The Meaning of Burnt and Toasted

Question for you: when you pop bread into the toaster, at what point do you consider it “toasted”? And what constitutes “burnt”?

I ask because, to me, it’s pretty straightforward: burnt is black and toasted is golden brown.

To my husband, anything darker than the lightest yellow-gold color is burnt. He likes his “toast” warm, maybe a tad hardened, not-quite-golden. When I make grilled cheese and the bread turns brown in the pan, he says I’ve burned it.

Somewhat related, we’ve been on a pretzel-kick lately. It started in Charleston, were we visited many brewery-type places offering pretzels on the menu. My favorite in Charleston came from the Lagunitas Charleston Taproom & Beer Sanctuary (yes that really is the name of the restaurant. I’m sorry, “Beer Sanctuary”). The pretzel was dark brown, crunchy on the outside, steaming hot and chewy on the inside. Perfection. My husband was not impressed. He enjoyed the pretzels we ordered at the Gin Joint: the lightest shade of gold, soft and fluffy throughout.

Recently, we were in Rehoboth Beach, DW, at Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats when (of course) we ordered the pretzel bites. They came out golden to dark brown, a slightly hard coating with a hot, chewy center. The way a pretzel should be. My husband took one bite and said “Too bad they’re burnt.” I explained that pretzels aren’t meant to be like a buttered roll any more than toast is meant to be slightly warmed bread. This led to a discussion of the definitions of “burnt” and “toasted” and the fact that sometimes it depends on a person’s preferences and sometimes said person just doesn’t understand facts or cooking terminology or what makes a damn good pretzel.

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Saint Louis Bound

My husband and I are moving to Saint Louis, MO next month. (I’ve mentioned it in past posts, but here’s the post specifically about it.) He’ll be pursuing his MBA through Olin Business School at Washington University, and I’ll be there for moral support. Also for financial support, and to make sure he eats well, and because I’d miss him for two years.

When he interviewed, he fell in love with the campus.

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Okay, maybe that was me. He did say he really wanted to go here and it was his number one choice. I’m the one who wanted to say my husband goes to what is basically American Hogwarts.

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We were in Saint Louis for the day and didn’t experience much beyond the Delmar Loop, Campus, and a fraction of Forest Park.

The second time we visited, we were already apartment hunting. We wandered around the Central West End and into Clayton, but again, we only had one full day to explore. Sight-seeing and touristy-stuff would have to wait.

We chose a lovely apartment overlooking Forest Park in Central West End. Then we flew back home to D.C. to start preparations to move.

And by that I mean I made an insane amount of lists while my husband pretended nothing was happening. Now that we’re officially less than a month away from the move, he’s had to acknowledge that our lives are headed for a big change.

We’re looking forward to the adventure. Our families are on the coasts, so it will be nice to be a half-country closer to his sister, but also be sad to have to fly 2 hours to our parents, rather than the fairly easy drives we have now. We’ve met or spoken with plenty of people who have lived in Saint Louis or know someone who lived or is living there currently, but we’re going in virtually friendless ourselves. Through the business school, among other groups and activities and my work, we’ll both have lots of opportunities to get to know people, so we aren’t too worried about loneliness. Still, we’ll miss the friends who have made our lives great for so many years.

Saint Louis isn’t a place either of us would have chosen. My husband would have happily moved to Charleston, SC. I’d love to live in Long Beach, CA. There are probably a dozen other cities we’d choose before even thinking of Saint Louis. And yet, here we go.

That’s part of what makes it magical. We’ve barely spent a full weekend there. Neither of us is already in love with the city. We don’t have any preconceived notions of what makes it great, so we can’t be let down by the difference between living and vacationing, which is a very real possibility in any of the places we’d have picked given the choice.

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Gotta say I already love Forest Park

We have at least two years to experience Saint Louis. We’ll learn its secrets and enjoy making it ours.

Rambling Review: The Virgin Suicides

Virgin Suicides

References to The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides kept popping up around me recently, so I decided to check out this modern classic for myself. I can’t deny I’m into darker/heavier stories like the synopsis suggests (5 sisters kill themselves within a single year) and was intrigued right off the bat by a collective narrator (the story is told by the neighborhood boys as a whole).

Because it’s a relatively slim paperback, I brought it along on vacation, intending to read it on the beach or during down-time between activities. This encouraged a lot of horrified feedback from my friends, who always ask what I’m reading. They then spent the week checking in by asking “how many girls have died now?” then following my answer up with a head shake and a “why do you read stuff like that?”  That’s how I discovered pretty much my entire group of friends consists of happy, shiny people like my husband who prefer little depth and pain in their entertainment.

Leaving aside my friends’ responses, this is not a good beach read. In the way of most classics, the story needs your attention for good chunks of time. I found myself re-reading sentences and chapters and getting frustrated because I couldn’t devote more focus to it.

The story is beautifully written. There are some of the lovely descriptions and word-pictures that I love, and the fact that it’s like the neighborhood boys have sat me down to tell me their observations adds a touch of near-innocence to a tragic experience. Rather than being a novel about suicide, it’s more of a love letter to the sisters from the boys who grew up watching them.

It is sad. The parents are misguided and in my opinion arrogant in their negligence. The novel does discuss suicide, the ways the sisters end their lives, in just enough detail to make the reader uncomfortable without turning it into a caricature. Suicide should make a person uncomfortable to read about.

But it’s also a subject that is treated with respect. Eugenides captures the bewilderment and guilt and shock and grief that lingers over those left behind. The narrator shows how suicide affects a neighborhood, the process one goes through to try to understand something no one will explain outright.

It is a heavy book. It’s tragic and inevitable and beautiful. A modern classic, indeed.

Jesus was all about wine and so am I

Okay, so the Bible never really specifies whether Jesus drank the miracle wine he created but either way, he knew how to keep a party going so I raise my glass to him.

Virginia is pretty well known for its vineyards. Isn’t it? Maybe I only think that because I live in Virginia and can visit any number of them in a 45-minute drive. But I feel like Loudoun County wines are a thing.

My husband and I have visited quite a few of said Virginia wineries (side question that does not need to be answered: what’s the difference between winery and vineyard? I think something to do with grapes grown on site versus shipped in — which sounds like that is technically cheating, but what do I know).

His favorite (until recently) was Stone Tower. It is a gorgeous vineyard with rolling hills and a pond and a separate barn for kids and pets so people can bring their family OR people can enjoy adulthood without screaming kids and slobbering dogs. Choices. There’s a huge patio overlooking a second patio (which is usually closed — at least when we’ve been — for a wedding), and tons of seating that is always almost all taken.

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This vineyard is lovely and well worth a visit, but it is crowded and if it’s a weekend in the summer, there’s a wedding closing down part of the grounds. This is why — after the third or fourth visit — even my husband admitted defeat and agreed we could go elsewhere (after waiting 20 minutes in line for a bottle of wine that is decent but…I’ll just say we go for the scenery).

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Stone Tower does lend itself to some pretty great photo backdrops

My favorite is Paradise Springs in Clifton. Part of this is because we can’t go to Paradise Springs without also stopping in the town for some ah-mazing crepes at the Clifton Cafe. I think the wine is pretty good here, too, but full disclaimer: I’ve only recently begun to develop any sort of “palate” for good wine vs. less good. Wine is wine, amiright? No, I know I’m wrong. I guess I’ll just need to keep up the wine tastings until I’m able to discern between the complexities of a merlot and the subtleties of a chardonnay (or even if those descriptions could even apply to those wines. I’m hopeless!).

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So excited for Paradise Springs! (Photo stolen from my sister’s Instagram)

I’m still trying to find my husband a new favorite vineyard near here, but since visiting Sonoma on a spur of the moment trip last time we were in California, he’s become something of a California wine snob. Still, we have a date this afternoon to visit Quattro Gumba, so fingers crossed!

Now, Missouri isn’t known for its wines, but apparently there’s a Missouri wine country very similar to Loudoun County and not too far outside Saint Louis, so we can keep exploring and improving our wine palates even after the move.

 

Road-Trip Playlists

It’s officially summer. The perfect time for a road-trip. And what is a road-trip without music?

Not something I’d enjoy, that’s for sure. A good road-trip playlist is even more important than snacks — and this might be the only time I say ANYTHING is more important than snacks.

I will say, Spotify has a decent “Road Trip Sing-Along” playlist that was well-received by all four members of my most recent road-trip. We listened to it on shuffle so it was kind of all over the place between classic rock and throwback pop and more current hits, but pretty much every song was great.

Usually, I prefer to make my own playlists. For our upcoming two- to three-day drive to St. Louis from the D.C. area, I’ve already started on two different lists, and may now make a third.

When you first leave, everyone is usually super pumped to be on the road and looking forward to the adventures that await — both on the journey and at the destination. You’re amped and you want your music to reflect that energizing optimism. My first playlist is full of pump-up music like “Forgot About Dre” (because none of my road-trips — however long or short — is complete without it) and “Danza Kuduro”  and “Shake it Off”. It floods the car with aggressive beats to get you going.

But then the excitement wears off (especially if you’ve left early in the morning) and the pump-up playlist is too loud. So my follow-up playlist is mellow and calm. It’s got songs like “Cactus in the Valley” and “Swing Life Away” and pretty much anything by Fort Atlantic. It’s great to calm down the adrenaline from the previous playlist and encourage some naps from the passengers.

After the success of the pre-made Spotify road-trip playlist, though, I’m thinking I should put together a third playlist full of songs that are classic enough to spur some sing-alongs but also familiar enough to mindlessly hum or ignore altogether if a particularly good daydream comes along.

I can’t imagine life without music, and driving is nearly impossible for me if I don’t have some sort of tunes pumping through the speakers. If you haven’t already heard of the songs mentioned above, I’d highly recommend checking them out, and if you have any suggestions, send them my way. I’d love to hear what your “must-have” road-trip songs are!

Wildcards Vacation 2017: Colds and Charleston

This year my friends decided to switch up our normal Nagshead beach trip and travel an extra few hours south to Charleston, SC. It was a week-long adventure of discovering new places, seeing beautiful architecture, eating amazing food, and spreading germs between fourteen people and two apartments.

Our car — affectionately and not at all competitively referred to (by us) as the “best” car — carried four people and one massive cold virus. The trip began with an immediate stop for cough drops and ended with none of the other three passengers feeling sick, so we didn’t think too much of it beyond hoping our friend felt better.

Until another wildcard fell ill. Then another. Then another. Every day it seemed a new person woke up feeling crappy. Still, those of us from the best car didn’t feel it. We were invincible. We were immune to what became known — affectionately — as the Tyler Plague.

We went to the beach — both Folly and Sullivan’s Island. We went out to bars every night (even if a lot of those nights we still made it home before midnight and in bed shortly thereafter — when did we become grownups?). We wandered through neighborhoods of houses from the 16- and 1700s. My husband convinced almost everyone to try our favorite burrito spot (Minero) at least twice. (Side note: I’d previously had the best burrito of my life here. This trip, the catfish taco blew me away.) He also had avocado toast at a restaurant near our airbnb (Park Cafe) for the first time…and every day of our trip. By the last day, they knew him there.

Some wildcards went golfing. Some did stand-up paddle-boarding. Some did an escape room. Some went on a ghost tour that turned out to just be a walking history tour about brothels, murder, and conspiracy theories (which is way better in my — slightly terrified of ghosts — opinion). We played our usual drinking games without our usual, youthful enthusiasm, and spent a lot more time just hanging out and chatting.

It was a wonderful trip, even if I personally missed having a pool to lounge around beside. We reflected on how far we’ve come, how grown up we’ve all gotten, and looked forward to future trips and more changes as life spurs us onward.

The magic faded on the drive home. Two passengers were coughing instead of just the original one. We all insisted it was tickles in throats or residual from A/C and late nights and drinking and whatever else we could think of.

Then the Tyler Plague hit my home. My husband got it first, but I was (am) only about a day behind him. Now, we’re shuffling around the apartment, thankful that — due to our upcoming move I still have yet to blog about in detail — we no longer have work to suffer through or obligations that can’t be pushed back a day. Our coffee table is a mess of Dayquil and cough drop bags and tissue boxes. We’re drinking tea all day (echinacea and ginger and lemon and “cold 911” from David’s Teas on repeat). Our pantry is stocked with chicken soup. We’re going to crush this thing.

Our lack of complete immunity is a somewhat humbling blow. Still, it’s a worthwhile price to pay for a week with the Wildcards.

Uh-Oh, Spaghettios

I forgot that used to be a thing, until someone showed me a joke:

her: “I’m breaking up with you.”

him: “Is it because I keep saying ‘uh oh, spaghettios’?”

her: “Actually, yes.”

him: “Uh oh, spaghettios…”

Now it keeps popping into my head. Which leads me to think about — what else? — spaghettios. I love spaghettios almost as much as Kraft mac n cheese or hot dogs. It’s so easy to pop open a can and have that cheesy-tomato goodness in my belly in a matter of minutes. But I am an adult now, and therefore I must limit my lazy junk food splurges to desperate times (like when I’m really needing quick comfort food, or at the beach with my garbage friends). The good news is there are plenty of “adult” (read: homemade) versions of the comfort food I so enjoy. I’m still searching for the *perfect* macaroni and cheese recipe, but I’ve found enough good ones that I can whip up a decent pot when the craving strikes. I save the hot dogs for the ballpark (or a particularly fantastic grilling day). That leaves spaghettios as my only semi-justifiable lazy-splurge.


Until recently.

I stumbled across the original recipe on Pinterest (I am obsessed with Pinterest recipes), but you can find it here. I can never thank Nikki Gladd enough for the post that gave me permission to eat spaghettios like an adult. I’ve made my own tweaks and adjustments, which to me give the dish even more of an authentic taste, still while maintaining an air of healthiness.

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The recipe says use a saucepan, but as you can see, any pan will do in a pinch!

The most important item: spaghetti rings. I found them at Wegmans (which is hands down the best grocery store.)

I skip the garlic. I’m a big fan of garlic, but I’ve found eliminating it from this particular dish actually makes it better (which is rarely the case). The other major trick I found is cooking the noodles directly in the sauce, rather than separately and combining with the sauce at the end. The starch from the pasta thickens the sauce and the tomatoey-taste fattens the pasta.

Check out the full recipe if you’re feeling like reconnecting with the kid inside you (or if, like me, you feel a little guilty for all the canned junk you eat).

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Homemade Spaghettios:

  • Olive Oil for pan (~1 tbs)
  • 1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 can Tomato Sauce
  • 1 scoop Tomato Paste (~1 tbs. The time I made this the best, I used a regular spoon and eyeballed it)
  • 3 cups water
  • 8 oz spaghetti rings (or other round pasta)
  • Generous pinch of granulated sugar
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • 2-4 tbs butter (you can cut down to make it even ‘healthier’)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • ~1 cup shredded cheese (I used pre-shredded Mexican cheese. I also just dropped two handfuls in rather than measuring an actual cup)
  1. In medium saucepan, saute the red pepper flakes in olive oil over Medium heat for about 30 seconds.
  2. Add the tomato sauce, paste, water, pasta, sugar, salt and pepper.
  3. Bring to low boil, stirring frequently to keep pasta from sticking to bottom of pan.
  4. Add butter. Stir until melted.
  5. Stir in milk.
  6. Simmer over Medium-Low for about 10 minutes or until pasta is cooked.
  7. (If sauce seems too runny, add a second scoop of tomato paste to thicken. Stir until fully distributed, then turn off heat) Add cheese one handful at a time, stirring between to melt fully.
  8. Enjoy!

This recipe makes about 4 servings.

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