A chronicle of my attempts to live a classy life as a single girl in the Nation's Capital

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Farmers Market

This morning I finally went to the nearby Farmers Market run by Fairfax County.  I have been telling myself I would go for months--just delayed it for some reason.  Years ago, I was disillusioned by these markets when I learned (and tasted) that a lot of so called "farmers" were just people reselling produce bought from the same suppliers that grocery stores buy from.  However, Fairfax County only allows actual producers who own and work on farms with a 125 mile radius to sell at their markets. 
Click here to see the various Farmers Markets run by Fairfax Co.
I thought these little carrots were so cute!
My stash.  They also had organic, free-range meat (yay!).  I bought a whole chicken and some ground beef.  I can't wait to roast the chicken. And those fresh dinner rolls are delicious--I am eating one right now.

This is my favorite thing I bought.  They are so adorable and they have an even more adorable name--Fairy Tale Eggplant.  No idea what I am supposed to do with them--I might try roasting them whole.  It will be an experiment.
Selection of heirloom tomatoes

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


If you know me, you know how I adore wine.  A few weeks ago I broke my vow to stop purchasing Groupons (they will suck your budget dry!) and got one for Wine Insiders.  I paid $50 and got to purchase $100 worth of wine which was conveniently delivered to my house.

A note about the website: the selection is small.  But each wine is hand picked by the site's owners and they guarantee you will like what you get.  Sounds promising to me.  It took them awhile to ship though! And shipping on this package wasn't exactly cheap.  I placed the order about a week ago but the company didn't give it to UPS for shipping until yesterday.  But it was overnight shipping from there and I got my wines today! 
My wine cabinet has more than one wine in it for the first time ever!  We'll see how long that lasts.
The wines! I was able to get 5.  All vineyards I have never tried before and even some new varietals.

 Keep watching for reviews and tasting notes on these wines as I open them.

Not Your Grandma's Chicken Noodle Soup

I wasn't feeling very well today and started craving chicken soup.  I love making soups and stews.  First: it's a whole meal in a bowl and no sides are really needed (except for some crusty bread) And second: it's really fun to make, you can be creative and just do what you like. 

There are two important things to keep in mind when making a soup. Most importantly, you MUST season each component along the way--it is all about layering the flavors.  You can't just throw vegetables, meat and stock together and then season the whole thing.  You will end up with tasteless vegetables and meat.  Season each component lightly and every bite of the soup is full of flavor. Almost as important, make sure that all pieces you add are cut to about the same size and thickness.  If you don't do this, you end up with some mushy bits and other pieces completely raw.

I began the soup with the classic chicken, celery, onion and carrot.  Then I veered off course. I added the juice of 1/2 a lemon.  I am obsessed with adding fresh lemon juice to everything and figured I'd give it a try.  It is amazing! It's very subtle in the soup but adds a great freshness. I also added a can of diced tomatoes (no salt added).  Whenever I am sick, I crave tomato sauce for some reason, so tomatoes in the soup made sense to me.  And finally, I added some red pepper flakes to give the soup a kick--and clear my sinuses. 

The result is a very yummy chicken noodle soup that is bursting with fresh flavor and comfort. I must confess that I almost never measure things when I am cooking.  I just go by feeling--but here is what I did: 

mince 2 cloves of garlic and add to olive oil heated in a pot.  Add chicken and allow to cook.  Season with salt, pepper, and some lemon juice.

Add chopped vegetables (carrot, celery, onion, mushrooms) and season with S&P, thyme, rest of lemon juice, 1 bay leaf and some hot pepper flakes. Stir and allow to cook until vegetables are soft and almost cooked. Add tomatoes.

Add 2 cans of chicken stock (low sodium) and a little more pepper and thyme.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.  Bring this to a boil.

Once boiling, add 2-3 handfulls of wide egg noodles and allow to cook for 6 minutes. 

Spoon into bowls and top with fresh chopped parsley 

And the other important thing to remember about soup: allow it to cool a little before digging in! I always burn my mouth...

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Case Against Summer Vacation

The Case Against Summer Vacation

As a teacher, I hear this kind of argument a lot. And the case for year round school does make some sense--I have days where I am for it and days where I am not. Allow me to rant a little:

I take offense when someone like David Von Drehle spouts off about education when he has never worked in the field. Doing a little research, it looks like he mostly writes about politics. He's written about the 2000 presidential election recount in FL, Watergate and the death penalty. This is one of the large problems I see with the way our educational system is run. The policy makers often never set foot in a classroom (As a teacher) or if they did it was so long ago that they have lost touch. And yet they think they know what we teachers "should" be doing. (Which is why we have to deal with BS initiatives like being told we need to spend 1 class every week on "goal setting" with 9th graders whose goal is to be an NFL player and not fail next weeks test). Even worse is when the policy makers volunteer at the school. They perform menial tasks (read: the ones teachers actually trust them not to screw up) and then think they know what it's like to be a teacher. Teachers are not treated with the professional respect they deserve--we know our field and our kids much better than some guy sitting in a cushy DC office or a journalist with a masters in literature. Yet, since most everyone in this county goes to public school, everyone thinks they know what it means to be a teacher and thus should be listened to just because of that.

I work with an extremely talented group of educators--and professionals--with Masters in Education from many prestigious schools. In the English department alone, we have teachers with degrees from Harvard, Brown, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania. All respected Ivy League schools. So why isn't our expertise in education valued by society? A teacher's opinion is almost never asked for by policy makers, and if it is it isn't really influential in any way. Instead, I find that most people seem to think we are a lazy bunch who took the job just because we get summers off and get out earlier in the day. When I tell people I am a teacher, I often have to deal with jokes like this. And I have to restrain from slapping the person.

Which brings me back to Von Drehle's article on why summer vacation should be eradicated. Yes, we are no longer an agrarian society and the students aren't working on the farm during summer months. But our society has evolved in other ways and there is still a value to summer vacation. One thing that people like Von Drehle never consider is that many of the low income students they discuss have to work in the summer. At my school, there is a large population of lower income students who work to help bring much needed income to their families. Take away summer, and you take away the livelihood of these families. Another thing that I see a lot at my school is pregnant students or students with children. Keep school going year round and what happens with these children?
Also, students today are under more pressure than ever. Almost everyone I teach expects to go to college and the competition is fierce. Students are taking multiple IB and honors courses, heavily involved in extracurriculars, have a job outside school and try to have a social life as well. They get pressure to do better from parents, teachers, counselors, other students and themselves. This past year alone, I had to help 3 suicidal students who weren't dealing well with the pressure. This is extremely serious and something that is not being addressed much by those all-knowing policy makers. Summer is a much needed respite for all teens. Sure, they shouldn't be sitting around playing video games--but, as I often say, parents need to be parents. You cannot expect the public school system to raise your children for you. If you don't want them sitting around idle, don't let them.

And then there are the teachers. My profession has one of the highest burnout rates. After 5 years, about half of the nation's teachers leave the profession. (See this article). And the good teachers burnout the fastest--the ones who care deeply about their students and work longer hours to create fun, creative lesson plans that demand critical thinking. These are the teachers we are losing. We are grossly underpaid (tell me another profession where breaking up fist fights, counseling pregnant teens, and being yelled at/demeaned by misguided parents is par for the course) and grossly overworked. In truth, we should be paid on par with lawyers and doctors. Instead we get a fraction of that and are expected to do so much.
I do love my job and it is very rewarding and challenging. But it is physically (you are standing and running around all day), emotionally and intellectually draining. By the time June rolls around, I am frazzled and at my wits end. I need the two measly months of relaxation to recoup so that I can return in September as the best teacher I can be. Even if two week breaks were worked into a year round system, it would NOT be a break. Hell, summer isn't even really a break. I'm still lesson planning and answering emails from students. But if I knew school was in 2 weeks, the students would probably be working on a project and I would probably be grading, planning and contacting students/parents. Many of the teachers would still be going into the school building (which we also do over summer). Some break.
Summer sure does have it's problems, but there are also many reasons for it to stick around. People need to start asking students and teachers what they think. We are the ones it affects and we are the experts on this--yet for many unfair reasons our opinions are not taken into account.

Rant over. For now.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Jane Austen's Fight Club

As an English teacher and lover of literature, I am not certain how to feel about all the things being done to Austen's works lately. Take Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters as two examples.  I don't know why there is a modern tendency to mix Austen's era of manners with violence. 
But as someone with a sense of humor, I also find all these parodies immensely entertaining.  Today I discovered the newest addition to this growing trend: a faux movie trailer for something called Jane Austen's Fight Club.
My favorite part is when they are all dancing around the porch--rock on ladies!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Memories of Barbie

Barbie played a large part in my childhood (and despite what feminists may say, I have no body-image issues stemming from that).  Like many girls, it was my favorite toy (along with Little People, which no longer really exist because they were deemed a "choking hazard") but they also played a large role in my childhood because my mom collected them.
 Classic Little People house -- Why is the dog taller than all the people??

Now that I am older, I frequently feel nostalgic about childhood toys and entertain thoughts of buying Little People sets or Barbies on eBay. Even though I never played with my mom's collection (except once, and boy was I in trouble) I would often sit in front of the 2 glass cases and marvel at the little accessories and gorgeous dresses--trying my best not to pry the doors open and touch everything with my grubby, probably dirty, child hands. I remember going with my dad on expeditions to peoples' private homes to buy pieces of their collections and then spreading it all out on the living room floor when we got home.  My mom would go through it and pick out the pieces she needed and only the ones in the best condition.  Only Mattel--generic accessories got tossed aside.  Stained clothing ostracized into a pile of their own.  And guess what lucky girl got to take possession of these cast-asides?  I most vividly remember being given a tiny light blue plastic case that said "keys" on the front.  Inside was a miniature ring of plastic keys--for whatever reason this was my favorite accessory.  I was also given a yellow nightgown that had a small tear and thus didn't pass my mom's inspection.

Whenever I am feeling nostalgic, I search out these vintage Barbies and have a desire to start a collection of my own--not of the toys I actually played with but of the ones I coveted so much as a little girl.

The #1 Doll, the first Mattel made and the most sought-after.  While it never fascinated me much, I understood that it was very important.

My mom has a few with the bubble cut (not shown) or "anna" hair like this.  I liked the long blonde hair better.

This Candy Striper set was always one of my favorites. I loved the little water bottle and the glass of orange juice.  If you looked in from the top, you could see that the "juice" was cotton stuffed inside.

What girl wouldn't love a Cinderella set?  Oddly, the "rags" costume was my favorite one.  It came with the neat broom and was more unique than the ball gown.

I remember this picnic set well.  I loved the wedge shoes and modern blue jeans.  And something about the fish just fascinated me.

This is the yellow nightgown that I was given since my mom didn't want it (she already had one in perfect condition.)  I always thought it was a little scandalous--to a 6 yr old, wearing sheer fabric like this was quite eye raising. (the full set actually came with a pair of bloomers, pom-pom mules, a diary and alarm clock.)

I absolutely LOVED this one!  I don't remember which doll and accessory it was that finally made me open the case in the kitchen and play one day--but I'd bet money that this "Dogs N' Duds" set had something to do with it.

And one more (I could go on--my mom had A LOT of outfits) the glamorous outfit I always associate with Barbie:

The pearls. The bag. The pumps. The stylish hat. The surprise pop of bright blue.  Love it!  I think it's becoming clear to me where my sense of style originally came from...

Maybe one day I will treat myself to a vintage Barbie of my own (and I do mean treat--that outfit above sells for $395 on this one website).  Until then, I get an odd sense of comfort and happiness when browsing through these pictures online.

Today's Barbie... just doesn't measure up: Not as timeless, stylish or detailed. 
A polyester dream... and is that belt painted on the zebra skirt?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Babe in the Woods: Part II

I survived my first whitewater/camping trip.  And I absolutely loved it! Yesterday I found myself looking at Songer's website to see how much the various rafting trips cost--I want to go again.

Camping wasn't so bad either, but we weren't exactly roughing it.  There was a large shower area with electricity and plugs for hair dryers and we were fed all day Saturday.  The camping area was large, but for some reason everyone set up their tents right next to each other.  On the first night this created problems for our group since we were right next to a really obnoxious group who refused to go to sleep (when 90% of the camp was trying to sleep).  We were treated to their inane conversation all night and I only got about 2 hours of sleep.  Some choice topics included a lively game of "who farted?!", popcorn ("you know what happens when you bring out the popcorn"), child-rearing ("I want to have a kid so I can impart some f--king wisdom"), and Jordan, whose name was wailed by some lonely girl for most of the night ("Jooorrrdaaannn!")

We moved our 3 tents clear across the field the next day.  Luckily, adrenaline kept me going for the rafting trip and I didn't really feel tired until the next night. 

Schmitty was about what I expected, but a nice guy.  I ended up sitting next to him during dinner before my friends got there and we chatted for a bit.  I don't think he was sober any of the times I met him--but he was fun to talk to.   

I brought a camera but didn't take a single picture, I was too busy doing other things. I did purchase a picture of my group. I hear that Schmitty might post all the photos and a video online later--but I wanted to make sure I had at least one photo of mine own (even though it cost $20--but when you think about what the photographer was doing to get the picture, it seems kinda okay.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Ideal Man

I am in love... I came across this website today.  I think it's an advertisement for coffee or Penguin books (or both) but I don't even notice the coffee.

The Carte Noir Readers site (Click here for the site ) features 4 British men reading excerpts from classics and contemporary literature (ranging from Austen to Scott Turow) and apparently was designed just for me. 

Bookish men with gorgeous British accents reading great prose to me. Leather chairs, piles of books nearby, steaming mug of coffee (tea would be better though)  I just melt....  They tell you to pour a mug of coffee and sit comfortably.  I say pour a glass of chardonnay and try to refrain from giggling like a little school girl.  Here are some screen-shots:

Here is Joseph Finnes (Shakespeare in Love) reading Far From the Madding Crowd .  He's my favorite of the four.

This is Dan Stevens, a popular BBC actor, reading from Saving Caravaggio. Even with the Mr. Rogers sweater, I still swoon (okay, maybe he's my favorite). 

Dominic West (The Wire) reading from Pride and Prejudice

Greg Wise (Emma Thompson's husband and popular Brit actor) reading from Persuasion

I love that they are championing literature in this way; I certainly find it entertaining.  Now I'm going to go watch a few more videos--where are men like this in real life??

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

TMI Moment of the Day

While watching tonight's episode of Top Chef DC, the Quickfire Challenge involved... crabs!  I just couldn't believe Angelo's comment on the challenge though--and immediately searched for a video of it online.  Listen to his comment from 0.56-0.47 (it counts down backwards), right after Padma innocently announces "you've got crabs!"

While scratching his arm, Angelo says, and I quote, "Well, I had crabs.  So... it just brought back bad memories."

Wait... what?!  TMI Angelo...

BravoTV.com didn't write the embed code correctly for their video (way to go guys!) so until I can get that to work, here is a link to the video:

Jeez--look at the name of the link.  Have I just been teaching high school too long or is some 13 year old writing this and giggling?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Parisian Lunch

My love of French culture borders on the obsessive--and it can be embarrassing to admit that, no, I have never traveled there.  So where does this love come from?  No clue. 

Yesterday I was watching Tyler's Ultimate on the Cooking Channel and he was in search of the ultimate omelette.  Guess where he went?   Turns out that omelettes are the lunch of choice for French winemakers.  So today as I stared in my fridge wondering what to make for lunch, I decided on an omelette and light salad.  Julia Child agrees--check out this video!  Girlfriend needs to relax with that parsley in the intro though--Green eggs anyone?

Turns out that I've been doing it wrong all along.  You don't put milk in the omelette!  The secret is to whip those eggs until your arms hurt.  You want to see a froth on the egg.

Here's the recipe for my lunch:
(1 Serving)
2 Eggs
3 baby bella mushrooms, sliced with stems removed
Coarsely diced red onion  (I didn't measure, it was about 1/2 the size of my mushroom pile)
Salt and pepper

1. Heat a little olive oil in a pan and add the mushrooms and onions.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute until onions are translucent.  Set mushrooms and onion aside on a plate.
2. Crack open the eggs in a bowl and whisk them within an inch of their lives.  Then whisk it some more.  You want lots of little bubbles and a frothy top.  I think I whisked for about 5 minutes.  Add some salt, pepper and parsley at the end and whisk in.
3. On medium heat (in same pan as before) put the onions and mushrooms back in and pour the egg on top.  The omelette will cook quickly so act fast!  You will want to push the sides of the egg in and then tilt the pan so uncooked egg in the middle seeps out to the edge.  Do this constantly on all 4 sides until it is mostly cooked.
4. Loosen the egg around the end of the pan and flip in half.  Let sit in pan for a few seconds to make sure the middle is cooked.
5. Slide off the pan onto a plate and serve with a light salad.
Yum!  All I needed was a crisp, cool glass of white wine!  It was a perfectly satisfying lunch.  The eggs were so creamy, the onions sweet and the meaty, earthy portobello mushrooms rounded it out perfectly.  I think I have a new favorite mid-day meal.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Babe in the Woods: Part I

I am not necessarily a prissy girl, but I do like nice things and have certain standards. I like things like AC... and plumbing.  Which is probably why I've never been camping.  I don't even own a working flashlight!  When the power goes out here, I rock it old school and light a bunch of candles.

But about a month ago something possessed me to sign up for a 3 day camping/white water rafting trip in West Virginia with a few friends of mine.  I've always wanted to try white water rafting and was having a whimsical "live your life!" moment so I signed up.  (Never mind the fact that I am terrified of roller coasters)

Now I am 4 days away from leaving and am having second thoughts.  Part of this is brought on by the "dude" in charge of this whole event.  He signs all emails "Schmidtty" (not at all his actual name) and makes constant references to beer and hangovers.  Is he leading me down the river or to a local frat party? I don't mean to sound like an old foagie, but "Schmidtty" is starting to get on my nerves a bit--and I haven't even met him.
This is my mental image of Schmidtty
Here are some actual quotes from his emails (emphasis added):  
1. "Regardless of when you make it down, we will be there waiting for you with a beer in hand."  Good to know Schmidtty!  I'd like a Dos Equis or maybe a Corona. 
2. "People are also bringing a few sets of cornhole, t-toss, custom beer bongs, and lots of other fun stuff as well"  Custom beer bongs??  What have I gotten myself in to?? And who are these "people" he refers to?  I have a feeling it's just him wanting to relive lost college years. 
3. "All of these things can be explored on your own or with a guide (I will be your drinking guide if you need assistance)." Schmidtty--after all that beer you're drinking through "custom beer bongs" I think you're the one who'll need a guide. 
4. "We will not be rushed off the site on Sunday morning, so those of us with a hangover can move as slow as we want." Schmidtty will surface sometime the following Tuesday. His "Bros" will have shamed him appropriately. 

Our fearless leader--after the shenanigans are all over.

But in all fairness, I'm sure he knows what he is doing.  Apparently he has been doing this for several years and mixed in with the jokes about alcohol is legitimate and concrete advice about what to expect and what to bring.  Which leads me to my second hesitation: The STUFF!

As mentioned before, I don't even have a working flashlight.  Much less a tent, sleeping bag or whatever else I may need.

Do I need this?  Please God, don't let me ever need something called a "Luggable Loo"

Luckily I have a friend who has a lot of camping gear and is letting me share her tent, but I still have anxiety over things like do I buy a sleeping  bag or an inflatable mattress?  (At least with the inflatable mattress, I might actually use it again.).  I need to bring food--what do I bring? How will it stay cold? (I'm sure I can just stash it with Schmidtty's beer collection). Do I need to bring a grill? Charcoal?  How do I get charcoal lighted? Is a bikini OK in white water rapids? Or do I bring a one piece?  Wait, do I even wear a bathing suit?? Is there room in the car for all this?  Ahhhh!   

I will spend the next few days frantically trying to figure all this out.  As with most things, I am sure it will be fine in the end and I will be more than prepared. Stay tuned for an update on how it all goes next week when I return--hopefully in one piece!     

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Quick Sunday Project: Plant Stand

I love, love, love Anthropologie.  And every once in awhile I will treat myself to an item of clothing or household item from their store.  But being a single teacher in my 20s, I am not exactly able to afford a lot of their items. One thing I've noticed Anthropologie often does is adding modern, whimsical twists to classic designs. I have long coveted their garden furniture which takes classic, Victorian wire chairs and tables and gives them an updated look with bright splashes of color.  Here is an example of a chair they have that sells for just under $300: 
You can purchase one by clicking this link

While cleaning up my grandma's house, I saw a plant stand thrown in a corner of the musty garage and thought "ah ha! something I can spray paint a bright, glossy color!" I saved it from the trash pile and brought it back to my apartment.

Here is the stand before, full of rust and dirt but it has potential.

I loved the curly parts on the side!   

To paint something like this, you only need about 3 or 4 supplies. You will need a general purpose sandpaper, steel wool (to remove rust), soapy water/sponge and a can of spray paint.  I use Rust-oleum (Rust-Oleum 245897 Enamels Spray )which is best for metal and outdoor items.
  My Supplies-I skipped the steel wool part       (shh--don't tell!)

After washing and sanding down the stand, I took it outside and sprayed away.  Make sure you are far away from your house and put down something to protect the ground--I took a trash bag and cut down the side and bottom to make a plastic sheet.  Here is the final result: Tres chic (and cheap)!  Now I just have to figure out what to put on it...