I am very excited to announce that Laura Waters Hinson won the gold medal for best documentary film in the Student Academy Awards last weekend!( I just remembered that it was happening and checked their site.) Laura is an acquaintance through one of those friend-of-a-friend church connections, and she is a really incredible woman.

She was also our wedding photographer, so I guess I can now say that I had an academy-award-winning wedding photographer. Huzzah.

Laura won the award for her documentary As We Forgive. It is a film about the reconciliation process following the genocide in Rwanda, and two Rwandan women who came face-to-face with the men who slaughtered their families. It is a really powerful story and a wonderful film.



I started to post this days ago, but was held up by technology and the federal budget process. As you all know, the Giants won the Super Bowl. When they had that incredible pass in the 4th quarter, my friend Robert shouted: “God wants the Giants to win! That is the only explanation.”

I personally felt they did it … for the babies. I imagined Eli Manning holding up the trophy and saying, “This one is for the babies!”

I was rooting for the Giants. And by “rooting” I mean “moderately interested in seeing them win but not actually emotionally tied to it in any long-term way.” (I apologize to the true fans.) I chose to back the Giants because 1) I’m tired of the Patriots, 2) My wee tiny nephew was “rooting” for the Giants (and by “rooting” I mean sleeping and eating with a cute football outfit on). 3) Two good friends just welcomed their new baby Elijah into the world last week, and I had it in my head that a great game from Eli Manning would do baby Elijah honor on his third day of life (even though this is obviously not necessary since a great prophet Elijah has already done much more honor to the name). However, I must note that baby E’s mom is a Patriots fan, so she might not have felt that the appropriate honor — sorry, J.

As we were watching the game in all of its intensity, I shouted to the television screen — quite inexplicably to all my fellow party-goers, I am sure — “Do it for the babies!” And lo, Eli Manning heard me, and he threw his incredible pass. And again I said, “For the babies! Throw the ball to someone who is open in the end zone!” And it was good.

So, babies, this one is for you!

How to win a neighborhood bake-off in 8 easy steps:

1. Ask awesome friends for recipes. Keep in mind that chocolate always wins.

2. Stay late at work with the farm bill. Dash home. Run out of time to make planned recipes. Turn to the easy, delicious Black Russian Cake.

3. Take cake mix, add vodka and chocolate. Put it in a cathedral-shaped bundt pan and wait for the magic to happen.

4. While cake is cooling, walk across the street to neighborhood party for a little egg nog.

5. Return home. Sprinkle beautifully-shaped cake with powdered sugar and douse with kahlua. Remember that plate-ing works wonders in fancy restaurants. Put cake on a nice platter and a cake stand. Bring the silver “happy holidays” pie server you bought at a junk shop.

6. Return to the party, as people “ooo” and “aaah” at your cake, which is towering above all the other desserts on its cake stand.

7. Eat yummy treats. Note that people really like a little booze on their cake.
8. Win the prize for “prettiest” dessert and tie for first-place for “overall best: queen of desserts.” Call it good. H-block rocks the house.

Behold, the rising star of Mexico politics: Hilario Gutierrez.


Hilario was one of my husband’s grad school roommates. Besides being a great roommate, movie matinée date, tostada-maker, and the best train-dance leader in the Western Hemisphere… he is now a rising star in Mexico politics. Hilario won the first round in the primary-type things for mayor of Playa del Carmen. Go Hilario!

Here is some sort of article about Hilario a la presidencia municipal de Solidaridad. I have no idea what it means.

Here are some pictures that will make you wish you were the mayor of Playa del Carmen, or at least a visitor, on this gray, rainy day in DC.


Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas. As my friend JZ would say, “Yes, Virginia (and DC and Maryland) there *is* a Santa Claus.”
St. Nicholas was raised in a wealthy and devout Christian family in the third century. He became Bishop of Myra (which would now be a part of Turkey) and is venerated for his great generosity and care for others. He spent his whole inheritance helping those in need. Among other things, he is said to have thrown bags of gold into the homes of unmarried, dowry-less women to save them from a life a prostitution. God bless him. He also had a thing for helping children and saving sailors from storms at sea.

Somewhere along the line, the St. Nicholas legend became the Santa Claus legend, and the tradition of giving gifts in his honor (like good ole’ St. Nicholas did in his day) was carried to Christmas Day. (Of course, that’s not the only gift influence on Christmas, but part of it.) A coworker pointed out to me that perhaps St. Nicholas is sitting somewhere in heaven, feeling similar to all those people who have birthdays in December, saying, “Man, I just get lumped in with Christmas! Having your day in December stinks!” He turns to St. Patrick and laments, “No fair, you get the whole month of March in your honor!”

Practice some random act of kindness in honor of St. Nicholas today. And if you have an extra bag of gold, by all means pass it along to someone in need.

cake love wedding cake

Many people freeze the top layer of their wedding cake and eat it one year later for their anniversary. Because we bought our cake from a baker rather than a caterer, we thought it would be easier, tastier and more economical to serve all of our wedding cake at the festivities and buy a small new cake the next year. (As it turned out, I don’t think we could have saved any cake even if we tried. The kids were going crazy for the cakey delicious-ness — one of my fond memories from the reception is the image of my little sister, standing on top of a chair, holding a plate of cake and looking thoroughly satisfied.)

What we did freeze from the wedding reception: a portion o’ shrimp and grits. Last night we got it out of the freezer and ate it … and, shoo-eee, was it ever tasty. Shrimp and grits is my favorite food (aside from cake), and the fine heirloom corn and milling methods from Anson Mills in Columbia, SC, just cannot be beat. Their “slow food” grits have a much more complex flavor and texture than anything you find in the store — it’s like they are homemade oatmeal bread and the stuff in stores is Sunbeam.

Tonight is the night for cake. Yes, my friends, I am getting me some cake love, and I cannot wait. Their strawberries and cream cake is perfection.

(And yes, our anniversary was technically two weeks ago, but I am extending it into a small season of its own — a bit like the 12 days of Christmas.)

pumpfest07.jpgpumpkin chilicayenne pepper

On Saturday evening we made a culinary salute to pumpkins and fall with a big pot of pumpkin black bean chili, beer bread (with herbs from our garden), pumpkin dip, and pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. Some friends came over and we read Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” out loud, which was great fun.

The pumpkin black bean chili came from a new recipe we had just received via email from one of our beloved NPR shows, The Splendid Table. It was pretty much the best alternative chili ever, if I do say so myself. We used butternut squash, acorn squash and some kind of cute but not very meat-y pumpkin-esque squash — all procured at the wonderful Mt. Pleasant farmer’s market. We also added in half a pound of kale (also from Mt. P) — it was a great addition; we should have used more.

Now, to make the recipe EXTRA SPECIAL and a little bit stressful, we (accidentally) substituted cayenne pepper for chili powder, adding in an entire container of cayenne pepper, rather than 1/4 of a teaspoon. A note to our readers: cayenne pepper and chili powder are not exactly interchangeable spices, cayenne being *significantly* more pepperiffic. So, one might say we overdid it a little with the pepper — and by “overdid it” I mean “made the soup taste like cayenne juice.” I fished the pumpkin and some of the tomatoes and onions out of the fiery hot cayenne liquid, put them in a colander in the sink and rinsed them in water. Meanwhile, Ned ran down the street to our new favorite neighborhood corner store to get more onions and tomatoes. Upon his return we started all over again, this time adding *chili powder* rather than cayenne. In fact, we had no more cayenne to add the second time, so the second insoupation relied on residual pepper from our first gaff.

Our end result was delicious. I assume that actually following the recipe would yield an equally tasty soup, but I can only personally vouch for our somewhat zanier method — make soup, dump in cayenne, shriek in horror, fish out pumpkin, rinse, remake soup without pepper. Perhaps it adds a more complex layer of cayenne flavors to the mix.

Pumpkin and Black Bean Chili
Excerpted from One-Dish Vegetarian Meals: 150 Easy, Wholesome, and Delicious Soups, Stews, Casseroles, Stir-Fries, Pastas, Rice Dishes, Chilis, and More. Copyright 2007 by Robin Robertson. Obtained from The Splendid Table “weeknight kitchen” email.

Serves 4 to 6

* 2 pounds pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and seeded
* 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
* 1 large onion, chopped
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* 1 jalapeño chile, minced
* One 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
* One 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes
* 1 cup water
* 1 cup apple juice
* 4 tablespoons chili powder
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* 3 cups cooked or canned black beans, rinsed and drained if canned

1. Cut the pumpkin into 1/2-inch chunks and set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and jalapeño. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the reserved pumpkin, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, water, apple juice, chili powder, salt, and cayenne, and stir well. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the pumpkin is tender, about 30 minutes.

3. Add the beans, and more water if the chili is too thick for your taste. Cover, and continue to simmer about 15 minutes to blend flavors. Serve hot.

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