Archive for January, 2013

January 15, 2013

A Jaunt to The Jefferson

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Over the holidays, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit my great aunt and my cousin in Richmond, VA.  This was truly a momentous occasion as I was, respectively, 15 and 12 the last time I saw them.  That’s right, grunge was at it’s popularity peak when I last saw my cousin!  Sadly, we only had a day, but we packed a lot into that day!  Part of that outing included a wonderful tour of downtown Richmond.  My cousin was right: I-95 simply does not do the city justice!  I remember many road trips through Richmond as a child.  My most vivid memory, aside from the smokestacks and pervasive grayness, was a large, aluminum cigarette jutting out of the city, the so-called Tobacco Monument on the grounds of the Phillip Morris Plant.  As I understand, it no longer stands there, a relic of a bygone era that is no longer politically correct.  The highlight of the day (aside from good company) was a trip to the historic Jefferson Hotel.  Built in 1895, it is one of the finest hotels in America.  It has both an AAA Five Diamond award and the coveted Mobil Five Star award, one of only 27 hotels in America to carry that honor.  It has hosted 12 U.S. Presidents including both Roosevelts, Reagan, both Bushes, and President Obama.   Both Elvis and Frank Sinatra have stayed there, the latter apparently serenaded other guests at the hotel’s esteemed restaurant Lemaire following his dinner.  Named after Thomas Jefferson, who was born in Virginia, it is truly a storied site and unimaginably beautiful.  So naturally, I took a few photos.

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This is The Palm Court Lobby.  It was such brightly lit room with the large skylight and all the Tiffany stained glass windows.  In the center is a marble statue of Thomas Jefferson.  When we were there, the room was set for tea service.  But surrounding the statue used to be a marble pool where several live gators resided.  Apparently, affluent Richmonders would vacation in Florida and return with baby gators as pets (if there is a more poorly thought out idea in this world, I have yet to encounter it!).  And in an outcome no one could have predicted, the babies would grow into adult gators and become unmanageable and were then promptly “donated” to the hotel.  It is for this reason that several bronze replica gators can be found throughout the hotel, beginning with an enormous one at the entrance that startled the crap out of me when we arrived.  Speaking of which…

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Here’s one leading down to the main staircase.  The staircase, incidentally, is said to have been the inspiration for the grand staircase at the end of Gone with the Wind, since author Margaret Mitchell was also a guest here.  Sorry, no picture of that, but I assure you it was stunning.  Some more pictures:

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And the man himself…

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January 6, 2013

Synopsis: Holidays 2012

First and foremost, I’d like to note that I am finished with that evil, wretched, awful class!!!!  Me=winner.  Or survivor?  Either way, I’m done.

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This actually occurred, by the way, around Thanksgiving, and I am just getting around to announcing it now.  These things will happen when you’ve shackled yourself to a university that decides, for the first semester of the first year, they will teach you graduate level knowledge in a college style format (i.e. four hours of lecture a day, five days a week).  Also, they make you learn the whole shebang in the beginning; not just your intended field, but everything you never wanted to know about cell biology.  This is where young people have the advantage: they still have the dog-like obedience of youth towards authority figures.   That and the capacity to stay up all night studying and drinking coffee without having to use words like “irregular”.  By the time you’re my age, your brain has simply decided that it’s not going to do things it doesn’t want to do just because some grown-up told it to, which made for difficult learning when brain found topics uninteresting.

And now, on to the holidays…a topic I finally got to consider once I finished the semester at the beginning of December only to realize to my horror that it was barreling down on me, and I hadn’t done a single thing to prepare for it!

I’m happy to report, my table runner made it onto the Thanksgiving table this year.  Knitted by me for my aunt and uncle last Christmas, I finally acknowledged I had made it too narrow when I had already spent too long on it to start over.  So, I have decided to start spreading the rumor that this was intentional in order for it to be utilitarian.  Most people simply have a table runner; they now have a table runner AND a scarf long enough for them both to wear at the same time.  See?  Versatility!  You’re welcome, relatives!  Some autumn-colored daylillies complement it nicely…

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I had unprecedented baking success this year!  Nearly everything turned out just perfectly except for one pumpkin pie that mysteriously collapsed in the center like a soufflé, the latest victim of the custard killer that is my crappy oven.  Nothing will set properly in that damn thing!  I also made a pair of pecan pies, one of my specialties for which I receive scads of unwarranted praise considering that I use the recipe from the Karo syrup website and there are about three ingredients total.  Nevertheless, this year I found a way to make it at least a little my own.  Inspired by my first pie that used the last of the crumbled pecans in a bag, I decided to coarsely chop the pecans before adding them to my filling.  This is math even I understand: chopped nuts=more nutty surface area to be candied.  And while it is highly unlikely this wasn’t previously thought of by a thousand bakers before me, I thought of it independently and shall take credit for it.  Apple tart tatin, part deux, was also delicious.

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This year, I also took my first shot at a yule log.  Named after the large log burnt in the hearth on the evening of the Yule festival, a religious celebration of the Germanic tribes that then became the Christian celebration of Christmas (that’s right, kids: Christmas used to be a pagan holiday!), it is now a jelly roll cake made to look like a log.  The flavors were spot on, but the log was a little droopy. Perhaps my log actually better represents the giant, heavily decomposed logs one would find in the primordial forests of Northern Europe where Yuletide was once celebrated or perhaps I just wasn’t aggressive enough when I was rolling up the cake, afraid that I was forcing too much mousse out of the cake, and need to roll the log more tightly next time.  Either way, it’s not bad for my first try.  The recipe is here.  I used extra virgin olive oil instead of hazelnut oil, a deep cookie sheet instead of a jelly roll pan, and mini marshmallows and Hershey’s Kisses instead of the meringue mushrooms in the recipe.  Improvisation is the key to being a truly good baker, folks!  Some of the best cooks I know have old or few kitchen supplies and teeny, tiny kitchens.

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And miraculously, I got everything accomplished…with improbable pluck and panache!  Although admittedly, some of my international relatives may have still not received their Christmas cards :(.  And acknowledgement must be paid to the Greek who really stepped up to the plate this year and did the majority of the nightly ritual of wrapping gifts for the holiday visit with family the following day.  This includes his gift to me, beautifully made himself, my reward as the evident victor of a ludicrous argument we’ve been having the past few years in which he no longer thinks he needs to wrap my gifts and I, um, disagree, culminating in me returning his gift to me last Christmas because, I reasoned, we have all joint funds; if he doesn’t find some way to make it special, I might as well have bought it myself!  When you’ve been together as long as we have, you have to start finding more creative ways to spice things up.  But isn’t it lovely?  Worth it.

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UntitledAnd now to conclude this post, I think I shall do what I did last year: have a glass of wine and reflect on 2012 and my goals for 2013.  This year, I had a glass of Rondel Brut Cava sparkling wine: dry, tasty, and $7 a bottle!  A fortunate discovery during an especially high concentration of gatherings this past summer that required economical bubbles.  Sadly, my first goal of the new year was last year’s as well: while I AM in graduate school, I was unsuccessful in getting into a coveted PhD program and instead applied to the Masters program.  So, I’ll be giving the doctorate a go again.  I also hope to see a revival in the things I enjoy doing and yet haven’t been doing a lot of lately; unfortunately, my goal of last year, in addition to being incomplete, kind of left me no time for doing anything else.  Perhaps this explains why I happily volunteered to do so much holiday baking despite having less places to go this year and was able to approach it with such zeal despite the academic ass-kicking that left me so exhausted.  Finally, I want, as I want each year, to try new things: not always a successful thing (see: gardening and mountain biking) but a necessary one I think.  Happy holidays, all!  And a Happy New Year!

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