Monday, June 16, 2008

The Diva in Italy! Divertiti Amores!

I've been trying to find the words to describe Italy and all that it meant to me. I saw sculptures and art, beautiful men and women, ancient buildings and even more ancient sidewalks. I swam in the waters of the Italian Riviera. It has been a month now and I still have to do this weird thing of looking at my pictures to believe that I was actually there and present in the moment that the picture was taken. The Sis and our bff traveled there for different reasons and with different expectations but I think we bonded over the fact that the city and its people and places and food exceeded both reason and expectation. There were many times, on the side of a dusty road, hungry, sweaty and lost that we took moments to pinch ourselves, to remind ourselves that we were in ITALY. We have pictures, several of them, which we have labeled "We're in Italy" pictures. In my mind, we had to do this because for most of the time, even with map in hand, we could not believe our luck and how would we be able to describe to everyone back home how amazed we were at everything before us?

I think we were all happy to get home not because anything went awry or because we were homesick but because Italy was almost too much of everything - too amazing, too awesome, too rich, too expensive, too delicious and simply too beautiful to take in for more then the week that we were there. It's very true that you can only take so much of a good thing and Italy was beyond good. Italy taught me the definition of fantabulous.

Because this is a blog about food and because all my fun divatastic experiences are for another time and another blog, I will leave you instead with some pics of the amazing food that we had on our little stop to this side of the world.

Here are the Diva's Top 5 Meals during her Italian Adventure:
  • Anchovy Pizza. Before I left someone told me it was impossible to have a bad meal in Italy, unless, of course, you went to Planet Hollywood. My girls and I stayed far away from touristy places and like true divas hit up only the quaintest, fantabulousest out of the way places imaginable and I think that was the key to our success. This anchovy pizza was buttery and salty and the crust so charred and crispy in all the right places. I wanted to take it home with me carry-on style.
  • Mozzarella and Cherry Tomatoes with sea salt and basil. The cheese is like no other that I can get in DC - delicate, creamy curds that melt in your mouth- add on the sweetest tomatoes and the freshest basil and this can be the most awesomest meal on its own, and really does deserve the double superlative! We ate this at Cul De Sac near the Pantheon, a place where the Fendi sister's apparently eat and I know why! The food is so SPECATCULAR we came back twice, once for lunch and another just to watch a rainy spell pass through with wine and some yummy desserts.
  • A whole fried fish with pesto and gnochhi on one of the islands in Cinque Terra (Really there are no words for how fresh the fish was or how awesomely rich and earthy the pesto tasted. A totally awesome meal, topped only by our view!)
  • All desserts in Italy. If I had to choose, it would be the ricotta and pear cheesecake and lemon torte I had after the fried fish pictured above. I don't know if it was the hike to get to the restaurant, the fact that I nearly died on my way or that I could no longer feel my toes and didn't give 2 damns about it but this dessert was so good. It didn't feel sinful at all, it just felt right - light, refreshing, creamy and tart in the best possible ways. It felt like it was a gift from God with one of the best sunsets thrown in to top it all off.
  • All wine in Italy. We only drank cheap wine and it was AMAZING! It has now spoiled all hope for 2 buck chucks here in the States. Time to get my Diva of Wine on!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Diva In Love

I haven't been blogging much because I've been wrapped up in an intense love affair. I'm surprised by the intensity because I didn't believe it could happen now after waiting so long and having been down these familiar roads before, so many, many times. But here it is, the greatest surprise of all, I've fallen in love with none other than my city, my home, Chocolate City, aka the District of Columbia.

I'll admit i needed to run away first to have this happen and like all great love affairs, I felt the need to resist. My sister always says everything is better with some drama! I whisked myself away to a foreign country for 3 years and by that i mean New York City where I tried to my best to forget about the D of C and to adopt an uber chic, Carrie Bradshaw persona. Unfortunately, I don't sleep with that many practical strangers nor do I weigh as much as a twinkie. Then when I came home I holed myself up in Arlington, convincing myself that I needed a break from city life and that this new "suburban-urban" city was a needed refuge.

Then April 6th happened.

My sis and our BFF met for brunch to plan yet another trip out of the country, this time to Italy. What says Diva, better than a trip to Italy?! The BFF being the crafty woman that she is booked a reservation at a miracle of a place on Capital Hill called Belga Cafe. I call this a miracle not because the food was particularly stunning or that I was blown away by any one dish or taste in particular but I say this because this is what I had hoped to see for DC since I left, this glimmer of bravery to go above and beyond the played out Mexican-fusion, the even more played out Asian fusion, and the uber boring sports bar fiascos that seem to be so loved around here.

Belga cafe introduces adventurous new dishes to the boring landscape that was the DC restaurant scene that I left only 4 years ago. My girls and I had a great time trying a few Belgian specialties and enjoying the decor and layout of the restaurant. Granted if Ms. Aretha Franklin herself were in the room wailing about her bridge being over troubled waters you wouldn't hear a note because of how loud it gets in there. However, you have to look at the bright side. By the end of your meal you will make friends with your neighbors. That’s what we did, sharing a few witty remarks with the Mr. Tall and Scruffy somebody next to us. What goes better with brunch then some sexy on the side? I digress.

The menu, I must say, is overwhelming with lots of Belgian yummies that settling on one entrée of deliciousness might be a difficult one. You got your sweet Belgian waffles, your savory Belgian waffles then all those mussel pots and don’t even get me started on the frites. Considering the potential for stuffing ourselves into a sad oblivion of elastic waisted jeans, I think my girls and I chose wisely. On our table on that day were the following: Belgian French toast, goat cheese and sundried tomato waffle and my mussels hoegaarden.

The bff’s French toast was crispy even after sitting on the plate for a good while, patiently waiting for me to taste it. The whipped cream was obviously freshly prepared and there was a sugary, crispness to the texture of the toast that was reminiciscent of a good crème brulee. In true European form, the portion was wayyyy small but perfect for the fact that we were all sharing dishes anyway. There’s a reason French woman don’t get fat!

My sis’s entrée defined YUM. Really though if you put goat cheese on anything, I’d be happy enough to blog about it. The texture of sweet doughy waffle, the tarteness of the cheese and the subtle hint of tomato was fantabulous. The salad on the side had one of the best dressings, I’ve tasted on a side salad ever. I could eat a plate of it and be perfectly happy but that’s only if I knew there was nothing else on the menu.

There are tons of pictures of my entrée because I thought it was just so beautiful. It was hard to choose just one. The shiny opaque black shells of the mussels and the bright, yellow fried goodness of the frites were in my opinion, at that moment, perfection. I’ll have to admit, I chose because of the name. I just wanted to be able to blog about eating something called a hoegaarden. It turns out that hoegaarden is the type of beer the mussels are cooked in. The genius chefs at Belga threw in celery and bacon and I’m sure a stick of butter the size of a small Belgian grandmother and the result was deliciousness in a pot! The dish itself was so rich that I barely touched the Belgian mayo that come along with the frites.

At the end of the sinfulness that was our main course, we moved on to dessert which in my book is a necessity. The Cafe Liegeois spoke to us in a language we couldn't understand and like all things foreign and expensive we were drawn to it. We ordered in our best Belgian accents and in minutes the piece of art you see above arrived at our table. The fluffy white disk with the grape is a vanilla infused homemade whipped cream, the scoops of ice cream were espresso and chai flavored, the first dark brown layer an interesting thing known as "La Chouffe" aka coffee liquor jelly and the final, and most divine layer, the creme brulee. The dessert was beautiful but had mixed reviews. The BFF didn't care so much for the coffee liquor jelly and decided to eat around the offensive stuff but I loved every flavor so much that when my girlies ditched the last few bites, I for sure picked up that little cup and went to town. In other words, I thought it was particularly delicious!

While we had in depth discussions about what we would wear to see the Pope and the pros and cons of Kate Spade backpacks on our hike to Cinque Terra, I sat back for a moment and had a little tete a tete with myself. I’m such a loser for thinking that DC couldn’t turn into one of the best loves of my life. It's like that person who’s been your best friend for so long that you can’t imagine seeing them in any other way and then wham, you share a beer one day and hello, you're totally one of those stories you hear about from your girlfriends.

Since the brunch at Belga, I’ve taken to crossing over the Key Bridge at least twice a week to venture into the D of C , rediscovering Eastern Market, and traipsing around the city to listen to some great live music at hole in the wall bars that I snubbed before I left NYC. ( Who else saw The Chief Joseph Band at Wonderland Ballroom this week? )

Each time, I have to take a big giant breath of thanks for the now and this love affair that I hope will last a very long time.....or, let's be honest, at least until someone hotter comes along.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

My Girl Beyonce, My Love Baba

Babaganoush do I have some heavy stuff to blog about today.

First, after months of speculation, false alarms and reports it's been confirmed by reputable sources and by reputable I mean, the only source there should be, that my BFF Beyonce has applied for a marriage license to the one and only Jay-Z, Hov, Hova, Sean Corey Carter, Mr. Rocawear himself. I'm so happy, you don't even know. And isn't the picture below just plain romantic?

This is big news. This means that it will only be a few years before we see what their babies will look like. It keeps me up at night and the only thing that gets in the way of thinking of all the beautiful, talented varying shades of brown babies they could create is figuring out what the baby will be named. There are just too many options. Bejaynce? Beysean? BeyJay? Or will they go the Apple, Phineas, Harlow road? I'm way intrigued.

While I sat at my desk and thought about this and other important things going on in the world like how Jessica Simpson is doing with her kidney infection (been there, done that, way way way over cranberry juice) my office buddy and all around awesome friend, who I'll call B-squared for blog purposes, arrived bearing gifts. And when I say gifts, I mean food, the best gift aside from money and jewelry and we're just not at that point in our relationship yet. Not only did she bring food, she brought homemade babaganoush with pita bread to dip.

I took an awesome photo (see above) and sat at my desk relishing the smooth, buttery texture of the whipped eggplant creation before me. B squared put in an extra clove of garlic and that made all the difference in the way the spicy, tart, salty, slightly sweet flavors mixed together to just define the word delicious. I opened my blogger screen and glanced, as I always do, at my tagline, ready to expound on the greatness of B-squared's baba.

In an instant, I saw both my worlds come together before me in a momentous, serendipitous and almost breath taking moment. When I wrote the tagline for this blog, I thought of it more as a statement that summarized my daily world, a thesis statement if you will, a guiding principle for the reasons why I wanted to write in such a public way.

"Because sometimes I wanna talk to Beyonce about my Babaganoush..."

And I do! I really do!

I feel like the collision today between me, the Beyonce, the Babaganoush, is a not so subtle push from the man above that blogging here might be just where I need to be right now. Sometimes we take things too seriously. And sometimes we have a right to that.

Laugh all you want. I'm off to have a private convo with Mrs. Jay Z.

We have a lot to say today.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rolley Polley Mama's Got a Fatty

So, I like to eat. You don't call yourself the Diva of Yum if you don't focus your purpose for living on the Yum. I'll be honest and say that I've been focusing a bit too much on the yum and not so much on the exercise that should be matched with the yum I've been consuming. The result? My fat girl jeans have been on regular rotation. I've watched this growth around my middle go from, cute little muffin top, to like a triple layer cake and it aint lookin' so yummy.

Weddings, the beach, poolside people watching are all super fun things around the corner and the Diva can't have that extra wiggle for everyone and their mamas to see. So I'm getting my post Eddie Van Halen Valerie Bertinelli on and doing that dreaded thing called dieting. The thing about dieting is that you have to think even harder about food. And when I say think harder, I don't mean like Wendy's or Taco Hell. I'm talking about the choice between lettuce or lettuce with water on the side. It's going from one hell to the next. I'm exaggerating, of course.

I know too that I'm not the only one. I don't want to get all Supersize Me on you so instead I thought I'd share some healthy recipes that have helped me deal with the idea of not eating out as much as I prefer which is every waking, breathing moment of my entire life.

The first thing is quinoa, an ancient grain that's been around since forever and three days. It's like the Oscar worthy vintage dress of all grains. Super yummy. Super healthy. Super fiberlicious. (Here is where I keep comments about the fiber to myself and apologize to the people who have been near me since the diet debacle reared its ugly head. ) And to top it off, it's so easy to make and perfect for those times when you are starving and just need to stuff face fast. To the left you'll see my cooking skills at work. Here's what I did.

1) Buy some pre-chopped veggies. Who has time to cut things?
And you might get injured. You'll need carrots, onions and celery. This is what fancy chefs on the food network call mirapoux. If you say it front of a mirror over and over it makes your lips look really sexy and French.
2) Saute veggies in olive oil and salt and pepper.
3) Add a huge ass can of chicken stock or veggie or whatever your
little heart wants or whatever is on sale.
4) Add about 1 3/4 lb of quinoa
5) Simmer on low heat until the quinoa is the consistency of your favorite couscous.

This was a pot of yum that lasted about a week for me and the sis. The veggies are like sweet morsels of fun amidst the salty, nuttiness of the quinoa. Please tell me if you try it because I love to hear how right I am about good food.

The other thing on this diet that has saved my life is the wonderful thing I call frozen veg heaven. I love corn which is of course one of the least healthy of the vegetables but I love me some corn. I used to give dissertations on corn for a receptionist at an old job and was happy to convert her to a corn lover. She gained about 5lbs by the time I left my position but we won't get into that now.

Aside from corn, I've been looking for a way to eat more green beans. I love green beans and hope to look like one someday. I found the answer at my Disney World also known as Trader Joes. It's called Prig Khin Green Beans. The packet on the right comes with crispy frozen green beans and two spicy soy sauce packets that dress the green beans in a subtle, kicky, yummy layer of pure goodness. And like the quinoa its super easy to make. If you are one of those special learners, like myself and need pictures, see below. It was as simple as adding a tablespoon of olive oil, sauteing the green beans, dumping sauce packets and stirring. How easy is that?

I threw in some fluffy white rice as a side dish and some extra carbs that I don't need and ta-da dinner! That's as gourmet as it gets for a dieting Diva on a Sunday night.

As I approach that scary age of 30, I know that fighting off the lbs will be an uphill battle but at least I've got some new and challenging food adventures to come and more for you to read about. I'm hoping that few more weeks of frozen veg and vintage grains will bring this triple layer cake on my waist down to at least a cute little cupcake.

Man, do I miss cake.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Line Theory

When I moved to NY a few years ago I noticed things about people and thus, myself. One of the most important pieces of advice my dearest friend of over 2 decades gave me during my Welcome to NYC Beeyotch dinner was a loving and concerned warning:"Don't touch anything. You'll get malaria."

I took that to heart. I didn't sit on subway seats, especially after I watched a homeless man urinate there. No worries. I learned early on from my homegirl Orphan Annie that 1) bright red is only cute if you are around 4.5 years of age and by like 5, you should consider some Clairol #24 and 2) when you gotta go, you gotta go.

I also began to pay closer attention to the way people move. Ever thought about how we try our damndest not to have eye contact with strangers, to say hellos in the hallway at work or how annoyed people get when a stranger's head falls on their shoulder on a cramped flight. (BTW, that's usually my ass. Apologies.)

What's up with that? Are we just so germophobic and peoplephobic that we jump at moments of human contact, however insignificant?

The only exception to this rule, I've found, in my little humble ol' life is when there is a line. We like the formulaic quality of a line and the idea that there is an order to it all and better yet a purpose, ie to get into that sample sale and have a first go at the half-price jeans, to cop the best seats for the artist with the lazy eye who sings to your soul, or well, whatevs, you get the point. The beauty of a line is that in lines, people don't mind getting close, bumping into each other and doing the awkward "I'm sorry"s. Really in a line people, including myself, don't seem to mind the idea of maybe catching some stranger's malaria.

I was thinking about this today as I got in line at Chop't. I've been missing NYCish things the past week and when this opened up down the street from my office I thought it was Jesus talking to me. For those lucky enough to know what Chop't is, go ahead with ya damn self! If not, it's a healthy fast food joint with some of the most expensive vegetables known to mankind. I'll tell you how it works so if you are ever blessed to get into one you'll know the order of things.

First, you get in, of course, a line. There will usually always be a line if you are normal and like to eat lunch before dinner time. There you will find before you an awesome plethora of ingredients available for your salad. This will also give you time to create a masterpiece of a lunch. All sorts of vegetables, meats and cheeses and even smoked tofu can all be added to your salad by a nice salad artist that will rush you through the process of choosing toppings and following your salad to the end of the line where your salad will change hands to the chopping artist who will chop the bejesus out of your greens and add a dressing of your choice. Be sure to tell him "when" or else it will be a soggy, sorry mess of veggies. And ta-da, faster then you can say romaine he/she will hand you your salad creation with a smile. You need to get a smile at the end cause you've been just officially been robbed. I haven't left Chop't without a bill of at least $10 bucks but I'll be honest and say that I've always left full and mostly always happy.

My salad, on the right ran me a cool 10 bucks and with the soda on the side it pushed it over the 13 buck line. Chop't carries Boylan fountain sodas. These sodas are made of pure cane sugar and other all natural goodies. And really how can you honestly go wrong with diet cream soda? Just looking at this picture makes me so happy with life I'm not even sad that I'm eating at a messy office desk with my to-do stack spilling over onto my romaine, crumbled egg, beet, avocado, fried onion, rocket fuel thai-curry dressing beautifulness. The bread they give on the side aint to shabby either. More like pieces of sweet tortilla if you ask me but still yummy with my salad. I'll be really honest here, dear readers (Do I have plural readers yet?), and say that I really wasn't working and was for sure on Now that I'm done with salads, can we talk about how Nicole Kidman still isn't showing yet? I'm concerned and will pray about it tonight, definately.

I'll tell you the one downfall from this salad. Well maybe I won't since I want to keep you interested but if you are unfortunate enough to be in line with me one day, my apologies for the stank. Hey, at least it aint malaria!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

An Ode to Hamentashen

There's something I don't understand about Jesus. I'll admit that Easter is one of my favorite holidays because as a writer there's no greater story than the drama that is the life of Jesus Christ. Betrayal, a hooker, death. Come on, if those aren't ingredients for Jerry Springer I don't know what is. My only question is why couldn't we have some cookies thrown in for the after-party? You are risen homey, why not celebrate with a nice sugar cookie?

This is where I look to my Jewish brothers and sisters. Matzah ball soup, challah and that miraculous thing called a bagel (only from NYC, please), are just a few examples of some of the beauties of the Jewish culture. And then I found out about hamentashen.

I walk into work last Thursday and I see someone added this on my Outlook calendar: hamentashen contest. First, I love my job and second, it turns out that at the same time I'm celebrating the triumphs and tragedies of Easter, Jewish people are celebrating Purim. I asked them what this was all about but got a bit distracted by the fact that there were cookies involved and so I did what any other normal person would do, eat the cookies and go to Wikipedia afterwards.

Here are my findings: Purim is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people of the ancient Persian Empire from Haman's plot to annihilate them, as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther. Purim is celebrated mainly by giving away sweets to friends and family. The "in thing" to give is of course, hamenstashen. A hamantash is a pastry in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine recognizable for its three-cornered shape, said to represent Haman's hat. They are made with many different flavors, including prunes, nut, poppy, date, apricot, fruit preserves, chocolate, or even caramel or cheese.

Now that's what I'm talkin' about.

I had to try every flavor available to me at the time: almond, apricot, poppy and raspberry. My favorite was the poppy, the sweet grainy texture of the paste a perfect balance to the dense buttery dough. I have to say though, if you had put a chocolate hamantash in front of my face I'm sure it would have been like the best day ever, aside from the day I stalked Mario Batali on the streets of NY to see if he would feed me at Lupa for free. See photo for proof. Can you spot his signature orange crocs? I'm beginning to really miss NYC artists, where are you guys hiding in DC? But, I digress again.

I guess we always wish for what we can't have - legs like Charlize Theron, an ass like Kim Kardashian, for Ken Paves to leave Jessica Simpson once and for all to travel with us on bad hair months. You get the point. As I sat around my office conference table on Purim, I had to be grateful for the experience in front of me. Where else can you find a girl lucky enough to be eating hamentaschen with her boss and her co-workers during working hours, dispelling rumors about celebrities and passing around invitations for a Friday night outing?

Even if we are stuck with a dreadful Easter ham and cheap, indistinguishable grocery store salads dressed in all sorts of mayonnaise, isn't it all just about togetherness? It's about that Uncle pinching your love handles and comparing you to the fat, arthritic Aunt that kisses you with a slippery smack with each hello and goodbye. It's about watching your mom remind your dad about his cholesterol when he reaches for another Peep. For me Easter will be about sitting around the table with my family, a crazy bunch of Filipinos and Americans and Filipino-Americans ready to stuff themselves until its time to make the long drive home, where ever that might be.

I guess this is just one of those times where you have to look at the bigger picture. I'm sorry to get all Wonder Years on you but as I get older, I'll always want what I can't have but more and more I'm so happy with what's in front of me.

In the Beginning

I started writing this blog in the third person and realized that there is nothing more Divaesque then writing in the first. So here I go.

I needed a vacation in the worse way. My skin was pale and cracking. My concealer from my tanned summer skin sat lonely and unused, relegated to the medicine cabinet. Worst of all my toenails were the definition of atrocious after months kept in socks and dumpy Uggs. Winter, you ruin my life! My sister was finishing up her last round of finals at Georgetown and she needed a break from group projects on Macroeconomics and boys in button-downs and khakis, so we decided to get our Nike on and just do it. Like the Divas that we are, we embarked on a four day food fest on an exclusive remote island in the Caribbean. Now when I say remote I mean Jamaica (Ocho Rios, to be exact) and by exclusive I mean an all-inclusive resort where spring- breakers, honeymooners and retirees gather around troughs of food, dripping suntan oil and saltwater on mounds of oily callaloo. To the Diva, this defined heaven.

This trip meant a lot to me and the only thing that could have made it better is if Rihanna and Chris Brown had decided to low-budget it and come at the same time and to the same place. I would have made it worth their while and performed my a capella rendition of Umbrella (ella-ella-ella) but whatever, I digress.

One of the many highlights of my trip is finding the meaning of life in the divine thing known as a Jamaican Pattie. It meant so much to me that it inspired the idea for this blog and is also the reason that it's my profile picture. Who wants to see a picture of this mug when you can look at the crispy, flaky mysteriousity that is the Pattie! After an early morning flight and bad airport food, my sister and I landed in 90 degree temps, starving! Jesus spoke to us through the simple yet inviting, toothless smile of a Jamaican Pattie vendor, who asked us kindly, "Chicken, beef or vegetable?" We were feeling brave so we went with the beef. Buttery, melt in your mouth mystery meat = BLISS. The fact that it was only $4 for 2 patties and a Ting, the native soda, is just what my girl Kimora would call Fabulousity!

Sometimes in this crazy world of job searching, love searching, soul searching, you need something so simple and beautiful and enjoyable that the experience can't be described in words. The joy of traveling with my sis is that we have our own language. Not that crazy twin kind of language because we are neither twins nor crazy. But I just had to look at her face and hear her mumble a knowing, "Mmm,hmmm," to know she understood my joy. There on a strange, dusty sidewalk in a country that is known mainly for a man who made good music and didn't wash his hair, I understood that life is all about simplicities. It is about good traveling companions, the sun on your back and a simple meal, that you can hold in your hand and take only quick, random guesses at its ingredients.