Thursday, October 13, 2011

birthday part 2: nobody likes you when you’re 23?

Fortunately for me, Blink 182 seems to be wrong about 23-year-olds, as I just had a birthday that affirmed well and good that I am surrounded by wonderful, wonderful people who really love me.

This post is the story of the day itself, October 7th (a Friday, which coincidentally is the day of the week I was born) which I spent with the boyf.

Steve puts a high high value on birthdays and the like, and actually took the day off work. Like, several months ago :D

I think was hoping that I’d forgotten that he’d already told me he’d taken the day off and then, when I said, “What are we doing”, refused to tell me but said to try to not eat much when I woke up.

Steve pulled up to my front door round about 10:30 a.m. with a beaming smile and a mystery bag and instructed me to inhale and guess what was within.

Hmm. Carby? Corny?

I looked at the ambiguously wrapped contents of the bag…


Still not sure.

But then I saw the bag of accompaniments.


If you’re lucky enough to live near a Salvadoran neighborhood, you know it.


Regular readers will know all about these bad boys. For those unfortunate enough to’ve been deprived of these delights, it’s basically a grilled cheese on crack: a rich corny outer layer with molten cheese and fillings within. Traditional toppings are a thin red salsa and curtido, a cabbage slaw.

I felt extraordinarily lucky when a string of nasty, gray, cold days suddenly ceased and my birthday dawned with RADIANT SUN!

So we ate our brunch al fresco :D


Where Steve works, the mother of one of the children runs a little business out of her home making pupusas, and is an unbelievable cook. Steve had tasted her creations before and made a special request for a batch for his girlfriend’s birthday. She happily obliged, he got to hang out with her in the kitchen while she worked her magic (something in which I MUST be a participant the next time it happens), and I got to chow down!

Two flavors, both entirely homemade.

Frijol, truly unbelievable refried beans (this one was my favorite!)


And cheese and loroco. Loroco is actually a flower. In taste it resembles green onion and artichoke. Ish. Steve had never had it, and was a big fan as well. Especially when bits of cheese oozed out and got all golden on the griddle. Dios mio!


She also made her own salsa and curtido, which is the tangy and delicious carrot-flecked slaw that is traditionally served atop pupusas. You could see the knife marks on the cabbage- she had sliced it all thinly and tiny herself! Also, those red chilis her mother had sent her from Mexico.


Now, another thing for the reader to guess… what kind of trees are these dotting this beautiful landscape under a perfectly robin’s-egg-blue sky?


If you said apple, you are correct!

Steve spent the entire day surprising me, but told me that the next part of our trip involved a road trip (though reassured my slightly nervous tiny bladder’d self that it was less than an hour). Road trips are always fun because Steve makes really good mixed CD’s.

I was delighted when we pulled up to the apple orchard we’d gone to almost one year before, when we were both new to Americorps and I planned a field trip apple picking.


Like so many things, apple picking is way more fun without children.


For example, you can sort of feel less concerned about setting an example. And maybe choose to pretend not to notice the signs forbidding climbing the trees.

(We knew we did it at our own risk. We’d never sue or anything.)

And it’s just so beautiful up there!

I am generally delighted with the pictures from my birthday, this series in particular. I wish every day had this much abundant natural light. (Obviously, my really really ridiculously good looking boyfriend is also great subject matter. And the tree. Apple trees are really really good looking too :D)

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(As you can tell by that last picture, we sampled pretty heavily. The trees were color coded to show the different varieties of apples, and we had to try each new one before we picked it!)

As ever, I was delighted and amazed to realize how quickly civilization drops away. You start off in the bustling, sprawl-y, traffic-clogged DC suburbs and drive a mere hour or so west and lo and behold. Nature. Space. Fresh air!

Lots of things went by through the air… a magnificent hawk who flew close enough for us to spot the white feathers on his underbelly… some vintage-y looking planes flying in formation.


Bugs were also abundant, snackin’ away on the dropped apples. I was more than a little upset to see stink bugs. One cause they’re gross and two because they didn’t bode well for the orchard. But I was tickled pink to see one of those cool moths with the quasi-eyes on its wings—and get a halfway decent picture from far away!


More nature on display was the most forlorn cow. She just stood in the middle of this field (her companions were happily munching grass) and just… you know the drunk girl on the subway who just keeps yelling and complaining about stuff? This was that girl.


Then her friend showed up and they just strolled away together. That’s what best friends are for.


This guy saw us walking near where the feed goes and was all “But… please? Please? I’m so cute!”


Then it was pumpkin’ time!


Have you ever seen a green pumpkin?! They are so cool!


Steve broke a stem off a pumpkin by trying to pick it up… so he then started pointing it at me. Shadow puppet theater!


More glorious nature.


More pumpkins for sale! Lookit the little goosey ones. So cool looking!


Vair tempting.


We were headed back to Northern parts, not at all in any sort of hurry, so it just seemed logical to meander a little off the beaten track when we saw the sign for… wineries!


I am not a big drinker, nor particularly (er, at all) informed about wine, but I really enjoyed the experience. It was the perfect mix of beautiful scenery, Willy-Wonka-esque tour (complete with tasting!)…


… and of course wine :D But we’ll get to that.

Obviously it all starts with grapes.


Let me just be very honest… this was a warm day and there was juicy, aromatic fruit hanging around.

There were bugs EVERYWHERE.

Vegetarians, you are getting animal protein in your wine.

Get over it :D

We got to watch them lift up a forklift’s load of grapes and dump them into this machine that squooshes them (very scientific, I know)


A peculiar and murky-looking mix comes out the bottom.


The guy in the picture was a wealth of knowledge about wine. Interesting fact: when the weather has been like it has (we had a very long period of rain in Virginia in what was apparently a crucial time for the wine), the grapes obviously don’t ripen at the rate they should. Thus, less sugar. In an attempt to help them ripen, they trimmed the leaves off the grape vines to maximize their sun exposure. But then, when the sun came out… they got sunburned! Who knew grapes got sunburned?!

Speaking of grapes, midway through the conversation he just threw some up for us to try. We’d both been under the impression that good wine grapes aren’t good eating grapes, but these were great!


We then got to try them in edible form with a tasting. We split one tasting, which was the equivalent of basically one glass each. It was PERFECT for me. I was there to try and learn a bit about wine (and of course, taste some yummy ones), but not having to commit to a glass and being able to have a nice taste  of everything but not so much to get the alcohol to my head (and believe me, it don’t take much to do that!) was great.

The guy doing the tasting was really well informed and really chill, too. And it’s amazing (and probably you’re looking for what’s supposed to be there), but when he said “this wine has notes of banana”, I tasted it!


Adding to the pleasant feeling of the whole experience was the fact that their tasting room is soooo pretty. Airy, light, golden wood. And people were allowed to bring in their dogs, which I thought was cute and made a fun feel.


I sat contently, sipping (eating copious amounts of oyster crackers between every wine :D) and jotting down notes.


Rosy cheeked with sunlight and wine, we strolled for a bit around the grapes, soaking up the lovely day.


Then it was time for Big Reveal #2. Steve pulled the out mysterious folder which contained all the day’s top secret plans (a constant torment to my nosy self) and started to read the biography of the chef at the restaurant where we’d be dining.

But then of course I had to blow it and go “PETER SMITH PS7!”

Food geek.

You can check out their website here- PS7- but the basic idea is that they are a local-food-focused but still have an exotic je ne sais quoi, influenced in part by Peter Smith, the head chef’s, experiences growing up in an Italian-American family and traveling the world. Their bartender, Gina Chersevani, is also wicked famous, and I met her at the Women Chefs and Restauranteurs event two years in a row. She is a total rock star.

As for PS7, the inside is totally cool and glamorous, obviously.

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My favorite feature about the place is that there is a sliding door into the kitchen. As the waiters went in and out carrying dishes, you got a peek at the chefs (the whole scene back there was really really serene looking, actually; not the frenetic pace I would’ve pictured).

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We naturally needed a Gina drink. I was kind of wine’d out, but remembered vividly the cocktail I’d sampled at Willow the year before… so I urged Steve to order it and we basically just split it. They brought two straws :D

Ladies and gentlemen, The Cure.


Ginger cognac. Lemon. MILLER HIGH LIFE.

I think it’s sort of a play on the whole “hair of the dog” hangover idea, because it basically tastes like your breakfast orange juice mixed with a beer… if that were delicious. (Because probably literally it would not be.)

It is like the best cocktail in the entire world. So then we split another one.

I want to commend PS7 for taking the bread basket seriously, because each of these things was amazing:


In the rear, wheat raisin rolls. Aloft, a crisp cheese cracker. In the forefront, a sage biscuit that was so unbelievable.

Steve likes about a 1:1 bread to butter ratio.


I kind of felt like I’d been eating all day and had not gotten a great deal of exercise, so I just wanted appetizers. I think it’s where you see the most innovative cooking anyway. SO we got lots of ‘em.

There were several kinds of flatbreads which sounded great.

Steve suggested the Nutty goat: savory walnut butter, goat gouda cheese, arugula, toasted shallots


I don’t know how they got the shallots to be like that but mmmmmmmmm :D The flatbread was way more substantial than the menu would have you think. And cheesy and delicious :D

I went for the Autumn flavor: butternut squash puree, spiced pepitas, pickled cranberries, VA ham


For me the squash got lost a bit- you got a LOT of ham. (Which of course Steve was delighted about. It was even local!). The pickled cranberries? Genius! Who thinks of that? Who? The sweet and sour dried cranberry thing got a different kind of sour and a whole new dimension with the pickling. Mm.

That was sort of phase 1 of the ordering, and I let Steve finish most of it off. I didn’t want my boy to be hungry, and I was waiting on more exciting things :D

Steve wanted the Banh mini: roasted pork belly, cucumber jalapeno relish, pickled carrot and radish, hoisin sauce


Obviously. The boy loves his bacon :D

For me, the banh mi is all about the crusty baguette, and I missed it in this. So I let Steve have that one.

Which is lucky for me, since thank my lucky stars, I ordered the Roasted Fig salad: candied orange, frisee, cashew vanilla “cheese cake”, ginger crumbs


Oh. My. God. Upon describing this to people, they went, “Wait, was this salad or dessert?” And it was SO DECADENT. What you basically had was a sweet, rich whipped cheese bottom, delectably soft and sweet dried figs that must have been poached (perhaps in wine?), and wonderful contrasting zing from the orange peel. Plus crunchy ginger snap bits. Whoa.


Oh and lettuce :D And actually that made perfect sense with it too! And was perfect and immaculate!

I am so, so glad I got to eat that.

I kind of was ready to be all set with appetizers, but Steve wanted a proper night of indulging and ordered an entree for us to share, which turned out to be an excellent decision.

It was their special, reflecting Peter Smith’s Italian roots- manicotti.



Everything about this manicotti was amazing.

First of all, the pasta was house-made and was so unbelievably thin and delicate. I don’t know how they got it that thin and I don’t know how they worked with it once they did but it just glided over your tongue, a whisper of wonderful flavor and texture.

The filling was ohhh so rich (yet simultaneously light and fluffy) and enhanced with fresh herbs and more than a little bit of garlic.

The rich pomodoro was thick and perfect.


I was far too thoroughly STUFFED to have any dessert (though Steve wanted me to indulge :D) but they were still kind enough to bring me a beautifully decorated plate for the complimentary chocolates that end the meal.


I feel very very lucky that I got to spend my birthday doing some of my favorite things with one of my favorite people :D

1 comment:

Astra Libris said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! :-) What a perfect day in every way! :-) Totally impressed with Steve's surprises! :-)