Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Birthday Greetings, Bottle of Wine

For Jim's birthday this past weekend, the Cambridge clan (well, Somerville [Jaime] and New Jersey [Dave] were also represented) headed out to All-Star Sandwich for a lunchtime nosh. Ciel, past the worst of the morning sickness, declared her sandwich the "best ever." And Jim relished his "dead animal" (corned beef). I relished my dead portabella mushroom sandwich (wait, that doesn't sound so good!)

On the walk home up Cambridge St, some signs of spring were emerging. But, that wasn't enough for me!

Although it isn't the first place that comes to mind when you think of re-awakening (at least outside of a horror movie!), Mount Auburn cemetery with its beautiful plantings was the place to be for a little vernal voyeuring. It was just the thing to prepare me for the annual Lilac Sunday walk around Arnold Arboretum!
For dessert, Jim actually even ate a slice of birthday cake (Chocolate Creme de Menthe Cake, product of a minor baking frenzy.) Proof that I still need him and feed him when he's ....

Culinary adventures en Francais

This weekend I finally tried out a Blue Cheese Gougeres recipe I'd been looking at for a while. Although the outcome was tasty, it paled against the "puffing" process in terms of entertainment value! I kept running in and checking them in the oven, which Jimpy found very entertaining for some reason. I'll definitely try these again, this time maybe just an egg white wash as opposed to beaten egg wash.

To accompany said gougeres, I made some homemade gazpacho a la Jacques Pepin. I learned some interesting techniques watching the show featuring gazpacho, including PEELING your green peppers, and spooning out your cucumber seeds. It had never occurred to me, but basically, the skin of the pepper is not so useful (Jacques used a more colorful term!) The process was a little labor-intensive, including straining the gazpacho before decorating with little pieces of vegetable, but well worth the effort.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Signs of Spring in the chilly Northeast

From our weekend perambulations. . .

Tulips courtesy of Alex!

Easter Sunday arrived and for the first time ever, the Easter bunny did not visit. It was very sad. I consoled myself with making devilled eggs (with little capers on top, be still my heart - but not TOO still), and then, the Easter Bonnie visited! (It should be noted that Bonnie was not especially happy about this!)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Back to School

This past week I took a few hours off to take a class ("Cooking with Friends") through Jaime's organization, Elderhostel. The class was held in Boston's South End at Sage Restaurant, not too far from where Cici spent her first months of life.

Although I would have been happy to see the scheduled presenter Dante, I was more than delighted with the substitute, the chef at Olives! It seems that Boston's culinary scene is a little incestuous, with chefs moving to and from various restaurants, going off on their own, etc. So, the substitute had actually cooked in the same restaurant with the chef of Sage.

The cooking demonstration was both instructive and delicious, and it was very interesting hearing from Alison Arnett, a long-time restaurant critic in the Boston area. I've already made the soup, and have plans to try making gnocchi, those delicious little potato pillows, and the dessert.

Walking to go to work, I discovered evidence (although it was chilly and damp) that spring has indeed arrived.

The next day I heard that Jaime got into her graduate school program at Columbia! Yeah, Jaime!

I love olives!

I never noticed this before, but i love and olive are anagrams! My love affair with olives is legendary among Haddens. Alex, in fact, was able to entice me to visit France, despite my fear of flying, with just this picture of olives at the market! Drool.

After returning from points south, Jaime and I took advantage of Restaurant Week(s) to go to Olives, Todd English's famous restaurant in Charlestown. I'd always wanted to go, simply because of the name! The prix fixe menu was a tempation I could no longer pass up, and I gladly offered myself an olive branch.

The restaurant is set in City Square, with a wonderful view of the Zakim bridge. The food was excellent and well-presented.

I am pretty sure we'll be returning!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Other Alexandria

While the Alexandria in Egypt remains on my fantasy Great Civilizations tour, Alexandria, Virginia is also pretty neat. Interestingly, both Alexandrias are named for Alexanders - but ancient Alexandria (named for Alexander the Great) was actually built upon a MORE ancient Ptolemic city, while more modern Alexandria (once named Belle Haven) was based on the estate of Philip Alexander II who was contemporary to the founding of modern Alexandria in the 1600's. [For some excellent reading on Alexander the Great, see Mary Renault's The Persian Boy.]

But I digress. While I was in National Harbor, a waypoint was Alexandria. The train station and the water taxi were 2 or 3 miles apart, eminently walkable. The path between the two was King Street, which passes through and largely comprises "Old Town" (lovely cobbled side streets proved an attractive diversion though!) The waterfront is attractive and well-used by tourists and city dwellers alike - but what really attracted me were the many lamp posts and fabulous door knockers!
The most beautiful scene came, though, as I departed Alexandria at dawn (via the retro train station.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

National Harbor 2009

The conference began early Sunday morning with an excellent class on PROC REPORT. It's funny, after so many years away from higher education, to find how shorter my attention span seems to be these days. How did I ever manage through 6 to 8 hours of classes a day? Nonetheless, I was able to manage for the 4 hours and got a lot from the class. After that, I put up my two poster presentations and headed off to the water taxi to enjoy the (briefly) spring-like weather.
On the water taxi

View from Hampton Inn in National Harbor
Guarding the conference center

One of the more interesting features of the harbor was the bridge between National Harbor (Oxon Hill, MD) and Alexandria, VA. The water taxi passes right underneath the bridge. The approach is pretty spectacular.

Sunday night was the Opening Session of the conference, which seemed extremely schizophrenic to me, more like a three ring circus than a coordinated presentation. But, it's not really intended for the geeks among us, so there it is. I keep hoping for a reprise of the wonderful Cirque du Soleil event at SUGI 29, but no luck! Monday, the conference began in earnest with the Technology Session with a keynote by Dave Barry. He really is amazingly funny. I laughed so hard I cried.
Then it was on to being a session coordinator, then presenting my two posters. Tuesday, I presented on ODS TAGSETS.RTF and attended some really great talks - then found out that one of my posters won First Prize and Best Contributed Paper! Brain full, I packed my stuff in preparation for an early morning departure.