Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Trip Blogging: In the White House & Some Chocolate Chips

Recently, Brad and I went to DC for a weekend. It was a really fun and sort of insidery trip, so I thought I'd write about it. La Dolce Vita's the sweet life, right? Doesn't have to be just food! Anyway, we did some of the typical tourist stuff, and also visited my cousin for his 24th bday.

The trip started with a Friday night birthday party at my cousin Eric's house. A little background on Eric: he's been obsessed with politics basically since he was old enough to talk. He's been involved in countless groups, been a Senate page, and recently worked as the luggage coordinator on the Obama campaign. All the work's paid off, as he is now David Axelrod's assistant in the White House. Impressive, considering no one in my family has ever held a political job (actually, no one besides Eric's immediate family is even Democrat).

Anyway, the party. I must admit, it was a bit awkward for me; I'm really not very political, and the guests were basically a "whos who" of Capitol Hill up-and-comers: Obama's assistant, Gibb's assistant, Rahm Emanuel's assistant, etc, etc, plus plenty of other young kids working for boldfaced names. While it looked like any generic college party (40 kids taking shots in an 8x10 kitchen), I was kind of nervous someone would out me as not being informed enough. But it was very cool to be around people whose daily jobs directly affect our country.

I think my boyfriend, who's something of a politics nerd, was in heaven. I was nowhere near there until some girl showed up with Cakelove cupcakes. OMG. I usually hate those trendy bakery cupcakes, finding them far too dense and heavy. But Cakelove was soooo good. Light, sweet, amazing. I had a vanilla cupcake with peanut butter frosting, and I spent the entire weekend cursing out our schedule, which didn't leave time for a trip to get more.

Anyway, the real highlight came the next day, when Eric gave Brad and I private tour of the White House! I can't tell you how badass it felt to stand on the street and get buzzed in through the gate to the White House (well, badass until we realized the people behind us also knew someone there and got buzzed in too).

Taking a break from a busy Saturday at work (they never stop! I would hate that), Eric greeted us at the gate in his button down and jeans (ohh the casual Obama administration), and led us up the White House driveway to the West Wing. Inside, it was exactly as I'd expected: thick carpets, oil paintings in ornate frames, and security seated right at the door. Eric led us down a hallway, stopping in front of a roped-off office. I was about to ask "Why are we stopped in this tiny room?" until I realized it was the Oval Office! Whoops. It's admittedly a bit less impressive than it seems in pictures, apparently Obama hasn't gotten around to redecorating (it still features Bush's decor and the walls are plain white).

Then, Eric took us next door to his office, a small narrow space that served as a blockade between Axelrod's office and the hallway. And yes, by next door I mean his office shares a wall with Obama's! We also stopped in Biden's office, which was next door to Axelrod's. Neither man was around (damn!), though we did see Axelrod in a meeting. It was very cool to be able to glance around their offices; while the media allows us to constantly check in on their professional lives, it's rare to get a glimpse of these prominent men as normal people: Biden has pictures of family printed out on a crappy inkjet printer and stuck to a corkboard, while Axelrod has a framed family pics crowded onto a small bookshelf. And his office is painted navy, which I loved.

Next, he showed us around conference rooms, cabinet rooms, the situation room, the Rose Garden, and the press room. The picture at the top of this post is from the press room, though unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pics elsewhere (and, FYI, both of us were having a bad hair day and are not normally that gross!) What was really cool to see was the basement below the press room; it was once the Presidential pool but has since been converted into an electronics room where reporters get online and send their articles out post-press conference. The tile walls were signed by all the reporters and presidents, kind of the way you see in cheesy tourist pizza places.

While walking around the West Wing, it was really cool to see the photos of the Obamas that adorned all the walls. My favorite was a glam shot of the President and First Lady dancing at one of the inaugural balls, with everything blurred out but them. I also liked one of the President in a conference, with the table and attendees blurred out, and the focus on his hands, clasped together, displaying his wedding ring (even though, let's face it, the Obamas looove to market their relationship).

The rest of the trip included tours of the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington, and the Washington Monument. I won't go into it, as this post is long enough already! But what hit me was how far the country has come in only what, around 250 years? I mean it started off as a bunch of religious expats and look at us now, an enormous world power, despite current troubles. Thinking about it all sort of made me feel like a leech on society, even if I do work for the government (especially considering I'm writing this at work).

So what I took away from the whole trip was a sense of wanting to do more. I don't mean politically, I just mean sort of following dreams and doing more with my time. Except I'm not really sure what said dreams are. All I know is my days are spent obsessively reading about food or shopping online, and then I trudge home to chug cheap beers at Friday's (woo I'm cool) or watch marathon Friends reruns on TBS (side note though, they should REALLY make more shows like this. Is anyone else sick of "reality" TV?) So new personal goal, time to figure out my passions, see how to work them in with the job, experience life more, and enjoy it more. And also really try hard to understand more about Army budget appropriations since it's my job.

So right, where's the recipe? Well I wanted to make something for Brad after our trip to thank him. The trip was his idea, and he was so sweet- he showed up at my house to pick me up with a car stocked full of our favorite beer, a bottle of champagne, and snacks for the trip. I hadn't thought to do anything, and I thought it was so sweet of him. Plus, when I spent Saturday night in a hypochondriac fit after a very minor allergic reaction to crab, he was extremely patient and sweet (I would have wanted to punch me).

Anyway, Brad's not what you'd call an adventurous eater (would you believe the boy has never eaten a strawberry or raspberry b/c they are "weird looking"? AH I can't deal), so I felt this was the perfect opportunity to get around to the (ubiquitous) chocolate chip cookies from the NY Times. Look, we've all made them by this point, we know they're good, I won't go crazy about it. But let's just say I never understood quite so clearly why salt is so important. Just the tiniest sprinkling of fleur de sel on top of the cookies makes the chocolate flavor explode in your mouth. Delicious.

The recipe is here. I did use the feves (pictured below), and I did find them to be a really great addition to the recipe. So if you can find them, go for it.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
from NY Times

Monday, March 2, 2009


Soon I will be adding a post about the exciting weekend I just spent in DC, but until I have a chance to get it out, I'll post this recipe for rugelach. I've tried other rugelach recipes, but found this had the best results and was less tedious than others, which often involve multiple rounds of chilling, bringing to room temp, re-chilling, and on. It's a bit much. This recipe, while it does have an element of chill time, is much easier. The dough is quickly combined in a food processor, and chills for a mere two hours. It's something you can quickly put together in one night, with great results- flaky, delicious, and customizable. I love creating new types of filling for rugelach. My all-time favorite is chocolate, which I made here, though I also created a raspberry almond version.

Rugelach, adapted from Dorie Greenspan, Baking From My Home to Yours

For the Dough
4 oz cold cream cheese, cut into 4 pieces
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

For the Chocolate Fillling
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
Handful finely chopped walnuts

For the Raspberry Filling
2/3 cup raspberry jam (warmed if not easily spreadable)
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 cup sliced or chopped almonds

For the Glaze
1 egg, beaten
Sanding sugar

To Make the Dough:
Let the cream cheese and butter rest for 10 minutes before using. Put the flour and salt in the food processor, then scatter the butter and cream cheese pieces over them. Pulse the machine 6 to 10 times, then process, scraping down the sides until the dough forms large curds. Do not let it form a ball on the blade. Overworking will cause the dough to be significantly less flaky.

Turn the dough out, and gather into a ball. Divide it in half, shape each half into a disk, and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to one day. (The dough can also be frozen for 2 months).

To make the filling:
For raspberry, combine sugar, almonds, and cinnamon. Keep jam aside.
For chocolate, combine sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, walnuts, and chocolate chips

To make the cookies:
Pull the dough packets from the fridge. Lightly flour a surface, and roll each packet of dough into a 12 inch circle. For raspberry, spread the raspberry jam across the surface, in a layer thinner than you think you need. (If it's too thick to spread, zap it in the microwave for a few seconds). Then sprinkle with the cinnamon/sugar/almond mixture.
For the chocolate, simply sprinkle the tops with the cocoa powder and walnut mixture.

Using a pizza cutter, slice the dough in quarters, then slice each quarter into quarters. You'll wind up with 16 triangles. Starting at the base of a triangle, roll the it up so each cookie is crescent shaped. Repeat with each triangle. Refrigerate for 30 mins before baking, and preheat oven to 350.

When ready to bake, arrange the cookies on a baking sheet covered with nonstick foil. Brush the tops of the cookies with the beaten egg and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until puffed and golden. Cool on wire racks. Store for a week in an airtight container.