Tag Archives: holidays

Recent DC visitors

Al and I have been lucky this summer to have lots of loved ones visit us here in DC. As a result, I’ve gotten REALLY good at giving tours of the National Mall, even if I don’t know the history of any of the monuments, buildings, or memorials and am completely ignorant about most important things about this city, other than where you can get good fro-yo. Hey, historical details are what iPhones are for.

First, my mom visited for one night at the end of May and we got some good museum visiting and pool lounging in! We made sure to hit the National Gallery and checked out the Andrew Wyeth windows exhibition, as well as the Cassatt/Degas exhibition. Very cool.

National Gallery tunnel

National Gallery tunnel

Me and my mom

Me and my mom

Then, for Fourth of July weekend, my cousin-friend Catie visited. It was her first trip to DC, so I felt it necessary to pull out all the ‘Murrica stops. First, we went to the National Mall and gazed at the monuments (at least, the ones that weren’t closed in advance of the fireworks) and watched various military service-members in their dress uniforms doing drills.

Catie and me at the Washington Monument

Catie and me at the Washington Monument

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Next, we checked out Georgetown and stuffed our faces at the excellent Good Stuff Eatery. I highly recommend the turkey burger and onion petals (drool). Catie and I decided that we are definitely going to buy a house in Georgetown, just as soon as we become multi-millionaires (any day now).

Cute houses in Georgetown

Cute houses in Georgetown

Patriotism, Georgetown

Patriotism, Georgetown (this guy was blasting Whitney Houston’s version of ‘America the Beautiful’)

That night, we went to the roof of our building and watched the fireworks over the Mall.

Fireworks

Fireworks

The next night, we went to see Counting Crows (a long-time Steph-Catie favorite band) at Wolf Trap, an amazing outdoor concert venue (and national park!) in Virginia where you’re allowed to bring in your own food and drink, including booze. We brought a picnic, sat on the grass, and aurally revisited the mid-1990s as we listened to Toad the Wet Sprocket warm up the crowd. Counting Crows, by the way, were awesome. This is the second time I’ve seen them this summer (I’m a super-fan) and they never fail to disappoint. Catie and I sang along to every single song (except for the stuff off their new album) and even Al got into it. SO FUN.

Picnicking at Wolf Trap

Picnicking at Wolf Trap

Counting Crows!

Counting Crows!

Adam Duritz!

Adam Duritz!

Mid-concert

Mid-concert

Overall, it was a fantastic weekend and I’m glad Catie finally got to see DC.

The next weekend, Al’s mom and step-dad, Carol and Gerald, visited. Neither of them had spent much time in DC, so we took them to the Mall and did a long walking tour of many of the monuments. It was approximately one billion degrees outside (Celcius) but we persevered and saw a lot of stuff, including the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, reflecting pool, World War II Memorial, a bit of the National Gallery, and the Natural History Museum. We ate lunch at the cafe within the National Gallery sculpture garden and admired the outdoor art.

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

WWII Memorial

WWII Memorial

Sculpture garden

National Gallery sculpture garden

Gem display at the Natural History Museum

Gem display at the Natural History Museum

Carol, Al, and me at the Natural History Museum

Carol, Al, and me at the Natural History Museum

We also did some wine-tasting in Virginia (Loudoun County), which is always lovely. It’s so peaceful and beautiful there.

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All in all, it was another great DC visit with family.

THEN, the following week, my parents came back into town to look at houses in Virginia, since they’re moving back East next year. We checked out Winchester (which was just okay) and then made our way up to Leesburg (which was charming and adorable). We had a nice time walking around the historic district of Leesburg and eating lunch at the Wine Kitchen. The weather was hot but beautiful.

Leesburg

Leesburg

Parents in Leesburg

Parents in Leesburg

So, the last month has been a whirlwind of visitors, and it’s been great. But for the rest of the summer, we aren’t expecting any more guests. Therefore, I feel confident saying that Al and I won’t be stepping foot in a museum until the next round of visitors shows up, whenever that may be. Hey, we never claimed to be cultured.

 

 

Expat Thanksgivings

I have celebrated many a Thanksgiving outside of the United States. My first foreign Thanksgiving was in 2003 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I was with some of my best friends from college and we were on a weeklong vacation from studying abroad in Santiago, Chile. We were all so caught up in the excitement of being in Rio for the first time (read: drunk), none of us remembered that it was Thanksgiving until close to midnight on Thursday, at which point we left whatever sweaty club we were patronizing and made our way to an open-air pizza parlor and ordered a bunch of pizzas, which we decided would have to substitute for turkey. In 2005, I celebrated Thanksgiving in Rio again, with my dear friend Julia. We met some Americans in a bar and hunted around until we found an Irish pub serving something that approximated turkey. Chicken, maybe? I don’t really remember. Alcohol may have been involved in the decision. (Are you seeing a pattern here?)

I also spent Thanksgiving 2010 in Brazil, this time in São Paulo. I got together with a bunch of friends — mostly Brazilian but with a few Canadian, English, and German people thrown into the mix, as well — and we cooked a proper Thanksgiving dinner with a real turkey, apple pie, and mashed potatoes. Pumpkin was nowhere to be found (seriously, Brazil?) so we did without, but I seem to recall that there were a lot of Brazilian goodies to be had, like brigadeiros, which make up for a lot.

And last year, Al and I celebrated Thanksgiving in Cape Town, to which I transported my labor of love, my from-SCRATCH pumpkin pie. This year, I’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving in London, with Al and my cousin John and a bunch of John’s friends. It’ll be the first non-US Thanksgiving I’ve had with any of my extended family in attendance, so that’ll be a nice change.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving - always a classic!

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving – always a classic!

Expat Thanksgiving is always an odd experience — especially if you’re in a place where it’s hot in November and essential Thanksgiving food supplies are scarce, a la Brazil — but it can also be a really unique, wonderful way to celebrate the holiday. The thing is, when you celebrate Thanksgiving  outside of America, odds are, you’ll be spending it with at least some non-Americans who are interested in the holiday and think it’s a cool idea. And that’s kind of awesome, isn’t it? It’s cool to be able to share Thanksgiving dinner with people who aren’t gathering just for the turkey or pie or football or because that’s just what you do on the fourth Thursday in November, but because they value and admire the spirit behind the holiday: the idea of getting together with people you love to express gratitude. I love Thanksgiving because even though it’s a very American holiday (and yes, Canadian, too, but Canadians will readily agree that it’s a much bigger deal in America), the concept behind it translates universally: giving thanks for what we have. I love that non-Americans can get into the spirit of Thanksgiving just as easily and authentically as Americans. It’s just a lovely holiday all around.

Speaking of gratitude, I saw this video a while ago. Take the seven minutes and watch it, if you haven’t seen it already. It’s about the huge happiness boost we experience from expressing gratitude to the people in our lives who we love. I think Thanksgiving is the perfect, non-cheesy opportunity to grab your own happiness boost by letting your loved one(s) know that you appreciate them, don’t you? This year, as always, I’m really grateful for my husband, my parents, my cousins, and my friends, who, in my completely unbiased opinion, are all the absolute best. I’m also exceedingly grateful to still be plugging away at making my dream of becoming a professional writer come true. (Fittingly, today I completed 50,000 words in the third manuscript I’ve written since quitting my lawyer job a little over a year ago, so things are coming up Stephanie over here). So, all in all, I’m feeling good and grateful today. Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

 

Buon Natale

We are spending Christmas in Italy this year with my parents and it’s been fantastic. We’ve been in Sorrento since Christmas eve and this is the first time I’ve had internet access, so please excuse the radio silence! Things will probably be quiet until we’re back in civilization (i.e., Africa) again, so for now, please allow me to placate you all with some pretty pictures of Sorrento.

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Christmas comfort food

Since the much-hyped Mayan apocalypse failed to materialize today, I can finally look forward to Christmas! I mean, just as soon as I clear out a space in my doomsday bunker where I’ve stockpiled canned foods, weaponry, and a Nibiru-English dictionary, I’ll be able to hunker down and enjoy my favorite part of the Christmas season: movies, music, and TV.

So here, good people, is a brief list of my favorite non-edible Christmas comfort foods, in case you’re looking to expand your Christmas horizons this year.  Let’s start with music.

My Christmas playlist

          • O Holy Night.  I love this song, but I’m very picky about it – it must be sung by a children’s choir. If an adult man is singing this song, I will not enjoy it. For my money, it doesn’t get better than the version in Home Alone, which you can find here.  However, even better than that is our dog, Dougal, singing along to that version.  This happened as I was writing this blog post, by the way.

  • Breath of Heaven, by Amy Grant.  This is a religious song (it’s Amy Grant, after all) and it’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s sung from the perspective of Mary, which is different from most of your standard, ho-hum, Santa-and-Jesus Christmas songs.
  • The entire Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, by Vince Guaraldi.  If you don’t already own this, please do yourself a favor and purchase it immediately. It’s a classic.  Also, watch the movie.
  • All I Want for Christmas Is You, by Mariah Carey.  I mean, come on.  It’s Mariah. And yes, I like the new version with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots.
  • Miracle of Love, by the Eurythmics.  I’m not sure if this is actually a Christmas song, but it puts me in a festive mood, even though it is objectively depressing. I also love the Eurythmics’ There Must be an Angel, because of this Disney video, which I watched on repeat as a child.  I understand that logically, I should associate this song with Valentine’s Day, but you know what? Festive is festive.

      • River, by Sarah McLachlan.  Wow, is it just me, or is my Christmas playlist sort of dark?  Yikes.  Let’s move on.

Christmas movies and TV episodes

  •  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I watch this every year with my parents and it never gets old.  It features a truly all-star cast, including Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis, Randy Quaid, Brian Doyle Murray, and Johnny Galecki. It also contains one of my family’s favorite lines: “Clark! Slow down! I don’t want to spend the holidays dead.”  We say this to each other often.
  • Home Alone.  A sweet classic.  And the tarantula scene? I die. Every time.
  • Breakfast With Scot. If I can do one thing in this life of mine, I hope I can spread love for this truly charming little Canadian film about hockey, a gay kid, and two reluctant gay dads.  I feel like the trailer does not do it justice, but it’s heartwarming, funny, Christmassy, and cute, and it features Tom Cavanagh, who I’ve already mentioned on this blog as being one half of one of my favorite podcasts, Mike and Tom Eat Snacks.  Ugh, please just watch it, it’s awesome.

          • A Christmassy Ted.  This is the Christmas special of my favorite (now defunct) Irish comedy, Father Ted.  The premise of Father Ted is that three misfit priests are banished to a windswept island off the west coast of Ireland (the aptly named “Craggy Island”).  Father Ted has dreams of being rich and famous, Father Jack is a gross, largely inarticulate drunk, and Father Dougal is an idiot.  They get into all sorts of hilarious adventures, but the Christmas special is particularly funny.  I’ve gotten Al into Father Ted over the years and this is now one of our all-time favorite jokes – how to break the news of a death:

“Remember how your husband used to love a good laugh?”

  • The Snowman.  This is just straight-up beautiful, and the song Walking in the Air brings a tear to my crusty old eye.

          What can I say, I have a thing for boys’ choirs.  Also, the movie is introduced by David Bowie, who apparently did a lot of acting in children’s films in the 80s (Labyrinth, anyone?).

Well, I could go on and on about Christmas gems but I don’t want to lose you guys.  Check out some of my picks and let me know what you think.  Merry Christmas and happy Not-End-of-the-World!

 

Pumpkin pie

To take my mind off my many health woes, I spent this afternoon making a pumpkin pie from scratch. And I mean SCRATCH. Scritchety-scratch.  This was my first time making pumpkin pie, so I was going into this thing blind.  And, since canned pumpkin and pre-made pie crusts don’t exist in this country, I was forced to get sort of Helga Homemaker and make everything myself. And it went pretty well, until I dropped the pie.  But we’ll get to that in a sec.

The final product

The first hurdle I faced was figuring out how I was going to get pureed pumpkin.  A survey of local grocery stores and markets turned up nada on the canned pumpkin front.  This meant I would have to buy raw pumpkin and puree it myself.  Getting the pumpkin was not a problem: I found raw, cubed pumpkin at my local fruit/veg market. But to puree it, I needed a food processor or a blender. I had brought my amazing, blocky Cuisinart food processor from home, but it turns out that it requires 650 watts of power to run (this is a lot) and the largest step-down transformer we could find in Joburg only went up to 100 watts. Ruh-roh.  So, I was forced to buy the cheapest immersion blender I could find, instead.  While I was at it, I also bought a rolling pin and a pie tin.  Since I had already bought the other ingredients for the pie, I was set.

Next, I set about making the pumpkin puree-able.  Going off of this recipe, I popped my cubed raw pumpkin into the oven at 200 C for 45 minutes… but afterwards, the pumpkin was still pretty hard. I ended up leaving it in the oven for almost 90 minutes, until it was soft enough to smash with a fork.

Roasted pumpkin

While the pumpkin was cooking, I made my pie crust following this recipe (from a South African!), which turned out to be shockingly easy.  I felt so proud of myself, rolling the dough out with my new rolling pin.  I wanted someone to observe me doing this and say, “wow, look at you, rolling that dough like a pro!” but no one was there, and actually, I look terrible, so it’s probably best no one witnessed any of this process.

Dough, glorious dough!

When the pumpkin was finally cooked, I used my new immersion blender to puree it into velvety, orange goodness.

Aw yeah.

Then I added in the spices, evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract, and poured that bowl of deliciousness into the pie shell, which I had flattened, more or less, onto the pie tin.

It was hard not to chug this. But I resisted.

Then I popped that baby into the oven at 170-200 C for about 45 minutes.  There was some mid-baking temperature adjustment because our oven is kinda wack.  I tested the pie’s doneness with a fork and when it was firm but moist, I slowly, painstakingly withdrew it from the oven, an oven mitt on one hand and a towel in the other.  I was inching it out of the oven when something – I’m still not sure what, but maybe a pie-stress-induced-seizure? – happened, and I dropped the pie.

NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

It landed on the open oven door, praise Jesus (seriously) and did not flip over, but the side of it got kind of squashed.  Al was sitting out in the other room watching a show called “Space Mysteries” and eating gummies when he heard me scream in agony.  I then threw a really predictable type-A hissy fit about ruining my perfect pie.  Al tried to convince me it looked more “homemade” this way, and I appreciated the effort, but no.  It looked SO BEAUTIFUL before and now it’s ruined. RUINED, I tell you.  No one will love you now, pie!

It looked better before, I swear.

But I did taste a little bit of the filling that fell out, and daaaaaaang. It was good.  So it may not look perfect, but I’m hoping people will enjoy it tomorrow.  Inner beauty and all that.

Until then, happy Thanksgiving. I hope everyone has a joyous, turkey and stuffing filled day of family, friends, and food coma.