Goodbye, 2016!

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My #2016BestNine photos, according to Instagram

I’m sure that many of you–especially if you are in the throes of raising small children–have heard the phrase “the days are long, but the years are short.” In my experience, this is generally a true statement…except when applied to 2016. I know that I’m not alone in saying that this felt like the longest. year. ever (Lest you think this is an exaggeration, it actually includes an extra second). Between all the stuff going on at home, work and the world in general, I felt like I was living in the Upside Down, a la Stranger Things.

Don’t get me wrong, this year was filled with a lot of bright spots, like:

Welcoming our sweet little Alice home and knowing that there could not be a more perfect little person to complete our family.

Sending our first baby out into the world (and, breathing a sigh of relief when she finally fell in love with school, after crying every day for the first month).

Selling our first house, buying another..and completing both transactions just before the process crow us completely insane.

I am grateful for all of those things, and plenty more that I didn’t write about. But, basically, this bit of sage advice (and a whole lot of Starbucks) has gotten me through last 12 months:

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(Although, in my case, it’s more like a doggie paddle, since I don’t know how to swim).

All that to say, that after a year of doing all the big things–seemingly all at once–I’m tired. So, my new year’s wish is for a much calmer 2017. Hopefully, by this time next year, I’ll feel just a tad less overwhelmed, and a little bit more like myself again.

And, if that’s not possible, may 2017 bring more sushi, cake pops and weekends at the park with my favorite people. If I’ve got those things, I’m sure I can make anything work.

Merry Christmas!

presents

This year’s wrapping theme: Red, white and kraft.

Hope that your Christmas holiday is filled with family and friends, all the cookies your heart desires and surprises under the tree!

–Lauren

On the Road: Washington, D.C.

One of the great things about living in Philly is that you are right in the middle of some great destinations for long weekend trips. Over the weekend, Bridget attended a conference in National Harbor, MD, just outside of D.C., so it was easy enough to hop on Amtrak for a two hour trip to spend a few days hanging out with her during her free time.

National Harbor is located along the Potomac River with a few large hotels that cater to large conventions, some trendy, chain restaurants (including a Pinkberry. The chocolate hazelnut flavor is amazing!) and a mix of major retailers and small boutiques (including a Peeps store. I hate Peeps, but it was pretty fun to browse through). Although there are condo complexes around, it doesn’t seem like anyone actually lives there on a full-time basis.

Overall, the town was nice, clean, and offered beautiful views along the waterfront. But, it also feels just a bit odd. It had a manufactured feeling to it that sort of reminded us of the Truman Show and there wasn’t a ton to do. Luckily, downtown D.C. was just about 45 minutes away via a bus and Metro trip, so we spent most of our downtime there.

Usually when I go to D.C., I’m traveling for work-related reasons, so it’s generally a quick in-and-out trip. I haven’t done a whole lot of the touristy things. I was excited to indulge my inner history dork while Bridget was attending conference sessions on Friday with a tour of the Capitol Building.

You can request a tour with access to the House and Senate galleries way in advance through your state’s Congressional office. Or, if you are like me and decide on this activity on the spur of the moment, you can book a (free) one-hour group tour that takes you through the Rotunda, National Statuary Hall and Crypt (where George Washington was supposed to be buried, had he not died before the building was completed). The architecture of the building is just astounding to see in person and it was really humbling to stand in the halls where so much of our country’s history played out and were our governmental structure and laws took shape.

Capitol Dome

I also stopped by the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. I overheard one of the tour guides describe it as “the most beautiful building in Washington, D.C.” I have to agree.

I wish that I was a researcher so that I could go into some of the reading rooms, but I was still content to stand in the gorgeous main hall to view them from above and browse through some of the exhibition galleries, including a re-created version of the collection of books that Thomas Jefferson sold to the library to aid in its rebuilding, after British burned it down during the War of 1812.

On Saturday, Bridget was free all day, so we headed back into D.C. for more tourist-ing. Brunch was first on our agenda. We got off the Metro and wandered up 6th Street and stumbled upon Jaleo, a Spanish tapas restaurant. I had heard good things about it and we were sold with just a quick glance at the menu posted in the window.

We sipped mimosas while we browsed the huge menu and picked out five dishes to share. The brunch section of the menu is only lists about six dishes, but there were plenty of other options, from cheese and charcuterie plates, to soups and salads, seafood and poultry, which were perfectly suitable for the time of day of our visit.

We started off with a selection of five cheeses. Our favorites from the plate were the sweet goat cheese, paired with raisin bread and fig jam (first on the left) a strong cow’s milk cheese paired with a slightly sweet rosemary and pine nut shortbread (third from the left) and the smoky cow’s milk cheese with crunchy nut brittle (last from the left). That red, somewhat spicy cheese was definitely not our favorite. The flavor was just way too strong (to use Bridget’s analogy, it tasted like feet).

Our next dish was the warm brussel sprout salad. The sprouts were removed from their core and thinly sliced and then topped with apricots, apple and serrano ham. It was dressed very lightly with an oil and lemon mixture and was a great combination of salty/sweet and crunchy/chewy. From the brunch menu, we chose the olive oil infused pancakes which were delicious on their own, but even better when doused with honey. Our second sort of breakfast dish were the grilled pork sausages. The meat was flavorful, but pretty standard. The accompanying sauteed white beans were my favorite part of the dish. They were accompanied by a garlic aioli that imparted a rich, creamy flavor when everything was stirred together. Our final dish, the Rossejat, was the largest of our selections. This was a paella style dish, made with short bits of fried pasta and shrimp in a seafood broth. I was pleased that the garlic aioli made a second appearance in this dish as well.

I highly recommend Jaleo if you are in the DC area (there are also other locations in nearby Arlington, VA and Bethesda, MD). It would be a great place to go with a big group, not only so you can try out many of the dishes, but so that you can sit at one of the table soccer tables that have been converted into dining areas and play while you eat.

After lunch, it was off to the Newseum, which chronicles about five centuries worth of media history and journalism in all forms. Some of the highlights of the museum’s permanent exhibitions include a comprehensive collection of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs, sections of the Berlin Wall, accompanied by stories of how news and information helped topple East Germany’s closed society, and an extensive collection of historic newspapers and magazines. On the day we visited, there were also special exhibitions focusing on the role of news and media during presidential elections and the role that the news media has played in helping and hindering the FBI in its efforts to solve criminal cases over the years. Much of the content is very interactive and is delivered through documentary footage, electronic kiosks and multimedia presentations. This was one of the best museums I’ve been to in awhile, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Finally, we walked over to the White House and National Mall, to see the monuments all lit up at night.

It was great to have some quality time with Bridget and I’m really proud of the fact that we navigated both the Metro and downtown D.C. by ourselves, with only minimal hiccups. Thank goodness for Google Maps.

Date Night at Sur La Table

Has anyone ever seen food poisoning listed on those Hallmark lists of traditional anniversary gifts?

I didn’t think so.

Which is why, instead of attempting to make Chester a fancy steak dinner at home to celebrate our second anniversary back in June, I signed us up for a steakhouse themed “Date Night” cooking class at Sur La Table instead.

This was my third experience with a cooking class Sur La Table (I previously attended a cake baking and decorating workshop with my mom and aunt and a class on French pastry) and I really enjoy them. There is ample counter space to work, really great kitchen equipment and someone else to clean up the mess.

 Flank steak, ready for the grill

The instructor split everyone up into groups of four people and we all took turns preparing the ingredients and doing the cooking. My culinary ineptitude was on full display, as I had trouble operating a vegetable peeler. Chester, of course, was one of the star students. The instructor could tell that he knew his way around a grill.

Grilling zucchini

We made four different dishes, starting off with shrimp wrapped in pancetta:

Rosemary stuffed flank steak, topped with Parmesan cheese and accompanied by a side of zucchini with pesto:

Dessert was a caramel apple “pizza,” baked on puff pastry and topped with vanilla ice cream and dulce de leche sauce.

All of the recipes were fairly simple and, since we got to take them with us, I’m fairly confident that I could recreate them at home. Everyone seemed to agree that the zucchini was one of the highlights of the evening, particularly since the pesto had a few non-traditional ingredients–earthy parsley, sweet almonds and tart red wine vinegar–that made for a great combination of flavors.

As a bonus, we got ten percent off all of our purchases at the shop that evening. We bought a bench scraper and a food scale. I was pretty excited about the latter item because now I can try my hand at making macarons.

Chester and I had a great time cooking together, and it made me kind of sad that we don’t have a big enough kitchen to do that more often. That’s definitely going to be a priority when we move to our next home.

Enjoying the end result of all that hard work.