Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Catching Up On Classic 90s TV

Sarah and me circa 1996

Dear readers, you know that I'm not a movie buff.  I haven't seen most of the classics.  My dad referenced The Godfather yesterday and I only recognized it because of that scene in You've Got Mail where Tom Hanks is giving Meg Ryan business advice over AIM.  But did you know - since I seem to be sharing things like this these days - that my classic TV knowledge is equally lacking?

We did have a TV once upon a time.  I don't remember watching it, but I have a very strong memory of where we kept all of our VHS tapes: in a bookcase in the nook between the dining room and the den.  When I was about 4, though, my mother put a vase of flowers on top of the TV (which, she admits in hindsight, was pretty dumb) and Daddy walked by and knocked it over and the TV died.  Instead of getting a new one, Mom and Dad decided to take a stand against - well, against something, anyway, and there wasn't a TV in my parents' house again until after my sister left for college sixteen years later.

That's not to say I was totally deprived, of course.  I have really lovely memories of the beginning of the DVD era, when the four of us would huddle around the glow of the computer screen in the evening, passing a bowl of popcorn between us, to watch episode after episode of The West Wing.  And when the OC came out in 2003, my senior year of high school, I begged friends to invite me over to watch it.  But reference those classic 90s TV shows that everyone knows by heart and I'm lost.  That pop culture vocabulary is just not in my lexicon.

Part of me wants to go back and binge-watch some of the ones that seem to be cultural touchstones for my generation.  I hate being the only silent one when everyone else is singing the theme song to The Fresh Prince and I'm totally insecure about not having an opinion on whether or not Rachel and Ross belong together.  It's been at least a decade since most of the shows you all know and love went off the air, but I still feel left out.

So maybe when Jon gets here and the days get shorter and we settle in for a night of TV on the couch, I'll suggest we cue up one of the ones that everyone's always referencing.  Here are the top 10 I could think of off the top of my head - am I missing any?

1. Boy Meets World
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
3. Clarissa Explains It All
4. Dawson's Creek
5. Felicity
6. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
7. Friends
8. Full House
9. Saved by the Bell
10. Seinfeld

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Birthday Feast


After 10 years of throwing dinner parties, exploring my culinary skills and learning the hard way that timing is everything, I think that, at the ripe old age of 28, I have finally found my ideal birthday meal.

Actually, food aside, let me tell you before I say anything else that Friday night was absolutely wonderful.  Seven friends from totally different pieces of my life gathered in my apartment after work to help me celebrate my birthday, and it just felt like all my worlds were fitting together seamlessly.

Because I knew I wanted to spend as much time with my guests as possible, I planned the meal with the goal of minimizing the energy I'd have to spend in the kitchen on Friday evening.  I decided to make ratatouille and a roasted leg of lamb, dishes that are labor-intensive but that are even better when prepared ahead of time, served with a crusty baguette.  In the middle of dinner, one of the girls asked where I'd found the recipes, and it made me super sentimental to realize that I'd discovered each at various phases of my adult life.

I didn't really like zucchini, eggplant, or tomatoes growing up; I finally accepted them as potential ingredients when I lived in Paris, but it wasn't until my friend Christine made ratatouille in summer 2009, when we lived together in London, that I truly understood the glory that could be achieved with those humble vegetables.  Despite insisting that I wouldn't like ratatouille, I found myself sneaking bites of the braising vegetables as they simmered on the stove.  It inspired an imaginary Pixar moment and I was immediately converted to the cult of ratatouille.  Soon after I moved back to DC from London in summer 2012, I created my own recipe, amalgamated from a few I found online, and it's been an integral part of every summer since.  When I made it for this party, I prepared it on Thursday night up through the step in the recipe when you combine all of the vegetables in the Dutch oven, after which I put the pot in the fridge to sit until Friday evening, when I heaved it back onto the stovetop and simmered the vegetables for nearly two hours over low heat.

The lamb - oh, the lamb!  Every time I roast a leg of lamb, I thank God for the friendly butcher at the Columbus Circle Whole Foods who, in early 2005, took pity on my ambition and told me how to make the best marinade ever.  I'd moved to New York for college a few months prior and my grandparents let me have a dinner party in their gorgeous Upper West Side apartment while they were out of town.  I felt terribly grown up and decided that only the most elegant meal would do.  Facing the meat counter at Whole Foods, I was bewitched by the butterflied leg of lamb.  The below recipe comes directly from the butcher who helped me nearly a decade ago!

Roast Lamb
serves 8 with leftovers

4.5lbs boneless butterflied leg of lam
hearty splash of olive oil
2 tbs pesto
2 tbs minced sun dried tomatoes
4 tbs grated parmesan cheese
fresh rosemary
fresh thyme
salt and pepper

Mix the ingredients for the marinade well together in a big bowl.  (Go easy on the salt if you're using store-bought pesto, like I did, and if your jar of sun dried tomatoes is marinated in heavily-seasoned oil.)  Rinse the lamb and pat it dry, picking off any big globs of fat; you do want to leave a thin layer of fat, though, to keep the lamb from drying out in the oven.  Place the lamb in the bowl and work the marinade into the meat, making sure to cover every surface and get it into all crevasses.  You'll want to use your hands for this!  Cover the bowl with clingfilm and place in the refrigerator for at least two hours.  (I prepared the lamb before I left for work on Friday morning, so it soaked up the marinade for about 10 hours.)

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C and take the lamb out of the fridge to bring it to room temperature.  When the oven is ready, place the lamb in a tray with high sides and roast for about 90 minutes.  Check the lamb every so often and baste with the accumulated juiced from the bottom of the pan.  For lamb just on the pink side of medium, the internal temperature should be 140°F.  Once it's done, take it out of the oven and cover with foil, letting it rest for 10 minutes.  Then carve, serve, and enjoy!

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