Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Trip to Alexandria, VA (part 1)

I spent last weekend in Alexandria, VA on a much-needed vacation. As it coincided with Mr. Llama's business trip, we only had to pay for my ticket and one night in the hotel (more money left for food and yarn, I say!).

The flight in was quiet, uneventful, and productive for knitting - I'm currently knitting this sweater out of Cascade 220 100% wool, and managed to finish the body up to where the sleeves will be joined! There was another knitter in the same row, which was nice to see, and the in-flight movie was
Monsters vs Aliens, a movie I had been intending to see but never got around to. I really enjoyed the movie - good vs evil plus some girl-empowerment going on, I found it both funny and original. Plus, Stephen Colbert voices the POTUS!

After taking the Metro and a nice walk to the hotel, I spent a bit of time sitting before Mr. Llama returned and we walked down to King Street in Old Town Alexandria. The street is lined with restaurants, stores, and historical sites, and is extremely pedestrian-friendly though King Street can have heavy traffic at times. Dinner was at the Fish Market, a busy place with a raw bar and giant glasses of beer. We shared a full pound of their specialty, the "Hot" Spiced Shrimp. Basically, just unpeeled shrimp cooked in a combination of spices that included bay leaves, coriander, and red pepper flakes (among many others I couldn't identify, but I was about halfway through the bathtub of beer - Harpoon IPA if you're interested - so that probably had something to do with it!) The shrimp, two orders of Hush Puppies, and some bread made a good meal for a hot day. Their Hush Puppies are some of the best I've had - lots of garlic flavor kept them from being just fried sugary cornmeal.

After dinner, we made our way to Cafe Salsa for some mojitos - they were apparently on special that night, as we only paid about $40 for 14 drinks (we were with a group - really). No skimping on the mint here, and they weren't too sweet, either. I probably would have preferred mine to be made with a dark rum, but that wouldn't have been a standard mojito, either. That pretty much finished off the night for all of us, and we made our way back to the hotel and some sleep.

The next day I spent alone while Mr Llama was again at work. I wandered back to King St to find some breakfast and especially some coffee, and went into La Madeleine, one of a chain of French bistro-ish eateries, emerging with an almond croissant and a double espresso. Unfortunately, the croissant, while topped with crunchy toasted almonds, was filled with a too-sweet flavorless goo which made the pastry soggy and unappitizing, and the espresso, which lacked any semblance of crema, tasted only slightly better than the coffee I had on the airplane. I'd like to hope that the rest of their menu isn't so bad, but I didn't bother going back to find out! After the nauseating breakfast, I walked the shops. There's a definite French influence and a number of imported French furniture stores and French bistros. I found a place to try breakfast the next morning called Le Pain Quotidien, which I glanced into and looked less like a cafeteria than La Madeleine. The menu was also smaller, which was encouraging.

And then I found the yarn! Two stores were within walking distance, and one was having their grand opening as well! Fibre space (here they are on Facebook) had opened that morning - a nice airy space with lots of well-organized shelves, though they were only half-full since all the yarn hadn't come in yet. They did have samples of the yarns yet to come in, though, so people could touch and grope and fall in love! I bought a skein of 100% merino superwash sock yarn in a deep purple/green colorway called Iris and a set of #2 dpns to start the infamous Pomatomus socks - yay! I really loved the colors and, now that I've started the socks, love that it's not pooling strangely and the variagation doesn't lead to striping! The people there were very nice, fun, and excited, and I really enjoyed myself. I wished I had brought some knitting so I could have just spent some time on their couches! I also purchased a reusable bag with their logo - big enough for the sweater parts I've got in progress.

The second shop, though promising, was a bit disappointing. It was completely void of customers, and the only employee was very quiet and a little standoffish. I did buy a single skein of a locally-dyed yarn because 1) it was locally dyed and I wanted a souvenir yarn, 2) it was
so soft, a 50/50 blend of merino and silk, and 3) it was the only skein of a pretty varigated green - I'm a sucker for orphan skeins, they're like little lost kittens!

Since I hadn't brought any knitting with me, I planned to go back to the hotel - but first, a side trip to Trader Joe's! There aren't any Trader Joe's in Colorado, so I needed to get my fix. Tasted some wines, bought a lot of chocolates and freeze-dried fruit, and picked up some Bourbon Vanilla and Spanish Saffron for much better prices than I can get around my town. After that, it was back to the hotel, where I spent the rest of the afternoon winding my new sock yarn and starting the Pomatomus - got all the way through the cuff and into the pattern before Mr. Llama returned and we were off for dinner.

To be continued . . .

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Crockpot Beef Stew and Sandra Lee

So, I feel like since I've been giving this recipe out at least once a week to someone, I might as well just post the darn thing on here and then just reference my blog! More readers and less work on my part, heh.

I came up with this beef stew recipe after some great discussions with friends on the Television Without Pity Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee forum about crockpot cooking and how to make good meals without cooking like Sandra Lee.

I suppose I should explain further.

I am a self-proclaimed Shrike. I do not like Sandra Lee, I do not like what she stands for, and I really do not like her "recipes" (or arrrrussipees, if you like to use Sandra-speak). Many years ago, I happened upon her show as I walked through the room. This was back when Food Network focused mainly on actual cooking shows, and was great for having on as background noise, and since I was in the middle of writing for my comprehensive exam, I spent a lot of time at home. Anyway, she was making Tiramisu. With Mascarpone cheese (mars-capone, in Sandra-speak) mixed into pudding cups. Seriously? I am not going to spend money on good Mascarpone just to mix it with artificially-flavored paste, and I am especially not going to scrape out pudding cups. I started watching her show just to yell at the TV, and then eventually I found the community on TWoP. They are absolutely hilarious, smart, wonderful people, who never would have met if it wasn't for our shared dislike of this woman. Crazy, isn't it?

In any case, we tend to share a lot of recipes. Good recipes, many of which could be considered to follow the Semi-Ho philosophy, if it had ever been executed correctly in the first place. Lots of canned beans, tomatoes, etc, are fine. Using truffle oil with your RealLemon? Not so much. We like real food, with real ingredients, and NO seasoning packets.

This beef stew is easy, tastes good, and is inexpensive to make. I don't need to flavor it with a can of beef stew or a packet of beef gravy. The only seasoning is Emeril's Essence, and that's not even essential to the recipe - you can flavor with thyme alone if you want. Enjoy! I like to serve with cheesy grits, but it's also fine with egg noodles or your favorite starch. Or just by itself with a loaf of crusty bread and a pint of beer.

Crockpot Beef Stew

3 Tbsp olive oil

¼ c flour

2 lbs lean stew beef

2 Tbsp Emeril’s Essence

1 onion, sliced against the grain

3 carrots, in ½” slices

½ lb mushrooms

1-2 lbs baby Yukon gold potatoes, quartered

4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped

2-3 Tbsp tomato paste

¾ can Murphy’s stout, or Guiness, or red wine, or beef broth

2 cups water



Bay leaf

2 Tbsp butter/margarine/oil

2-3 Tbsp flour

Season beef with salt, pepper, essence. Add flour and toss to coat. Heat oil in pan, brown beef in two batches and put into crockpot. While beef is cooking, cut up onion, potatoes, garlic, mushrooms, and carrots and put into crockpot. After beef is finished, add tomato paste to pan, cook a bit, then deglaze pan with beer, scraping up all the browned bits. (Drink the rest of the beer as a present to yourself, or add the whole can, I guess, but I'd rather drink it!) Add to crockpot along with water. Cook on high setting for 4 hours (or low for 6-8 hours). Make a roux of butter and flour, stir into stew, cook for 1 hour more. Adjust seasoning as needed.

Serve with green beans, bread, cheese grits.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My husband. My friend, My yarn enabler.

Yesterday, I took some time between work and fun to head over to the Lamb Shoppe, a lovely, well-organized, very friendly yarn store for some dpns (double-pointed needles for the uninitiated). I'm working on my very first sweater, and am almost done with the body, and didn't own #8 dpns with which to knit the sleeves. Of course, I brought the husband with me since we were on our way to dinner, and he didn't want to sit in the car. We went in, I headed right for the needles, intending an in-and-out stop. I did stop to fondle and ogle some yarns, and kind of went over the basics for Ray since he was interested in what you do with different weights/styles/fibers of yarn. Anyway, by the register was a basket containing some balls of gorgeous Louisa Harding Kimono Angora. Four balls, from the same dye lot, and 40% off.

And Ray told me to just buy them. So I did, disregarding my original plans to completely destash before I buy new yarn.

I'm a freaking yarn addict.

And now I have an enabler.