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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Launchpad

So, do you notice a few changes? Yes, the blog's got a new name, a new design and layout, even a new address. Welcome to the new-and-improved blog formerly-known-as-Ma-Vie-en-Rose, now known as:

Taste-Life-Twice 

from the quote by Anais Nin: "We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection." It was on an inspiring woodblock-print card on my wall, and struck me as much more in tune with what I want this blog to be: a focused, creative, inspiring, and self-challenging launchpad for many talents and projects to come.

Ma Vie En Rose, and ma vie en general, was sort of drifting along aimlessly. Food, food, travel, observation, food. Well, I'd like to do a little better by you, my audience, and by me, La Créatrice, so I am rededicating this blog not only to tasting food but also to tasting life.

First item of business is showing you what I've got on that go-to list I've been promising you. First thing you notice is that it's pretty plain. No whipping up of cordon bleu or turducken here. The easiest go-to meal is minimal on ingredients and requires little or only contemplative surveillance. These here are my favorite recipes so far, for both taste and comfort.

raw kale salad (originally from Inspire Nutrition but can be found here, minus red onion and carrot)
roasted sweet potato with miso and pork (from WaPo here, connected to a great article)
braised seasoned pork shoulder (season, sear, and forget in the oven)
chinese cabbage salad (like this recipe, only no butter and using chow mein, not ramen noodles)
mini-souffles/ custards (gotta make use of those cute ramekins! everything from eggs to chocolate)
spaghetti sauce (Mom's secret recipe)
banana ginger chocolate bread (famous Orangette recipe, posted by Wednesday Chef)
cocoa lime cookies (from Simply Recipes, SUCH a crowd-pleasing comfort food)
panzanella (torn bread, ripe far-mar domates, brightly colored other produce, oil, and season)
chocolate clusters (melt chocolate, insert anything, chill)
curried parsnip soup (one of my earliest recipes tried, and easiest)
peach cardamom pie (a proud moment, Bon Appetit success!, repeated til peaches retire)
yaki soba stirfry (handy frozen packs come with seasoning packets, enhanced by fresh veggies)
braised cabbage with bacon, etc (use the hot grease to wilt and flavor the stiff greens)
roast cauliflower (oil + salt, 'nuff said)
steamed greens and an egg (Judith Jones' ever-so-simple, ever-so-wholesome approach)
roast eggplant and garlic (classic, inspired by Turkey)
ratatouille (um, not for drudge-like surveillance, but for when you want to get your mind off things)


That is my first cut at a list, and I wonder if you all have similar lists. Is yours meatier? Got more chicken? Use more Asian recipes? Takes advantage of spices more? I hope it gives you the sense of your own home, the way this one does for me.
Why don't you let me know in the comments what you think would balance out this list. I'm all ears!
Someone with a sense of his purpose in life!
I'm happy to have a repertoire at last, something to launch from into the unknown land of cookery, and into the untold wonders of life.

Stay tuned!

Monday, December 19, 2011

New Strategy

Things are undergoing a change here at Ma Vie, at you may soon be able to see them here on the blog. For the past 10 months I've been contemplating my life direction more avidly (that is not to say in a focused way) and trying to figure out the next set of goals.

I gave you a taste of some of the results of that cogitation, but haven't yet portrayed a clear picture of where I'm going... because I haven't had one! I'm exploring websites, talking to friends, and examining some persistent habits I'd like to ditch. If you've had a renewed sense of purpose in life, a good book that affirms your multipotentiality, or otherwise been inspired, please write it in the comments!

Here's to a launch of something different in 2012!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tartan Spirit

By a generous move from friends, I was invited to the Annual Tartan Ball here in Washington, DC.
They correctly assumed that in my current craze for Scottishness, I would be so pleased at all the pageantry and traditions on display that I would fill up my personal Happiness Tank for several days following.
It was held at the Mayflower, that iconic Warshington landmark. Recent political hijinks aside, it is a beautiful space. I had never been inside, so experiencing the cavernous depths of its entryway was pretty impressive. Even the carpets were exciting! There were a lot of people, and they fit pretty well in the area with the silent auction, and of course everyone got a seat for dinner (pictured above).

It was a prefect time to try a new whiskey. With the Ardbeg under my belt (but not conquered by any means), I calmly and rationally analyzed the dram of Lagavulin gifted to the table, hosted by my friends. It was suuuper-fragrant, as in, I could smell it without trying to. But it was surprisingly ... tolerable.
Here was my brilliant idea for a Scottish-themed yet fancy dress outfit: see arisaid for inspiration. I took a strapless black dress for the fancy part, then took a large shawl as a modern arisaid, letting it go from shoulder to belted waist to back of the calf-length dress. And I used a brooch that I have from back in my lilt days (Clan Logan) to secure it and give me some extra strapless confidence! Haha. That's always a bit nerve-wracking.

A lovely party.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Suddenly

It occurred to me, as I was writing my Cookie Swap post, that I've had what one might call a 'rash' of decisions that have been uncharacteristic of me and seem pretty sudden.

DUMBO
First there was starting the novel. I've always wanted to be a writer; one day, after getting a powerful idea for an opening line of a story, I asked myself what was stopping me? Just start! Chalk it up to the 'Shitty First Draft' if it isn't any good- at least you'll have your first one done. So I've been working on a novel.

Shaw
Then there was the painting job. Another thing that would make me happy, a small thing, an environmental change. So why was I waiting? I lobbed the pitch to the Universe, and a friend showed up, ready to help. What a warm, glowy feeling I get surrounded by color instead of cheesy off-white.

Third: disdaining an offer of a second 5k race, I thought, what if I devoted some serious time to running and getting in great shape? Michelle did it, right? My current pace would bring me in under the cut-off time for the 10 miles if I could just fool myself into wanting to run for an hour and forty minutes. Wouldn't it be cool if I could say I'd run in the Cherry Blossom 10-miler? Ok, let's pitch another one to the Fates, I told myself as I entered my name into the lottery.

I'm in.

Many Good Things

I am still working on that list of favorites for the Repertoire, so don't worry, any of you who were hanging in suspense from the last post-- it will come soon! For today though, I have something very special to report.
Cookie-Mas has arrived!
In the form of the First Annual Food Bloggers' Cookie Swap- yay!
The Cookie Swap combined many good things that I like: boxes in the mail, surprises, pen pals, new food blogs to explore, and of course, COOKIES!
For my end of the bargain, I made a double batch of a favorite recipe from iPoL, and tweaked it just a smidge:


1 3/4 c. flour
2 c. old fashioned oats
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 ts. baking soda
pinch salt
3 tsp. instant espresso powder
2 cubes (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg and 1 egg yolk
1 ts. vanilla
1/2 bag semisweet chocolate chips (Can add more if you want)
1 c. coarsely chopped dried apricots anything you can get your hands on, in this case, prunes, apricots, and raisins

Preheat oven to 350. In medium bowl, combine flour, oatmeal,sugars, salt,baking soda, and espresso powder. Add egg, egg yolk, melted butter, and vanilla, stir once or twice, then add chocolate chips and dried apricots. REFRIGERATE DOUGH for at least 30 minutes to firm it up. Place balls of cookie dough on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, and bake for 9-10 minutes. Take them out while they still the tiniest bit underdone. Once they sit for 15 minutes, they’ll be just right.
I packed up the pretty, plump ones and shipped them out the day after I made them. I ate the evidence that there were any that were not uniformly plump. (Again, here's a butter-spreading-related question- what did I do wrong in the first photo? Both batches were refrigerated for the same time, and rolled out approximately the same size.)
The double bacth yielded enough for the 3 dozen I sent out to Madeline of Munching in the Mitten, Karen of SoupAddict, and Leah of So, How's It Taste?, plus plenty to satisfy my sweet tooth (more on that later) while I awaited the other end of the bargain- 3 different dozens coming to ME!... The first box I received was from My Life as a Mrs, which were delicious: Soft Frosted Cookies, recipe here. Soft, moist, cakey, and vanilla-sweet. Kept very well, and such cute presentation!

My next mystery box was from Kiss My Whisk: Salty Sweet Cookies, which came with a cute recipe card (which is how I did mine too!) and wrapped like a present-- recipe here. It was hard to keep to my self-imposed rule of 'eat two, and pass on the rest' here, but I did, and my coworkers raved about these.


My last box was the most elaborate, presentation-wise (glass jar! I know how heavy-therefore-expensive those are to ship! Thanks, Girly Obsessions!), and the cause of my abandoning my self-imposed rule. But really, it was for practical reasons, since despite the wax paper, the glass jar, and the bubble wrap, a good third of the cookies crumbled when I tried to take them out of the bag. At which point someone may have started scooping up these Dark Chocolate Wafers with Almonds and Sea Salt with her bare hands and popping them into her mouth. When I- mean The Someone- regained consciousness, there were 6 mostly whole cookies left, and some crumbs, which I used the next day as a dessert topping. So I couldn't have brought in six cookies to offer my twelve coworkers, could I? That would have been just mean.
In conclusion, this was a great idea. Many good recipes, many good people. Thank you to the Amazing Organizers, and if you want to participate next year, sign up here for notifications! Happy Cookie-Mas, everyone.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I Painted Something!

While I am working on that List of Favorites in my Repertoire, I wanted to give you a peep at the home improvements I've been working on... Namely, the Painting Weekend That Was!
Let me lay a little background. I've been in my current apartment for about two years. I moved in a snowstorm, which leaves no doubt as to the mettle of my fine friends who helped me move. I had a lot more stuff than I thought I did, as per the rule of the universe that dictates that things multiply when you don't mean them to. And when I settled here, 2 blocks away from the last place, I really liked the situation: 4th floor, high ceilings, open kitchen to living room, big bedroom, heat that works- I was very pleased and content.
But.
As anyone who has lived in rental units for a long time knows, white (correction: cheapest possible off-white available) paint can get old, even with lots of prints, cards, and decorations. I had picked up a couple paint samples while helping 2 friends move (turnabout is fair play!) about a year ago, but the little 2x2 squares had stayed taped to the walls, with little to show for their persuasive power.
Until.
Until the week of November 8, when not only was I itching to rearrange my furniture again (normal), I was also staring at those walls, thinking, 
'how hard could it be?'
I called on the same friends again (Kim and Juan recently became homeowners, so I know they'd been through just about every paint procedure on a wall; plus, Juan is a painter. And he'd already painted my wall once, with red wine, so he sort of owed me on this one.) Kim was stuck out of the country for work, but Juan was free on Saturday. And thus, once I had involved someone else's schedule, my half-baked idea suddenly became a lot more concrete.
We started at about 10, we waited way too long to break for lunch, so that by the time we found a place nearby, their 30 minute wait time nearly made us pass out. (Don't go there) Finally revived and very full, we started up again and finished at about 7. It was a long day, and Juan was a huge help. Besides the making-me-commit-to-the-idea part, he also did most of the tricky detail painting around the corners. I concentrated on the wide, open expanses, and redid them when Juan pointed the drips (only twice).
So it was a long day, but as I woke up the whole next week faced with my California Poppy, and reading next to my Deep Blue Sea, I was positively glowing. When it comes to repainting when I move, I know it will be a pain with timing the drying period with the packing madness, but for only $170 and a couple sandwiches, it was sure worth it.




A Favorite and a Newbie

Often, when I tell people I like to cook, they'll ask "Oh, what do you like to cook?"
Why is it so hard to think of anything when people ask this? So I am going to think up some answers, write them down here, and hand people cards when they ask in future (I'm sure this will be a hit).
Now, um... er...
Good thing I have my iPhoto library. Using it as I do to see what's next for this blog, I see I have a favorite. I really like cauliflower- not raw, but roasted. Actually, roasted OR blanched and sauteed, they make very easy targets for any kind of spice/ flavor profile you want to lay over them.
My first foray into cauliflower was plain and easy: oil, salt, roast. As time went by, I added paprika, or herbes de Provence, or coriander and curry. Still very easy.
After some time, I tried recipes that tried a different tack: the blanch-and-saute method. A little more labor-intensive, but not yet Gulag territory. It requires a pot that doesn't even get dirty, so it's still in my comfort zone. And what I liked about it was that you can add a little more zazz with other ingredients. Don't get me wrong, I like one-main-ingredient dishes, but sometimes I like to add greens, or a protein, etc. I've recently been adding more eggs to vegetable dishes, and let me tell you, it's a much better meal than the one-ingredient dish, which is sometimes all I have in me for the night.
Mmmm.....
This second entry is, by contrast, a complete newbie, inspired by Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Almond Laceys, a cookie which I tried once and got hooked on! (Well, my coworker definitely got hooked; I liked them very much, thank you.) I thought I might try to see if I could make them, where I could control how many I had access to at a time (ahem).
I'm not sure how to regulate the butter spreading as it melts, but it did so in very unique ways...
I guess if I was going to enter these in a Cookie Beauty Pageant, I would have to figure that out...
Suggestions? Chill the dough? Comments welcome!
The recipe I had found in my Moosewood Desserts cookbook. I like it when I have a dozen books to search through for a recipe inside my head, instead of just Googling it. Where's the fun in that?
  
I would give them a 7.5 for taste, a 10 for fragility, a 6 for looks. Oh, and a 10 for talent.
And you never know, these might become a favorite.
After a few more tries.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The World Comes to Me

I am now caught up to November! Let's see, what happened in November...
Well, a friend of mine had a rockin' feast of Pakistani delights, which I felt compelled to catalog.
The country's tastes, and Jessica's, trend a bit spicier than mine, but knowing that ahead of time was enough to make sure the top of my head didn't get get blown off. Slow and steady...

Here's the head chef in the preparatory stages, in front of the stove in her spotless kitchen ...
Here's the special jasmine rice (I think- I'm not very fluent in rice) being mixed in with the tomatoes, herbs, and spices.
Here's the slightly tweaked version of what I know as palak paneer, with tofu instead of paneer- delicious!
A surprise hit of the night- durian chips!
The Spread- the mind boggles. And so pretty!
And the Spread that found its way onto My Plate: that's baked salmon in tomato sauce, spiced chickpeas, the rice with vegetables, and the tofu-palak creation. Mmm, it's enough to prompt a food coma in remembrance! I love times like these, when the food of the world somehow finds its way to me, and gives me a new experience (without the stress of going to Pakistan).
Here's to as many tasty foodie nights as possible before this gal ships off to the Far East!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Injury and Insult

If I write a post that is not so happy, but just as spirited, will my audience be all right? Well, here goes: a little therapeutic exposition of my recent past.
Injury: About 6 weeks ago, I was heading out to a friend's boyfriend's band's performance. They were great! Happy, happy bluegrass! Ok, back to not-so-happy.
As per my usual, I was a little late heading out to the venue, and so, as I turned left out of my building's driveway, I broke into a quick trot to make up some time. Bad move, Indy.
The sidewalk is none too even in my neighborhood and I tripped so fast over a botchy job at even-ing out the sidewalk that I was sprawled out on elbows and knees before I even knew I'd fallen. Impact fell mostly on my knees and left elbow.  These two were taken about a week after the incident, after the initial swelling went down and the bruising got all pretty. Good thing I wasn't going to a ball that month, eh?
While it was painful to hold ice to it while listening to the bluegrass all that night, I'm glad I went. I may never get to lean with my elbows on the table again, but ... well, that would be hard. But at least they still bend!

And these two were taken a day or two later, for comparison.
There you have it, my ghoulish/ proud-of-injuries side. It's a sleeper, so don't blink or you might miss it!
And no, of course I didn't see a doctor about this. I'm terrified of navigating health care waters. But I did make a baby step in the right direction by asking a coworker about help understanding it! (Go, me!)

Part II of this post is about Insult. I live in an apartment which faces out onto an alley, which affords me the occasion of hearing many sorts of human interaction, almost all of them from people passing through on their way hither and thither in this metropolis we call Washington, DC. But this summer, and now this fall, I have been plagued by two pests that set up camp and persist for a time like wasps: a neighbor, and a construction crew. Listen:
video
That is what I heard, of a sudden, on Wednesday, November 2nd, at 630 AM. Notice the super-strong lights necessary, because it was not yet light out when they started drilling, beeping, and jack-hammering. This went on for most of a few weeks, and it made me want to get out of my apartment as fast as I could in the morning, which is my usual quiet-time, devoid of obnoxious lunkhead neighbors who yell during the evenings (to whom I have just composed a strongly-worded letter, as they are at it again!).
But there is happy ending to this post: the city construction is done and now we have a nice red-brick alley and the convenience store on the other end of the alley has nice parking spaces (that we of course can't use). And my elbow no longer show any traces of the fall; I'm hoping eventually I'll be able to lean on tables with my elbows again.
There: now it's out of my system. I hope to post a lot this week to catch up with all the other fun activities I've been up to (and keep my promise to the Food Blogger Cookie Swap peeps, as well!), so stay tuned!

My Kind of Advertising

We take a break from our regularly scheduled (Food, Travel, Nature) programming to present you with Unmitigated Youthful Joyful Goofiness.




Good Chinese

October 28th.
Friends assembled for a fun foodie night out.
In Rockville, MD.
At A&J.
Much to my surprise, not 1 of our group, but 3 of our 4 knew some Chinese (yes, I was the neanderthal here), which made for some hilarity taking turns asking the waitress things....like: how do you say "to go" ?
It was a rockin' restaurant, with great variety, great flavor, and the decor was... well, the food was awesome.
To the left we have for appetizers Spicy Cucumbers and a dish with soybeans, greens, and bamboo shoots- a table favorite.
Below we have spicy beef soup on the left and congee on the right ('jook' for Koreans, and my first time tasting either). The Spicy Beef was too spicy for me, even with plenty of congee. The congee helped my mouth calm down, but on its own was plain to the point of paper paste. Not my favorite, but I'm sure it's best when paired with the right fiery dish (for someone who could handle it, that is!)

Sesame noodles, very tasty, being expertly tossed by Sabina.
We also sampled Ground Pork and Noodle, Potstickers (a different, fat-cigar shape), Thousand-Layer Pancake, Scallion Pancake, and copious amounts of fresh green tea, poured by each other as kind friends do. The Thousand-Layer Pancake lived up to its intriguing taste reputation- not sweet but not just grease, either- and stole my heart.


And there was no chance for dessert, we barely rolled ourselves out of there in time for making it to this pool hall/bar on Connecticut Ave for a scant hour before we were spent. Or at least I was!

So many good memories over Good Chinese.