Seafood 101

67590E6B-2F0A-4857-84F3-5D2A464296B3Last Friday night I took a cooking class called Spring Seafood 101 at L’Academie de Cuisine.  I’ve enjoyed almost every cooking class I’ve ever taken, but this chef was particularly impressive for her vast knowledge.  The author of several books, she closed the class with a fascinating mini-lecture about olive oil, delving into the significance of acidity and the cultural customs surrounding the olive growing and cultivation.  She really knew her stuff, and she taught us how to make four simple but impressive and delicious seafood recipes.

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The first thing we made was a seafood stew.  The chef made the dish at the front of the classroom, talking us through each step. There was a big mirror above her so that we could see what she was doing on the counter.  Then we got into groups of three and made our own at a station in front of us.  It was the first time I’d ever cooked squid before and I was surprised how easy it was.  This was a great, practical recipe to learn because it was simple, delicious, and it’s the kind of thing that can be altered based on what seafood you have available.

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The next thing we made was the branzino. I think I will replicate this at home sometime when I am having guests over. It looks elegant but is so easy. We just chopped up some herbs, mixed in olive oil, coated the inside and top of the fish with it, and baked it in the oven with some chopped fennel and tomatoes. It was delicious and also very healthy.

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IMG_3961The third thing we made was monkfish in parchment. We used the same herb mix and I didn’t love this one as much, but I was glad that she taught me the technique because I used it to cook salmon this week and it was really easy and turned out delicious.

IMG_3954IMG_3956IMG_3957The last thing that we made was my favorite – a shrimp tartini. A tartini is basically an open-faced sandwich.  I’ve already made this recipe several times since the class because it was so easy and delicious.  It’s just some french country bread, herbed cream cheese (Boursin), sliced cucumbers, and shrimp. We sautéed the shrimp in olive oil with herbs de Provance and a squeeze of lemon.  Based on the simplicity of it, my expectations were low but it really impressed me. I am not exaggerating when I say I have made it three times since then.

IMG_3959IMG_3969IMG_3970The class had some amazing helpers to pour us wine and clear dirty dishes.  It was a really lovely night and would be fun for a date or a family with older children. I heard about this class through CourseHorse.com.  They have a TON of classes in cities around the country, and they’re not all about cooking. They also offer them for languages, beauty, fitness, IT, and more.  Don’t you think learning new things adds a certain richness to life? I certainly do.

 

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Arlington National Cemetery

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Tulips, with the Lincoln Memorial, National Monument, and Capitol building in the background.

I’ve lived in the DC area for a year and a half now and I’ve barely shared anything about the city.  It’s time for that to change! So this morning I walked over to one of my favorite DC sights, Arlington National Cemetery.  Perhaps it sounds a bit morbid to call this place a favorite, but more than most of the monuments it fills me sentiments of pride, gratitude, and patriotism.  It’s also just really beautiful.

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It’s incredibly large, filled with tombstones aligned neatly in perfect rows and meticulously maintained.  Each one representing a man or woman who’s life is woven into the fabric of our nation.  If you aren’t comfortable walking for miles, or if you want to learn about the rich history of the cemetery, there’s a tour where they take you around in the shuttle. I would probably really enjoy it, but I haven’t done it yet. I just wander over every now and then when I have some free time.

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There are several buildings and monuments within the cemetery.  To me, the most interesting one is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  It’s been guarded by a soldier 24/7 since 1948 – through rain and sleet and snow.  Every hour (or half hour depending on season) they have a changing of the guard ceremony, which is very cool to watch (and free!).  I’ve been several times and I really recommend it.

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No matter how much time you have, it’s a nice place to visit if you find yourself in our capital anytime soon!  It’s also nice any time of year.  Trees are blooming now, it’s also gorgeous with a blanket of snow. Volunteers place wreaths at each tombstone at Christmastime and it’s equally brilliant in the fall.  Just go during daylight hours before the gates close.

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Flashback to Paris

6A60ECD4-B0BD-406D-80EE-6F5B1441E198Two months after returning from Paris, I finally found the time to stitch my videos together into a little cinematic overview of the things i did and saw.  It will be something I watch when I’m having a bad day and dreaming about better ones. If you’d like to see it, click here.

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Cherry Blossoms in Washington, D.C.

Cherry Blossom 3For a few short days every year, Washington D.C. explodes into bloom with spectacularly gorgeous cherry blossoms.  Local experts compete to accurately predict peak bloom windows. Tourists from around the world flock here, hoping to catch the trees on just the right day.  It’s a big deal.  And last year, I missed it.  But I wasn’t about to let that happen again this year.

Cherry Blossom 4My friend Laura met me at the Jefferson Memorial around dawn.  From there, we strolled around the tidal basin, enjoying the first buds of the season.  The weather has been so weird this year – warm, then cold, then warm again – I’ve heard that it’s damaged the trees.  But even in it’s diminished beauty, it was pretty gorgeous.

Cherry Blossom 1Our fingers froze and we had to brace ourselves against the wind, but it was definitely worth getting up early for.  I’ve heard that it becomes a madhouse later in the day, but at 7:30 AM it was just us and a few runners.

Cherry Blossom 2DC… you may be a cesspool of moral bankruptcy, but you sure are nice to look at.

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Seafood Pasta

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Seafood Pasta has become one of my favorite things to make at home.  Usually I save myself the trouble and buy pasta from the store, but last weekend I had a whole afternoon wide open so I rolled it out from scratch.

I’ve covered the pasta bit here, so I won’t bore you with that, but I will share the sauce with you because it was so easy and so delicious.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 Cans Crushed Tomatoes (28 oz. each)
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 bottle
  • 1 bottle clam juice
  • 4 large basil leaves
  • 2 large springs of thyme
  • Mussels, clams, or any other seafood you want to add (scallops or squid would be great)

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Inspired by this recipe, I started by adding some garlic to a glug of olive oil over medium heat.  As the garlic was starting to brown, I added the crushed tomatoes, the whole bottle of clam juice, basil, and thyme.

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Let all of that simmer for a while, until about 1/3 of it has evaporated.  When the sauce is almost ready, start boiling salted water for pasta. While that cooks, wash and debeard your mussels and clams.  Be sure to toss any mussels that have already opened.

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When the sauce is ready, place the shellfish in the sauce and place a lid on top.

img_3597Cook until the mussel shells have opened.

About five minutes later…

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When the pasta has finished cooking, combine the two and serve with parmesan cheese.

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I enjoyed mine with a nice crisp glass of sauvignon blanc, and I strongly encourage you to do the same. Bon appetite!

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Paris, Day 3

dsc_0435My third and final day in Paris was the rainiest of all, but I got a few dry hours in the morning. I had yet to see the Eiffel Tower in daylight, so I headed that way.  Most of the time I was in Paris, I walked places. But this morning, I took the Paris metro. I found it to be reliable and fairly easy to navigate.

img_3324I took a few token selfies of myself in front of the tower, and headed to Angelina’s for a hot chocolate.  Many of my friends and family members gave me recommendations for my trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to most of them, since I was only there 3 days and didn’t want to feel constrained to an agenda.  But I am so glad I went to Angelina’s. I got their famous hot chocolate and two macaroons: a shiny gold vanilla one and a light green pistachio.  I wish I’d gone there every day of my trip, because they had so many amazing little confections.  The macaroons were delicious and I wish I could have tried more.

Then I sat down in little park to enjoy them. The hot chocolate was much richer and thicker than anything else I’d ever had before. I have a major sweet tooth, and would never call something “too rich” but I can definitely see how some people wouldn’t like it.

Later that afternoon, I wanted to visit the Musee d’Orsay.  My mom and several other people had told me how gorgeous it is. When I got there, the line wound on for ages, and my heart sunk. I was not willing to stand in line, in the cold rainy weather, for at least an hour.  So instead I found a nearby cafe, and safe under a heater along the street to enjoy a carafe of wine and watch people go about their lives.

img_3365My final dinner was the best of my trip, by far.  I returned to Comme Chai toi, where I’d had a drink the night before.  One of the servers recognized me from my previous visit and welcomed me to a table.  I told her I wanted one final delicious french meal, but that I only had appetite for two courses.  She recommended the fried brie, followed by the french toast.  I also asked her to pair wines with each course.

img_3367It goes without saying that I liked the baked brie.  I would happily eat baked brie for dinner every night of my life, but this was especially good.  There was a light crispy coating on the outside and the perfect glaze of honey.

img_3372The french toast also exceeded my expectations.  It had layers of sweetness that really elevated it from other french toast I’ve had.  I guess it should be no surprise that Parisians do French toast best! If you find yourself near Notre Dame in Paris, I highly recommend a visit.

Walking back to my hotel was bittersweet. I was sad that my trip was over, but glad that it had been an overwhelming success. I fell in love with Paris,  I’m already trying to figure out when I can return.

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Paris, Day 2

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The second day of my trip, I slept late.  I could already see full daylight peeking through the curtains when I awoke.  I took my time getting ready, grabbed my camera, and headed to Luxembourg Gardens for a look around. When I arrived, I was surprised to see an abundance of joggers.  I love to go for long runs around cities, but it’s not something you see very much in Europe. It made me wish I’d packed my running shoes!

Being January, the gardens were pretty but not in full splendor.  In retrospect, I probably could have skipped them, but I’ll definitely return if I find myself in Paris again during the warmer months.

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After the gardens, I popped into a cafe for a proper Parisian breakfast.  I was disappointed that they were out of chocolate croissants, but I guess that’s what happens when you wait until 11 AM.  Fortunately, it’s Paris, so I thoroughly enjoyed my plain croissant.  When it comes to flakey pastry, nobody outdoes the French!

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Sure, I missed the chocolate croissants, but my timing wasn’t all bad.  A few moments after I sat down the skies opened up. If there’s anywhere I want to be holed up, though, a Parisian cafe is it.  I leisurely enjoyed my coffee, journaled, and waited for the skies to clear.

After about an hour, I headed back to my hotel for a bag switch.  I knew I was going to be doing a lot of exploring on foot, so I dropped off my large bag and heavy camera and traded them out for a smaller bag with the essentials.

Having spent my entire first day on the left bank, I headed over the river to see what the right bank had to offer.  Crossing the river, I found one of Paris’ more modern attractions: the love locks.  Aggressive vendors hassled me, trying to sell me a lock.  I laughed to myself, surprised that they thought a woman visiting Paris alone was their target audience.

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I meandered along the right bank, past the Louvre again and through the Tuileries Garden, down to the base of the hideous ferris wheel.  I continued towards the Arc de Triumph and Champs-Elysées.  Feeling peckish, I found a restaurant to stop at for lunch.  As usual, I took seat by the window.

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I ordered steak tartare, frites, and a lovely glass of wine.  It reaffirmed my take-away from last time I was in France: the food is really hit or miss (for my palette, anyway).  While some things are like a bite of heaven, others just don’t appeal to me.  I was disappointed to  discover that this steak tartare fell into the latter category. The tender rare meat was mixed with a pickle relish that totally overpowered the dish. At least the fries were good!

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Rejuvenated by lunch, I headed out for some more exploring.  I strolled down Avenue des Champs-Elysées, popping in and out of stores as the rain showers ebbed and flowed.  I visited some of my American favorites (looking at you, Sephora) as well as some local shops.  As evening was setting in, I snapped this photo of the Arc de Triumph, then hopped on the Metro back to the Latin Quarter.

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Later that evening, I went for another stroll.  On a whim, I popped into a little restaurant and sat down at the bar for a glass of wine.  It was an L-shaped bar, and the only other patrons were two women about my age.  They were drinking and joking with the bartender; clearly the three of them were friends.  About half way through my glass of wine, the bartender asked me if I understood French.  “I’m afraid not,” I said.  “Oh, Thank God!” she said, “We are being so stupid.”  Now that the barrier was broken, the conversation continued in English and all four of us started joking around. Another server even joined in. It felt so warm and friendly, it made me wonder why the French get such a bad rap.  The girls invited me outside for a cigarette, but I declined as I don’t smoke.  I was just finishing as they returned.  “You should come back for dinner tomorrow,” the bartender told me.  I smiled and said I would if I found myself in the area at dinnertime.

I smiled the whole way back to the hotel. I’d had such a lovely, leisurely day and I wrapped it up feeling like I’d made Parisian friends. I was fully enraptured by the City of Light.

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