Thanksgiving 2016

We sat 26 people down for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday.  Some family but also friends.  Our menu was as follows:
Thai pumpkin soup
Smoked organic turkey
Roasted organic turkey with confit legs
Fried organic turkey
Roasted shrimp with rosemary
Roast duck
Stuffing
Chili-bathed sweet potatoes
Dinner rolls
Rice
Kimchi
Gravy
Orange cranberry sauce
Roasted carrots with creamy nuoc chom sauce
Mashed poatoes
Hashed Brussel sprouts with lemon
Chocolate pumpkin cheesecake
Blackberry pie
Apple pie

The spread was quite impressive (since boiling water is a culinary highlight for me, I can say that).  🙂

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Thanksgiving spread

Thanksgiving spread

apple pie

apple pie

blackberry pie

blackberry pie

chocolate pumpkin cheesecake

chocolate pumpkin cheesecake

We also had the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving breakfast of homemade sticky buns.

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Most importantly for us on Thanksgiving, however, is to be grateful for life’s blessings.  And so we give thanks for our good health and the family and friends in our lives.  We hope your Thanksgiving was as full of gratitude as ours!

turkey massacre 2016

turkey massacre 2016

Restaurant review: Bazaar Miami

Our food highlight from this past weekend in Miami was dinner at Bazaar, located in the SLS hotel.  We’ve been to the Bazaar in Los Angeles and while the Bazaar in Miami has many of the same dishes, there are also Miami specific dishes.  As with many of Jose Andres’s restaurants, the restaurant serves small dishes, which our favorite way of eating, since you can try a bunch of dishes.
I started out in the best South Beach tradition with a drink, an Old Cuban, consisting of rum, mint, and lime juice.

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More interesting was the food.  We started with the Jose Taco, consisting of Iberian ham and Ossetra caviar.

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Next came what was probably my favorite dish, Onion Soup with Foie Gras Cappuccino.  Words cannot describe how completely scrumptious this dish was.  The foie gras was more foam than solid, and the onion soup was flavorful and almost meaty.

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We then had Conch Fritters served Cafe Atlantico-style with a liquid center.

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A surprisingly excellent vegetarian dish was the Twenty Vegetable Quinoa “Couscous” served with fresh vegetables in tamarind broth.

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The next course was Pork Belly Sliders.  There is nothing that contains pork belly that would be considered not delicious.

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Croquetas de Jamón (Spanish ham bechamel fritters) were next.

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Pollo al Ajillo Cubano or slow-cooked chicken thigh with black garlic followed.

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Sauteed Shrimp served with garlic, parsley, spicy tomato sauce, lemon, and guindilla peppers were quite spicy and extremely delicious.

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The Cubano in honor of Cafe Versailles was delectable, with Iberian ham on the top and a liquid center.

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The final “entree” were Baby Japanese Peaches served with fresh burrata, hazelnuts, and arugula.

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Dessert was a deconstructed cheesecake served with creme fraiche and salted caramel ice cream.

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We also had cookies (a coconut financier, chocolate chip, and chocolate flour de sel).
Service was impeccable and lovely as well.  It’s definitely a highly recommend!

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Best Buddies Miami 2016

We were in Miami this past weekend attending the Best Buddies gala.  Best Buddies is a non-profit that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with friendships, jobs, and leadership development.  The annual gala in Miami is always a fun event to attend—both in terms of helping a very worthy cause and because Miami has some of the best people watching ever.
This year’s theme was rock-and-roll.  There were Michael Jackson and Prince impersonators who were quite talented.  There was also Guns ’n’ Roses impersonators, which we had to ask about as neither of us were ever Guns ’n’ Roses fans.

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Bohemian rhapsody

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Santana’s surf & turf

Elton's piano

Elton’s piano

There were several celebrities attending, but the one I got a photo with is Nolan Gould, who plays Luke in “Modern Family.”  He is a super nice kid, very personable and low-key.

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Kesha was the entertainment, and while her voice leaves something to be desired, she puts on a fun show.  She also was quite lovely to talk to.  I especially like her since she admired my necklace (which is a piece of meteorite).
The weather was perfect—around 80 degrees and breezy.  We spent some of the weekend going to the Wolfsonian, a museum specializing in propaganda materials (seems somehow very apt right now) and walking through one of the outdoor malls.

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We also had a tremendous meal at Bazaar, one of Jose Andres’s restaurants, but more about that in a later blog post.

Book review: When Gods Die by C.S. Harris

When Gods Die (Sebastian St. Cyr #2)When Gods Die by C.S. Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second in the Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series and follows up on a strong debut novel (“What Angels Fear”). There are lots of things going on in this mystery–a countess is killed, and the Prince Regent is a strong suspect, threatening the monarchy. If that isn’t enough, there is the threat of a rebellion to overthrow the House of Hanover and replace it with a descendant of the House of Stuart. Surprise, surprise, it turns out that the two events may be connected. And then there’s the mysterious death of Sebastian’s mother and why her favorite necklace was found on the body of the dead countess.
This series has become a favorite of mine. I love the Regency historical period and as much as I love the lighthearted Regency romances, I also appreciate the grittiness and observations of the underside of Regency society that are a characteristic of this series. Sebastian St. Cyr is a flawed but extremely appealing hero, and the secondary characters are vividly portrayed. Especially heartbreaking in this book is the portrayal of the dead countess’s husband.
This series is a definite must for the TBR pile!

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Disneyworld and an 18th Birthday

In the category of “How to Make Me Feel Really Old” falls the 18th birthday of our daughter (I assume our son’s 18th birthday will fall into the category of “How to Make Me Feel Really Really Old.”)
Our daughter elected to celebrate this momentous occasion of being able to sign legally binding contracts by spending it in Disneyworld.  Fortunately, her birthday coincided with a school 3 day weekend, which made it perfect.
We managed to spend time in all 4 parks, although Magic Kingdom received the brunt of our attention.  It makes me feel all warm and gushy inside to know that this now 18 year old young woman still loves Disney and still loves the Magic Kingdom.  (She may still turn out to be a serial killer, but at least she’ll be a serial killer who loves Disney.)
We stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, so we woke up each morning to the sight of giraffes, zebras, and other wildlife right outside our balcony.
High points of the trip include:
— being at Magic Kingdom when the park opened at 7:00 am

early morning at the Magic Kingdom

early morning at the Magic Kingdom

— getting a how-to-be-a-warrior lesson from Mulan in the China pavilion at Epcot

— being entertained by Dara Vamp at The Brown Derby

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— seeing the parks decorated for Christmas

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Happy 18th birthday, sweetie!!

Halloween 2016

We have a Halloween family tradition of over 10 years of inviting ourselves over to a friend’s house who has considerably more trick-or-treaters than we do (given that have zero).  The kids decided (very reluctantly) that they were too old to go trick-or-treating by themselves and contented themselves with giving large amounts of candy to the kids who came by.  But, of course, costumes are a must.

Jim’s office offers prizes to the best costume and does a Halloween lunch in full costume every year.

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And we are a family consisting of a Loki, Willy Wonka, Steven Universe, and Nerds.

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Hope your Halloween was as much fun as ours!

Book review: The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn

The Dark Enquiry (Lady Julia Grey, #5)The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the final book in the Lady Julia Grey series, and I confess that I took my time reading it. I have loved this series since it came out—the first book, “Silent as the Grave” being a particular favorite. It contains one of the most romantic quotes ever: “For where thou art, there is the world itself.” (From Henry VI, Part 2)
The first few books deal with the courtship between Lady Julia Grey, the daughter of an earl, and Nicholas Brisbane, a half-gypsy, half-Scottish private detective. (Oh, and there are a few mysteries thrown in for entertainment as well.) In this final book, the two are married, and, in addition to the interesting mystery of who murdered a fake medium, we are treated to watching the couple coming to terms with their marriage and defining the parameters of their relationship. For Dorothy Sayers fans, the narrative arc of this book is similar to “Busman’s Honeymoon,” which covers a similar theme between Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane after their marriage.
I absolutely loved this book—the love between Lady Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane is well articulated and soaring, and the conflict caused by their disparate backgrounds is believable and handled well. The dialogue is witty and sharp. The mystery is well-crafted and provides enough superfluous and non-superfluous events to add to the development of the secondary characters. In addition, Lady Julia is one of ten children, and the interactions between the various siblings makes for entertaining reading.
The first book and this final book are my two favorites of the series, and perhaps it is not a coincidence that those are the two books where one of the main characters suffers a tremendous personal loss. The scenes describing the loss and its aftermath are the most heartrending of the book.
I highly recommend this series for those who like historical mysteries set in Victorian times. (And even if you aren’t a tremendous fan of Victorian times, the strong writing and well-rounded characterizations of these books are compelling enough to read them anyway.) The series is best read in order: “Silent in the Grave,” “Silent in the Sanctuary,” “Silent on the Moor,” “Dark Road to Darjeeling,” and “The Dark Enquiry.”

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Restaurant review: Chinatown Express (Washington, DC)

We were looking for a quick bite to eat before the Adele concert at the Verizon Center.  Daikaya (known for its ramen) was a 40 minute wait.  But then we happened upon this hole-in-the-wall that advertised fresh hand-cut noodles (called 手拉麵 in Chinese).
The noodles can be either put in soup or stir-fried, and you can choose your toppings (vegetarian, chicken, roast pork or roast duck are some of the choices).  I opted for soup with roast pork on top.  Jim went with the little soup dumplings(小龍包) and normal dumplings.  They were good but not memorable.
On the other hand, the noodles were excellent—thick and substantial, the way hand-cut noodles should be.  The broth was simple but filling, and the roast pork was excellent—flavorful and meaty.

half-eaten bowl of noodles with roast pork soup

half-eaten bowl of noodles with roast pork soup

We believe the quality of the dishes here is completely dependent on what you order.  Based on our limited data points, I would lean towards ordering Cantonese specialties such as roast pork as well as the hand-cut noodles (which aren’t a Cantonese specialty but are lovely anyway).
We will definitely be back to try some additional dishes.  If you’re looking for a quick and inexpensive meal around the Verizon Center, Chinatown Express should be on your list!

Chinatown Express is located at 746 6th St, NW, Washington, DC 202-638-0424 (www.chinatownexpressdc.com).

Book review: Lords of the North by Bernard Cornwell

Lords of the North (The Saxon Stories, #3)Lords of the North by Bernard Cornwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the 3rd book in the Saxon series (I know–I am way behind), and this one is my favorite so far. (Which is not to say that I disliked the other ones.) But by book #3, Uhtred’s personality is well-established as one where he knows perfectly well what he should do but often ignores it in favor of what he wants to do. (Trust me, so far there is no moral lesson to be derived from Uhtred’s behavior.) He continues to be snarky and sarcastic and irreverent, and I love him.
This book also deals very little with Alfred. Alfred the Great is one of my favorite characters in history and so I’m not always thrilled with the treatment he gets in this series (suffice it to say that Uhtred is not a fan). That being said, I like the fact that the author is willing to go against the commonly held conceptions about Alfred even as I cling to my illusions.
As always, the book is quintessential Cornwell. It is gritty and violent and gory, with no attempt to prettify the historical context. You can almost hear the grunts and screams of the men in battle and feel their swords slice into flesh.
If you haven’t read this series, I highly recommend you do so (but do it in order). I very much look forward to reading the next installment!

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Inn at Little Washington birthday dinner

It was our son’s 15th (!) birthday a couple of weeks ago and, in addition to feeling really old, we celebrated with a dinner at the Inn at Little Washington (at his request).

As usual, dinner was fabulous from the moment we stepped into the restaurant until we were wheeled out of the restaurant in a food coma.

Appetizers included the mélange of the Inn garden’s heirloom tomatoes with marinated fairy tale eggplant and local sheep milk’s feta

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to a tin of sin (American osetra caviar with peekytoe crab and cucumber rillettes)

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to a quartet of Rappahanock oyster slurpees (with sorbets of cucumber, cocktail sauce, horseradish, and wasabi)

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Additional courses consisted of a carpaccio of herb-crusted Elysian Fields baby lamb loin with Caesar salad ice cream

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to a crispy napoleon of chilled main lobster with osetra caviar

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to a pan-seared Maine diver scallop with Jerusalem artichoke purée, capers and tomato relish

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to grilled pepper-crusted black kingfish with shallot confiture and red wine reduction

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to crispy maple-glazed pork jowl with braised red cabbage and walnut ravioli

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to fontina-filled tortelloni on a sweet corn sauté with local shiitake mushrooms and patty pan squash purée

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to a chanterelle mushroom “meatloaf” with celery root purée and angry red sauce

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to a chop of organic milk fed pork with grilled peaches and potato purée

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Dessert included a miniature chocolate birthday cake

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to the Inn’s signature dessert of seven deadly sins (clearly gluttony is the one practiced most frequently here!)

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to a peach tart served with almond ice cream

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It was an incredible meal and a perfect birthday celebration!

with Chef Patrick O'Connell

with Chef Patrick O’Connell