testament enough

fork-tender BBQ chicken

I recently received a review copy of America’s Best BBQ, which was published by the same people behind Falling Cloudberries, one of the most gorgeous cookbooks I’ve ever seen. (Seriously, I don’t know who the graphic designers are at Andrew McMeel, but their work is so good, it’s honestly enough by itself to warrant buying these books, if just for flipping value.)

america's best BBQ cookbook

In the case of this barbecue book, cookbook might not be the best term to describe it. While filled with recipes, it’s also part guide, part travelogue, part window into the barbecue belt of America (i.e., from North Carolina to Texas, with a few other states thrown in). There are a lot (a lot!) of gorgeous, glossy photos, along with stories and commentary by Ardie A. Davis and Chef Paul Kirk, the authors and researchers behind this compilation. These men love barbecue. They make it, the taste it, they travel around the country deciding what’s good enough to tell the rest of us about.

If I had one complaint, it’d be that a lot of the recipes, at least for main dishes, require special ingredients particular to the restaurants they came from: Ed’s Pepper Vinegar Sauce from The Pit in Raleigh, North Carolina, to make a barbecued hog; Curtis’ Southern Style Bar-B-Q Sauce from Curtis’s BBQ in Vermont to make its loaded pork-stuffed potato. I had to dig a little to find a barbecue recipe I could make in my own kitchen: the Apple City BBQ Sauce that, ironically, comes from my own home state, one not especially known for that sort of thing.

BBQ sauce

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the change that comes

potatoes and spoon

I am at a place right now where I am standing still in life.

Everywhere around me, people are rushing for things—new places and careers, new relationships, new life, even—and I am watching them.

I want to go forward, to take a step, join them, but instead I stare at my feet, unmoving and, if I’m honest, afraid.

slicing potatoes

Most days, I want a blueprint: a very, very specific outline of steps to take, with guarantees and/or backup plans, if possible. So I talk to people who been in similar situations, and they tell me what they did, whether they got their first apartment at 17 or had to work their way through college or stayed at their first job for five years.

But no matter how similar life stories are, they aren’t the same. Following your choices won’t guarantee that I follow your life. Your future can’t be mine.

sliced potatoes

And I don’t really want it to be. Not when I’m honest. In fact, I don’t really want advice, either. I think I just want someone to listen and nod and say, you know, what’s supposed to happen will happen. Because I believe that.

Meanwhile, I take easy change where I can find it, and, at least for me, that means the kind that happens in the kitchen, routinely, every day.

assembling

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what I’d hoped for

Saturday omelette

Saturday, I wanted an omelette.

Thing is, I am scared of omelettes. But when I am scared of something, kitchen-wise, it’s usually a good idea to see what Julia Child has to say, and so it was that I turned to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, where detailed, illustrated instructions explain how to master this task, if by nothing else than practicing for days at a time.

asparagus

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close your eyes and eat

brown butter cookies

The truth is, I have more to tell you about D.C.—like about the crazy-sweet frosting at Hello Cupcake, which was tall enough to catch on the tip of our noses when we bit into the cake; the breakfast crepes across from our hotel, filled with Nutella and strawberries; the Neapolitan-style pizza at 2 Amys, a restaurant more than one of you recommended and that makes some killer prosciutto and potato croquettes. But that will all have to wait, maybe for a day when you and I sit down in person instead, because right now, there are bigger things to talk about. Things like this brown butter shortbread.

I actually made these shortbread cookies in December, and as for why I haven’t posted them until now: all I can offer is a pathetic nod to the seemingly unending cookie recipes that were flowing around here at that time. It had reached the point where, one day, I had to promise myself to stop—no more cookies!—in an effort to keep from being the Blogger Who Only Talks About One Thing, ever. Then again, now that I’m looking back, would that have been so bad?

There is a comfort in familiarity, which is probably why I’ve been craving cookies so much lately. When you’ve fought the world, so to speak, whether at your office, with your kids or on the highway—it’s nice to come home, take a warm bite of sweetness in your hands, close your eyes and eat.

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Cafe Bonaparte in Georgetown

cafe bonaparte

Sometimes, in the middle of something, it hits me that I’ll never get it again. It happened when I came home from my run tonight and was stretching outside, when my dog saw me through the window and, after I came in to get him, jumped on the chair, my legs, the door, running to his leash when I told him to; also on Monday night, while I drove home in constant rain, after baking cookies at my brother’s apartment while the Internet guy drilled a hole in his wall; and when I overheard kids behind me on the airplane Sunday afternoon, asking their dad if D.C. was bigger or smaller than Illinois? And could all of Bethesda and all of D.C. fit inside Illinois with room to spare?

It’s like, no matter how hard or frustrating or just very good something is, you’ve got to take it, arms wide open, because it’s yours, now.

inside cafe bonaparte

Like this last weekend. Even if I tried very hard, I probably couldn’t book a top-floor hotel room at Hotel Palomar in DuPont Circle again and, even less likely, for no charge because of the right amount of credit card rewards. I couldn’t re-create the weather, or the people we met, or the way I stumbled upon a farmers’ market on my Sunday morning jog. It’s very possible, in fact, that if you went to D.C., you’d have a totally different experience, and you’d come back saying what a crazy place that was, like I did when I went to San Francisco last year, just because of the temperatures changing so much and my getting sick on the last day.

Still, though. I feel pretty sure about one thing, and that is this: You’d like Café Bonaparte. I’d put money on it.

You’d like it, at least, if you like France, or very good food, or excellent service from smiling servers in black-and-white striped shirts, set amongst a long black bar and brightly colored walls with photos of Paris.

burger at bonaparte

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take me to D.C.

georgetown

D.C. is beautiful, and that really can’t be overstated, especially this time of year with the cherry blossoms and bright blue skies and hot afternoons. Within a day or so of arriving, I’d decided I could live in Georgetown and find a job doing, well, anything, just to get to walk among professionally dressed people on cell phones, stunning historic architecture, brick walkways and fresh flowers.

the water

I mean, look at this river! Walking distance from shops and old churches, it was filled with crew teams practicing, and I could have sat by the edge, my feet dangling, for hours while the sun beat down and the cool breeze blew my hair. And that was just Georgetown.

capitol building

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a small request

brown butter tart

(Hello! Yes, I’m still in D.C., and yes, I still don’t have Internet. This is a little something I worked up for you in my absence, because I knew I’d miss you. Enjoy!)

When you decide to start a blog, there are a lot of things no one tells you. Like how you’ll learn to be simultaneously embarrassed and proud of this thing that bears your name and can be read by anyone. When talking to new people, and the subject of blogging comes up—you won’t know whether to admit you have one or to clear your throat and change the subject. At its worst, blogging is open diary or bland narrative. But at its best, writing your thoughts down will start to feel like talking to an old friend. You’ll actually look forward to sitting down at the computer screen, organizing your memories, and by extension your life, into a few paragraphs of type. When things are gray —as they are often for me—putting them into black and white can be a great kind of therapy.

Of course, therapy was never meant to be read by the world. And therein lies the problem.

When I started this blog, I think 14 or so people read it. Total. Even that was a little strange, as they were all my friends, and I’d see them sometimes and not know if I should ask them about it or wait for them to bring it up. Now, hundreds of you read it every day, and I have no idea who you are, but for those of you who leave comments from time to time or send me e-mails.

It seems a little one-sided, you know? You read about my family and my weekends and my botched artichokes, and I don’t know very much about you but that you’re nice enough to stop by.

Let’s do something about that, OK?

I have a few ideas.

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