Travel Hell and Christmas Eve Heaven

Ahhh holiday travel. Where two inches of snow translates into 3 days of travel delays.

Yes, my transit back to the good ole USSA was kind of a mess. Overnight in London Heathrow, overnight in ATL, numerous sleep-deprived marches through airports, but eventually, I made it home, to my hilarious dog (pictured) and adoring (or at least, adored) family. By the time I did make it back, there were 2 feet of snow on the ground, giving DC a freakishly rare white Christmas, and me a good excuse not to leave the house.

And you would think after being gone for 6 months I would have a lot of mail. I guess I felt like I was gone a long time and everyone would notice? But as a matter of fact, aside from student loan forms *shudder* all I received was one Christmas card... plus this awesome handmade cookbook-lette from Amey at Vegan Eats and Treats, "Cooking Up a Storm!"

Man was I excited to see that! This booklet is jam-packed with awesome looking recipes for all manner of deliciousness plus cute home-made drawings. It being Christmas, I went straight for the cookies and decided on the choco-cherry-pecan cookies. They took about 15 minutes all told, and they were so unbelievably delicious, especially with a tall glass of soymilk. Even in my sweets-filled household these went fast. Amey, your cookbook rocks! Thanks so much!

A few days after my initial arrival and many cookies later, my fam and I headed over to Peking Gourmet in Falls Church for the traditional Christmas Eve gorge. Peking Gourmet is famous for two reasons. 1.) It was President Bush (Sr.)'s favorite restaurant and there are pics of him splattered all over the place. 2.) The Peking Duck. You would think from these two snippets of info that I would hate the place, but actually I love it. It has a very limited vegetarian menu, but those items on it are phenomenal. I had the gourmet eggplant and my brother got a tofu dish that was equally fab.

I also love munching on the duck accompaniments: rice pancakes, plum sauce, and spring onions. Heaven. But truth be told, more than the food, I love the busy metro atmosphere in this spot, which has been in the Culmore shopping center forever and attracts hundreds of people over the holidays (and I suspect, most weekends.) The crowd out the door is huge on Christmas eve, but its always kind of exciting and we often see people we know. Definitely one of my favorite traditions of the holidays.

My other favorite tradition is the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. I love being in Europe, but the melancholic angst of Charlie Brown is just not something that translates well. After all, how would you translate the following into french: "Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you're the Charlie-Browniest!"

Ah, America.


Merry Christmas!

Back in the USA and cooking up a storm! But for now... Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!


just pictures...

Still not home for the holidays, still no camera, but here are some old, (but new to you!) pictures from the old days while I ponder my holiday menu and dream up ways of acquiring a new camera (or fixing my old one...)


Broke Food: Risotto!

One of my favorite scenes in all of movie-dom is from The Little Princess. (Take your pick, but I prefer the Shirley Temple version.) Little Sarah has gone from wealthy and pampered prep school queen to orphan scullery maid, due to the unfortunate disappearance of her Father (and his fortune) during the Boers War. Now she must discard her fabulous clothes and furniture and live up in the freezing attic with the other little maid, while the other girls mock her relentlessly and the mean headmistress tortures her for being poor. (Let's just keep our Marxist analysis to ourselves...)

Then, one particularly freezing and dreary night, while the two little girls are sleeping, the next door neighbor's Indian butler, who has been charmed by little Sarah, replaces the squalor of their attic with a lush bedroom, filled with soft bed-dressing and clothes, a sumptuous buffet, and beautiful paintings. The girls wake up the next morning to think that they have conjured the whole thing through the power of imagination.

I think you can pull a similar trick with risotto. Through pure mind power (read: stirring a lot) you can transform plain old rice and broth into a warming gourmet meal. With the help of an friendly butler (read: mushrooms, squash, or other veggies) you can take it over the top to something truly magical. It really works for me when I am feeling like an orphan scullery maid, which is often these days. (Don't worry, its just finals period.)

So here is my recipe, which I've shared before (many times before), but made as plain and wallet-friendly as possible. I've been eating it so much lately I feel like a risotto making machine, but if its your first time, be vigilant- you don't want to ruin the bottom of your pan by not stirring enough.

Risotto w/ [your favorite and/or cheapest vegetable]
1 large yellow onion, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, diced
olive oil and/or earth balance
*1 c. white wine
1 cube veg boillon, or packaged veggie broth
Your vegetable of choice, plus an herb of choice

1. [First you will probably want to prepare the vegetable. If its mushrooms, slice and cook together with some thyme or oregano and olive oil in a saute pan until brown and slightly crispy. If using squash of pumpkin, slice in 1/2 and place in a pan in the oven along with some olive oil and sage and cook at 375 until soft. Asparagus can be sauteed or cooked in the oven with some oil and garlic. You get the picture.]
2. Fill a pot with water and boil along with a bouillon cube. Reduce heat to medium. (Alternatively, heat a package of veggie broth over low heat on the stove top.) Keep within reach of your other pot.
3. Melt 1 knob of Earth balance and a drizzle of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. When bubbling add in garlic and onion and cook until translucent.
3. Add in rice and allow to coat with oil and mix with onions and garlic. Salt and Pepper liberally.
4. Add in white wine. (*If you can't afford wine like me, substitute two tablespoons of plain vinegar or white wine vinegar.) Stir until just absorbed.
5. Ladle in about a cup of the heated broth, stirring until absorbed by the rice. Repeat this step over and over again, ladling and stirring, until rice is no longer crunchy and coated in a thick creamy sauce.
6. At this point, add back in your cooked veggie, salt and pepper liberally, stir, reduce heat to low and cover. Serve with warm bread and a crispy salad.

Suggestions for combos:

Butternut squash and sage

Lemon and Asparagus (add in a bit of lemon juice and zest when you add in the cooked asparagus.)

Mushroom and Leek with thyme, my personal favorite.

I suspect one can stretch this recipe into new territories, like using beets, fake cheese, or non-italian flavorings. However, even minus the veggies this is pretty awesome comfort food, and the only thing you really have to buy is the rice. Ah, cheap, classic, kitchen magic. "Because every little girl cook is a princess."

Song of the Day: Neko Case- This Tornado Loves You