and just praying for fall to bring me some cooler weather.

If you’re in the same sweat-drenched boat, frustrated with bad workouts and tired of feeling like a soggy lump of wanna-be-running, check out my Examiner post for Tips for Running in DC Humidity. (You see what I did there? Cross-blogging. Yep. Thanks for reading!)

Yes. Yes I do.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cake of the Week: Double Chocolate Tart

Who’s ready for something sinfully chocolatey?

Just kidding! There's nothing devilish about this tart. Nope. This is pure heaven! (Can you hear the angels?) Basically, this chocolate tart intense…in the absolute best way possible!

I finally put my Hill’s Kitchen gift card to good use and invested in a tart pan. I’ve been eyeing tart recipes for a while (i.e. this one and this one and this one), and now I can finally jump on the tart bandwagon and get baking! I wasn’t sure if I should buy a 9-inch or an 11-inch…I went with the 11-inch, just because bigger = better, right? But further research tells me that most recipes are for 9-inch pans…so if you’re going out to buy your first tart pan, maybe resist your gluttonous urges and go for the smaller one.

I decided to make a chocolate crust with chocolate filling (life philosophy #1: Go big or go home).  I wasn’t a huge fan of the crust though…it came out kinda dry. I made it, froze it (according to the recipe), then baked it pre-filling. I think that if I made it in the correct-sized pan it would look a little better, less rough around the edges. It cracked quite a bit, but I wasn’t too worried, considering that those cracks were soon to be filled with chocolately goodness. 

And goodness it was! I did a mixture of dark chocolate kisses, and semi-sweet chocolate chips. I’m sure this recipe would be better with “good quality” dark chocolate (I’m channeling Ina Garten right now), but I had what I had…and I don’t think the “poor quality” chocolate really hurt this tart too much.

The filling is super-duper-simple. It would be really hard to screw this one up! And the resulting tart is so elegant – perfect to bring to a dinner party and impress your friends! (At least that’s what I like to think I did…)

For the filling, I went for almond extract rather than hazelnut – just because hazelnut extract is way too much to ask of my Soviet Safeway (get it? Because it’s like the Soviet Union…empty shelves and you never know if they’ll have what you want!). In the future, I would add more extract – maybe 2 tablespoons to really bring out the almond flavor.
Now my only problem is that I have a lot of extra whipping cream…what to do? What to do? Anyone have any suggestions?

Chocolate Shortbread Crust 

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

  • 1/4 tsp salt
9 Tbsp very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

  • 1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, cocoa, confectioners’ sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. 

Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in — you should have pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. (You know I don't have a food processor. I tried doing this in my blender, but that was an epic fail. Fingers are the way to go - just crumble everything together like you're trying to pinch your tart dough to death.)

Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses — about 10 seconds each — until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change — heads up.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and very lightly and sparingly knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

Press the dough into the buttered pan. Press evenly over the bottom and up the sides, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Don’t be too heavy-handed — press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but no so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture.

Freeze for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

To partially or fully bake the crust:

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit (190° Celsius, Gas Mark 5).

Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. (Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights.) (I didn't do the tin foil thing, maybe that would have helped with the cracks, but my crust didn't puff up at all.) Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon.

I skipped this part: Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm. Keep a close eye on the crust's progress — it can get too dark in a flash. Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

To patch a fully baked crust, if necessary:
If there are any cracks in the baked crust, patch them with some of the reserved raw dough as soon as you remove the foil. Slice off a thin piece of the dough, place it over the crack, moisten the edges and very gendly smooth the edges into the baked crust. If the tart will not be baked again with its filling, bake for another 2 minutes or so, just to take the rawness off the patch.

Chocolate Filling (from The Purple Foodie)

  • 8 oz (225g) dark chocolate
  • 6 tablespoons (90g) butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup (50g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon hazelnut extract (I used almond extract)
  • cocoa powder for dusting

Melt the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth, then remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes. Whisk together the eggs, cream, sugar, and hazelnut extract in a bowl. Whisk the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until combined.

Pour the filling into the cooled crust. Bake until the filling 1 inch from edges is set and slightly puffed but center wobbles when pan is gently shaken, 20 to 25 minutes. (The center will continue to set as it cools.) When it came out of the oven, it was very puffed up, but then kind of collapsed.

Dust with cocoa powder when cool. Eat! 
I didn't bother dusting with cocoa powder...I mean, you can tell it's chocolate, right??? Oh. My. Goodness. Somebody hold my hand.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Weekend Report: Indoor Activities

When summer peaks in DC (it has peaked right? It can’t get any hotter…right???), there’s only one way to spend your time: inside. As much as possible.

Not to sound like a whiny broken record, but it’s HOT here. Therefore, this was a weekend of indoor activities.

I consider myself an outdoors-y  person, but there’s a limit, and that limit sounds a lot like 95 degrees. After a walk to the Farmer’s Market Saturday morning and a somebody-shoot-me-to-put-me-out-of-my-misery run, my ambitiousness took a nose-dive and I resigned myself to hiding in A/C as much as possible. 

So Saturday afternoon I watched the US-Ghana game with some friends in the comfort of my home.

And now the US is out of the World Cup - so sad! But if they’re going to lose to anyone, it should be Ghana (I like to support the only remaining African team, plus they have sweet uniforms). So now my allegiance is switched – Go Ghana all the way! (If we’re going to lose, we should probably lose to the best team, right? YAY Ghana!)

And a funny sidenote from this history nerd...

The World Cup is beginning to look a lot like WWII:

-       Italy was in retreat from the beginning

-       France is divided

-       Spain looked good before the war started

-       The US turned up at the last minute

-       England was left to fight the Germans (and was bombed out 4-1 yesterday)

-       Poland never made it

-       The Belgians stayed indoors

-       Ireland is nowhere to be seen

-       Ghana sent a small but deadly force

-       Japan is doing surprisingly well!


Sunday I continued with my indoors-y activities. LLC and I went to Silver Docs, a documentary film festival, to see Last Train Home. It was about migrant workers in China. The film was ok, but not amazing…I just wanted there to be more you know? More story, more substance…afterwards the filmmaker said they had 300 hours of tape after 3 years of filming, so come on – there must have been a lot to work with, right? Oh well…

I met 6x6 for dinner at Casa Oaxaca, a Mexican restaurant I’ve been dying to try. It was 6x6’s first time eating mole. Dammmnnnn! Mole is so good! I got Mole Noir Chicken (aka chicken with dark chocolate sauce), and 6x6 got cheese enchiladas with mole sauce.  Both were delish! The place is a little expensive, but really not too bad. My one complaint is that they do not give you chips on your table! Some people got them…but not us…I think that maybe you have to order them? Overall though, the place was hoppin' on a Sunday night, and I can see why!

Hope you had a pleasant-temperature'd weekend...or at least found fun things to do inside!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Literary Bite: The Satanic Verses

Sorry for the lack of post yesterday. This week has been *unique* to say the very least.

Anywho, a day late but still relevant – here’s what I’m biting on in the literary sense this week: The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. My book club chose this book (as our 3rd venture after 1984 and Brave New World) because it caused an international incident. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa against Rushdie because of The Satanic Verses! You have to admire a guy who can write a fictional book that incites so much outrage that a state issues a death warrant for an individual. (Read more about the controversy here.)

But controversy aside, the book was a bit of a disappointment.

This is actually the third* Rushdie book I’ve read...and it will be the last. His style of “fantastic realism” is just not my thing. I don’t enjoy reading a book that doesn’t make any sense. For the first couple hundred pages, I wondered if it was me. I thought, maybe I’m just not smart enough to follow the story line? But that’s never happened to me before, and I think my reading comprehension is pretty solid…so I blame the book.

What can I say, I like knowing what’s going on! Through most of the book all I could think was Ugh! Damn you Salman Rushdie! Why are you wasting my time? It was frustrating because I almost understood what was happening, and when I did get what was going on, I liked it! I think to really appreciate the book, I would have to re-read it from the beginning...but there's no way I'm doing that. This is definitely the type of book that needs to be studied and dissected and analyzed to get the most out of it. There's obviously a lot of meaning hidden in the text, it just needs some serious teasing out.

By random coincidence, The Satanic Verses contained similar subject matter to The Inheritance of Loss. They both address racism and immigration and people struggling with their cultural identity.

I have a book club meeting on Sunday, so hopefully I will gain some appreciation and insights into why I should like The Satanic Verses.

Have you read it? Did you like it?

*I read Midnight’s Children a couple years ago, and recently read Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

First Track Workout

I did my first track workout last night. I’m not going to say it was good, because it certainly wasn’t…if I were in any kind of decent shape it would have been a cry-worthy time-to-reevaluate-my-life kind of workout. BUT since my expectations were about as low as my weekly mileage, I guess you could say that they were fulfilled.

I met my team at the track at 7pm. The thermostat registered a balmy 96* with 45% humidity. Oh man, no good can come of this, I thought (and said). We started our warm up, decided that it was one of those bonding through shared adversity days, and tried to ignore the sweat pouring off our faces. (For advice about running in the heat, read this post.)

The workout was...well, horrendous - as expected. You just can’t run fast when it’s that hot. One mile had my core temperature up in the hundreds (well, that’s just a guess – I have no idea for sure). And from there I masochistically continued in classic distance runner fashion.

I did a mile, 1200, and then 4x400s. I was pretty pleased with myself for doing that much, considering I was feeling done after the first 800m of the 1200! I’m starting to realize how difficult this whole making a comeback thing is going to be in the middle of the summer…

As I jogged my cool down with a teammate, it began to sprinkle…then to rain…then to pour. Within one lap we were the only ones on the track. Then the thunder came and we decided that rather than become tall shorts-clad lightening rods in the middle of a rubber track, we should probably go.

So overall, great success? No, not really. But it happened and we all lived. Woot.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sweet Potato Frittata

Though I'm a pretty die hard dessert-lover, I do actually cook real food on occasion. There are three important meals in my day: breakfast, dinner, and dessert (lunch = meh). And a satisfying dinner after a day of work and post-work run is sooooo good!
This frittata is an amalgamation of awesomeness, a combination of cheese and crispy bacon, a eggy symphony of sweet potatoes and spinach with a side of salad - all together, a delicious dish of dinner! 

A frittata is essentially a quiche sans crust (and you know how I feel about making crust). For this one I decided to up the ante by incorporating a "crust" of sweet potato discs, browned in bacon drippings. (Drool.)

Frittas are so easy - you can vary the ingredients depending on the season, and what you have in your fridge. Here's what I did:

Sweet Potato Frittata

- 1 lb bacon
- 1 onion, diced
- 6 eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 box frozen spinach (I think it's 1 lb), thawed and drained
- 1/2 lb asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 8 oz feta cheese
- 2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch thick discs (enough to line the bottom of your pan/skillet)
- salt and pepper to taste

Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil. Add asparagus and cook for 1 minute. Immediately drain asparagus in a colander and rinse with cold water (this will stop the cooking process and seal in the flavor). Set aside.

In a large skillet (I used non-stick, but whatever you have works), fry the bacon until crispy. Remove from pan onto paper towels. 

Turn the heat to medium. Add diced onion to bacon drippings and sauté one minute. Add sweet potato discs and cook for 3 minutes on each side (or until they get slightly browned and soft).

 In a large bowl whisk eggs and milk until completely blended. Whisk in spinach. Add about 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.

Crumble bacon and add to the egg mixture.

Preheat broiler on low and position rack in the top half of your oven.

Pour egg mixture over potatoes and sprinkle with feta cheese. Turn the heat to medium-low, and cook until set (about 10 minutes). 

Transfer pan to oven. Ideally, your pan should have a metal handle (pr removable rubber handle). If that is the case, go ahead and close the oven to complete the cooking process. If, like mine, your pan doesn't have a removable handle, keep the oven door open. 

Broil for about 3 minutes, or until top begins to brown. 

I made a salad of the remaining 1/2 lb of asparagus, red bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, a few spare bacon bits, parmesan cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. 

I had some extra sweet potatoes, so I sprinkled them with parmesan cheese and baked them at 350* for 15 minutes. Yum!

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Weekend Report: Baseball and the Beach

Per usual, it was a weekend of manymanymany things!

Friday was slightly less relaxing than I would have hoped. The squirrels in my attic are back! (No – that’s not code for anything. There are actual squirrels in my attic.) The “Humane Exterminators” supposedly solved this problem a couple weeks ago, but to quote one of my roommates:

REALLY LOUD wheezing, erratic scampering.  Basically it sounds like one or more of them is dying [inhumanely].  There could be others around that aren't dying because i heard some "normal" scampering too.  The one that's dying a slow and horrible death is doing it directly above my bed. welp, that's the squirrel update!

Once I dealt with the whole squirrel situation (i.e. called the exterminators and had them tell me in a very round-about way that there is nothing they can do), I moved on to football-watching. (Let’s all just take a moment to agree that the US was robbed by that bad call in the game against Slovenia!) Eventually I felt the urge to leave my apartment, but quickly regretted that decision when I realized that it was hotter than the surface of the sun outside.

Friday evening I continued my sports spectating with the Nats game against the White Sox. (Obama was there!) It was actually really fun! The last baseball game I went to was forever ago – my family likes going to Giants games, but whenever I go it’s extremely boring, low-scoring, and many many many extra innings. The Nats lost…but the game was followed by some pretty impressive fireworks, so that made up for it.

Saturday was supposed to be the most awesomely epic country music experience ever…but then it was canceled! Due to "sickness"!!! WTF!?!?! I can’t even talk about, I was so disappointed. To fill the country void, I went for a long run (YAY), hit up a couple Farmer’s Markets, and then met some friends at Eastern Market. 

LLC cooked a pretty kick-a Chinese dinner. (One of these days we'll get Photoman at one of her dinner extravaganzas, and then you'll be able to drool over the awesomeness that is LLC's wok-cooking!)

Sunday…well, Sunday is best captured by this country song (please click on that link!). We planned a trip to the beach, but the beach we wanted to go to was 3 hours away…which is a bit far for a day trip…so we made do with Fairview “beach.” It feels more like a lake, but it's kinda on the Potomac, but you can go in the water, and there is sand…so basically, good enough for me!

We thought it’d be crowded, I mean, Father’s Day, right? In my family, we mark the day with a beach walk at Bolinas while my dad goes surfing (I don’t – shark attack is the last way I want to die), usually followed by fish and chips of some sort. Happy Father’s Day Daddy-O! But apparently Virginians don’t do the same. Besides, a beach walk on this beach would take all of 1 minute. (Soooo basically this is me, missing CA….)

As you know, I am quite the pro at lying in the sun, reading my book, and jumping in when I get too hot. (And this time without burning off my skin - I may or may not still be peeling from Florida!) So rednecks and all, it was pretty awesome.

Countdown is on – 5 days 'till next weekend!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Chocolate Ganache

Remember back when I made the most epically awesome cheesecake known to humanity?Well, at the time, I mentioned that the recipe made way too much gnache. (For those of you not familiar with gnache, it's chocolate melted in cream then cooled to a fudgy consistency.) So ummmm, too much gnache? Is that even actually possible??? I think not.

I took my bowl o'chocolatey goodness, and began dipping. I started with my fingers...then a spoon...and eventually moved on to fresh fruit.You may notice that there's some condensation on the gnache in these pictures. That may be because I refrigerated them after dipping...that also may be because DC can be quite the humid...either way, chocolate + fruit = what's not to like????
Chocolate Ganache

2 cups heavy cream

20 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I combined both)

Bring the cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl.
Once the cream reaches a simmer, pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand 1-2 minutes. Whisk in small circles until a smooth ganache has formed.

If you make that whole batch, you will be dipping fruit forever! I suggest halving the recipe, and using about 2 lbs of strawberries.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Literary Bite: Country Driving

I’m not a quitter. But, in the case of books (on the very rare occasion) I am. There are just too many good books out there waiting for me to read! I have a whole stack! And a few lists! So why waste my time with a book that’s not good?

There are times that I have stuck with a bad book out of stubbornness, seeing it through to the end, and hoping for it to get better. And sometimes books do. Sometimes I start a book and dislike it, only to learn to love it by the end. But sometimes the book is just bad all the way through. You never know.

So here I am, admitting it to the world (or my blog readers…same difference). I quit Country Driving by Peter Hestler. (I may go back to it…but right now I need to finish my book club book asap – so I feel kinda sorta justified in quitting this one.)

I was so disappointed! I absolutely loved Hestler’s first book, River Town, and all the elements were present for Country Driving to be equally good…but somehow it wasn’t. It was boring. Really boring. How can an adventure driving along the Great Wall of China be boring you may wonder? I don’t know…but it is! Maybe because the first section of the book (I only made it to page 143 out of about 400) is very non-fiction. I just can’t bring myself to care about the auto industry in China…I just can’t.

To be fair, the book is not entirely uninteresting. Learning about the role cars and mobility play in Chinese culture can be interesting, and their licensing process is absolutely horrifying! LLC loved it, but her China-obsession makes her testimony completely unreliable to the non-China-obsessed. The book is in 3 parts, and like I said I just finished the first part…maybe 2 and 3 will be better.

So overall, Country Driving = meh, don’t bother. Stick to Hestler’s first book. And my mama is currently enjoying his second book, Oracle Bones, so maybe Country Driving is just an anomaly in the usual Hestler-awesomeness...let's hope so!

Need a second opinion? Check out this review. And this one from the Washington Post.

Maybe I'm crazy...other people seem to like it...

And here's an article Hestler wrote about driving in China for the New Yorker