Artistically Inspired By - HAWWA, ETC

Chil'rens, listen up. I've recently discovered seventeen-year-old artist, Hawwa, through Instagram (handle: @hawwaetc). This gal is a veritable Insta celebrity with 30k followers, many of whom have joined her group because of her fantastic art-journaling. Hawwa manages to art-journal in a way not many people have art-journaled before. It's actually far more fun to look at what she has done than try to do it yourself, even though she'd probably take offense at that. I love browsing her amazing work and gaining inspiration for my own art journaling. Yeah, mine has a long way to come. But Hawwa somehow makes one believe that, given enough scrap paper, anything can happen. Here are some of my favorites (all art and photos property of Hawwa, Etc. and used strictly under the idea that she'd probably be okay with me fan-girling and giving her full credits.)

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The Magic of Sharing Meals

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People say that food shouldn't be revered as much as it is – that it is unhealthy to link food to emotion and comfort and memories. To some extent, I see the point. When one eats to blind oneself against emotion or memories, or to comfort oneself instead of facing reality or handling conflict, a problem exists. I don't, however, buy the story that to link food to such things is all bad. See, food draws people together. It has since time began. A sizable portion of the stories told of Jesus Christ Himself center around the community found while sharing a meal. Whether He is feeding the five thousand or eating with tax collectors and sinners, whether He is breaking bread at the Last Supper or fixing that haunting-yet-visceral post-resurrection breakfast by the sea, we are meant to remember such things.

Humans bond over food. The preparation, the presentation, the flavors and colors and experience of sitting a while and sharing part of what keeps us alive. There are psychological and scientific reasons, I'm sure, but I'm content to recognize that eating as a group is a human thing steeped in long tradition. Community is a necessary ingredient to living a full life, and I can think of few places more easy to build community than across the table at dinner.

Last weekend I reminisced over the first ever “dinner party” I attended. It was high summer in northern Virginia and we had just wrapped an intense week of a political summer camp for highschool students. One of the staff members, a local, invited us to his parents home for dinner; said he'd cook. We didn't know exactly what to expect, but here is what he gave us:

A kingly feast on the back porch; evening, like heavy amethyst drapes, falling in folds around our shoulders . Pork loin, roasted to perfection, seasoned with little more than some salt and pepper and a sprig of rosemary. There were potatoes too, crackling in their individual little jackets, and the Irishman among us boasted of having eaten nine. There was a simple salad full of greens and sugar-roasted pecans, berries, and vinaigrette served with cold glasses of ice water from pitchers sparked with lemon and fresh mint. I remember having been intimated by this staff member before the meal. I remember leaving with a new impression. Yes, he is enormous and gruff and Viking-like, yes he sits at table like a Norse god, golden beard and all...but he shared food made with his own hands. Honest food. Food that spoke of him as a person – his habits, his interests, his world. We sat for so long after dinner that the fireflies came out and we lit candles and torches. One of our party paced back and forth on the phone with her family, discussing the Colorado wildfires licking dangerously close to their family home. It all seemed so far away, drunk as we were with the deep summer dusk. I think I'll always remember that night as summertime, bottled. A heady, rare vintage to compare other, lesser moments against.

There have been other dinner parties since...the unforgettable meal enjoyed in a Romanian gypsy-family's mansion...the “schnitzel party” we threw for a friend...multiple picnics in Williamsburg or at the beach...meal after meal after meal. And what I remember most is not the food of course. It is the people I was with and the things we talked about. It's the way we smiled across the table or caught hands before blessing the food. It's the way the cat scuttled into the paint shop and the sweet Romanian host, apologizing profusely, shooed him out. It's the way the guacamole never ended, or the way the marshmallow dropped into the fire and someone roasted you a new one. It's the friendships forged over smuggled bottles of sparkling cider and melting ice cream. It's the depth of understanding conjured by someone who not only makes rockin'-awesome sandwiches (WITH CHOPPED OLIVES) for a roadtrip, but also brings along miniature Oreo cheesecakes. I'm telling you, if you want friends, you need look no farther than a dinner invitation.

Get some friends together. Get some strangers together. Go out and buy food. Stay in and make food. Stock up the memories till they spill over and then make more. The matter at hand is to share your mealtime as often as possible with family, with friends. The multiplication of community is surprisingly delightful when you share that sacred mealtime. Crack your home open like a pomegranate; see the rich rewards inside. Friendship, like the perfect souffle, rises to monumental heights out of such gestures. I love to share food with other people. I love the lack of pretense surrounding a meal. Everyone has to eat. Why not eat together? Everyone needs community. Why not expand your circle?

Here's to dinner parties of the future. May they provide many, many memories for years to come!

Georgetown Snaps

Travel Eats: Winter Edition

Hey, Loves! We're only in the front half of February and already I've managed to scrape together enough road-trips to warrant a "things I've eaten on the road" post. In my opinion, one of the best parts of travel is the chance to try new foods, new restaurants, and new trends. Sometimes I stumble onto gems, other times I seek them out. One of my favorite tactics (short of asking locals their opinion) is to conduct rather specific Google searches ("Best coffee shop in Georgetown neighborhood, DC") and to read the posts that come up. Once I've heard a place mentioned more than once, I start leaning their way. If the place is mentioned three or four times, I know I've found a winner. After all, accounts of first-hand experiences are always better than general travel-board postings, right? In that spirit, I'm sharing the food I've encountered and what I thought of it. I love hearing about the foods people are exploring, especially if I end up anywhere near the recommended place! I have Rend Collective's "Guide to Good Coffee" waiting in my traveling-wings.

Baine's Books & Coffee - Appomatox, Virginia: I hit this place in January on a day when a freak snow-storm almost forced me home as soon as I'd got my chai latte in hand. This place is fun to browse while drinking your coffee, and whomever is in charge of stocking the children's book section really knows their stuff. I give their chai 5 out of 10 stars on my #chaiquest

Cure Coffee - Norfolk, Virginia: So this isn't a place I have to actually road-trip to, per se, but it is an hour off. Cure is in the historical Freemason neighborhood of Norfolk on a cobblestone street bordered by the Hague River. I recommend ordering the cheese & charcuterie board and the churro latte. Also, the affogatos are amazing.

Penny Path Cafe & Crepe Shop - High Point, North Carolina: In a visit rife with stress and illness of every short, Penny Path crepe shop was...well...the high point. Ask Siri where the best place to eat in High Point is and she'll direct you to Penny Path. We tried "The Kitchen Sink" crepe and the "Fruit Cheesecake" crepe. One was savory, one sweet, both amazing. The crepes are large enough to share and run about $8-$10 apiece. Atmosphere is funky, kinda weird, but unique in a cool way. Decent coffee, too.

DC Cupcakes - Georgetown, Washington DC: I had experienced the lovely cupcakery work of sisters Sophie and Katherine before in the Buckhead district of Atlanta, but was able to try the original site's cupcakes last weekend. Pro-tip: follow the company on Twitter for tweets about the daily "secret" and off-menu flavor free to the first hundred people who ask for it by name. It works and is a great way to snitch a cupcake fo' free.

Dean & DeLuca - Various locations: My visit to this amazing, high-class, over-priced grocery store was a surprise, actually! I hadn't realized that Georgetown boasted a location, though I'd been wanting to go since my sisters went to the NYC store and Alissa over Adored Life went to one in her state. We spent nearly an hour wandering around and gawking at chanterelles, tasting anchovies ("the way they're supposed to taste," sampling gummy bears and cinnamon hearts and hot tea from the friendliest sample-man named Frank, sampled toast with ham and mustard, watched a guy just walk in there and shop for groceries and began to wonder what sort of gazillionaire he must be, watched a dad and his adorable baby, and drooled over the chicken pesto pasta. It was a good trip.

Booeymongers - Georgetown, Washington DC: Don't let the gross-sounding name fool you. Four of us went into this place, each one ordered a different sandwich, and no one was even mildly unimpressed. I recommend the "Miami Burger" which is essentially a bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon, onion, tomato, lettuce, and lemon juice. Amazing. Absolutely no atmosphere, but fantastic food.

Baked & Wired - Georgetown, Washington DC: Apparently I did nothing in Georgetown but eat and wish I could afford everything in the Kate Spade store just up the street from this coffee shop. Baked & Wired is a cute little store split exactly halfway down the center - one side is a bakery with cupcakes that supposedly rival any other in the district, the other side is a coffee shop with a simple menu and high-quality product. I ordered an iced chai tea latte which I gave 7 of 10 stars to. It was a little too sweet, but otherwise wonderful with  nice punch of real spices. My brother ordered a nitro-infused cold-brew coffee which he let me taste. It was amazingly smooth and creamy without a trace of milk, and had a foam almost like a draft beer. I recommend this coffee shop on the strength of its coffee and its proximity to Kate Spade.

This week has me popping over to Gatlinburg, TN for a conference reunion and I'm certain more road-trip food will join the ranks. Till next time, keep your wheels on the road and your head in the game.

Homemade Pretzels (The Definitive Recipe)

I am always, always, always in favor of soft pretzels. We stop at the mall? Soft pretzels. We go to Busch Gardens? Soft pretzels. I stumble across a pastry stand at a local farmers' market? Soft pretzels. It's little wonder, then, that I've tried making them at home. Tried and failed, many, many times. Each time I made a different recipe and each time the pretzels were more...I don't know...more rollish. Now I like rolls as much as the next gluten-lover, but when I want a pretzel I want something noticeably pretzel-like. I want something that twines its little twisted arms around my neck and hugs tight. So when I got my latest issue of Martha Steward Living and the cover featured pretzels with the suggestion of a recipe inside, my heart lippity-lipped. Martha Stewart is just one of those sources that you don't question in terms of "does she know what a good pretzel tastes like." I mean, question her ethics, question how many face-lifts she has gotten in her adult life, but don't question the idea that she probably knows a good pretzel when she tastes it. As soon as I had some time off work, I pulled out my magazine, tinkered with the ingredients and proportions, and came up with a soft pretzel that finally, finally meets my criteria for the perfect edition:
dense, yet light

These pretzels, borne from a deep love and affection, are actually quite easy with little hands-on prep time in comparison with the amazingness of the finished product. The dough is quickly combined, then kneaded for ten minutes (the worst part). The dough is then left in the fridge overnight. The next morning you roll the dough into a rectangle, hack off strips and shape them, dip them with a slotted spoon into a pot of witches' brew, sprinkle coarse salt over their dear little faces, and bake them in an extra hot oven for five or six minutes.  For this project I finally got to use the little set of fancy salts given to me by my sister-in-law last birthday:

(Top row: fleur de sel and chocolate sea-salt, Middle row: flaked white Cypress salt and chocolate salt, Bottom row: black lava salt)

You may use any kind of coarse salt on top of the pretzels - I have even heard that there is a specific "pretzel salt" sold online and in some stores. Besides salt, feel free to experiment with any other topping you can imagine! Maybe sharp shredded cheddar, or pumpkin seeds? Maybe you'd like to sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar? Use your imagination! 

Now that I have written effusively of my love for pretzels, now that I have filled your eyes with pictures of their beauty and tales of their best qualities, I will share the recipe. Make these. Make them as soon as ever you can. I promise you'll think them better than Auntie Ann's. 

Homemade Soft Pretzels
(adapted from Martha Stewart Living)

2 cups warm water
4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
4 cups all purpose flour
2 Tablespoons fleur de sel
2 Tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 stick cold butter, cut into chunks

1/2 cup. baking soda
1/4 cup brown sugar
8 cups water

1.) In a medium bowl, combine warm water, yeast, and brown sugar. Mix and allow to sit 5-10 minutes, until foamy.
2.) In a second, larger bowl mix the flour and salt with your hands. Add chunks of butter and work into the dough with your fingers until well incorporated. Add the wet ingredients to this and blend with your hands until a shaggy dough forms.
3.) Turn onto counter and knead for ten full minutes until dough becomes smooth and elastic. Cover and refrigerate overnight. 
4.) In the morning, preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahreneheit. put the second set of ingredients (baking soda, brown sugar, and water) to simmer in a medium stockpot on the stove.
5.) Roll dough into 14" by 12" rectangle and cut off strips with a pizza cutter. Shape into the classic pretzel shape or pinch the bottom curve into a point for a heart. Tie the dough in knots or roll up snail shells. Have fun. 
6.) Dip each pretzel into the simmering pot for 30 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon onto a well-oiled tray. When all pretzels are finished with their water bath, sprinkle them with desired varieties of salt or other toppings. Bake the pretzels for 3 minutes. Turn the tray in the oven and bake for 3 additional minutes. Remove from oven when a rich golden to auburn shade. Allow to cool slightly, then remove from trays to cooling rack

My work here is done! You hold in your possession a recipe for pretzels sanctioned by a girl who loves pretzels more than almost any other variety of carbohydrate. It's a beautiful, beautiful day.