Something Wicked This Way Comes

Last night I celebrated an early Halloween with my 2nd Halloween-themed Yelp event since I’ve been in this (totally rad, rocking, still-can’t-believe-it’s-real) job. Soooo many folks on my Elite Squad brought some serious costume game to the table — Shrek & Fiona! Flo from Progressive! Cleopatra and gypsies and pirates, oh my! — and it was a rockin’ good time.

Personally, I decided to design my costume around my latest hair color, and graced the event as none other than Elphaba, aka the wholly misunderstood Wicked Witch of the West! (Elphaba is her name in Wicked — the book and the musical — for those who don’t know. Fun fact: the name is a play off of the intials of L. Frank Baum, the original author of the Wizard of Oz!)

I think the costume was a big hit (be proud of me, guys, I only burst into song once throughout the whoooole party!), but I gotta admit, I really share Elphaba’s pain in wishing desperately for de-greenification. Even after my shower last night, I’m still finding residual green… everywhere. However, given that Halloween is right around the corner, and all things considered, this was a pretty easy costume to pull off, I did document the greenifying process in case anyone wants to try and replicate it for themselves!

I did a little research and found out that the actual makeup they use in the Broadway production of Wicked is from MAC! The product is MAC Chromacake in Landscape Green. Just a little bit of online shopping and — just like magic — I found it!

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The chromacake is the main component of this makeup/costume look, of course, but I did need a few other things as well. Luckily, I already owned everything else I needed to complete this look — primer, green eyeshadow, purple eyeshadow (for contouring), and red lipstick!

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Primer is the first step, which just happens to also be green. My primer is formulated to counteract redness (I have suuuuper red cheeks!), but doesn’t actually go on green, just to be clear, haha. Anyway, knowing that I was in for a full night of running around at the event, I wanted to make sure the green makeup was able to stay put as much as possible. Then it was just a matter of getting green!

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In order to apply the chromacake, you just add a tiny bit of water and paint it on. It’s like watercolor! The more water you use, the less concentrated the color and consistency. I used a little too much water at first, so as you can see, it took several layers. Make sure to let the makeup dry in between each application!

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Once the final layer of green is dry on your face, you can apply additional makeup. I used a green eyeliner stick to line the inside rim of my lower eyelid, and a shimmery dark green shadow on top. I also did an exaggerated winged eye using black liquid eyeliner and add false eyelashes later (not pictured in these photos though.)

I also used purple eyeshadow to contour my cheeks — adding some to the hollows of my cheeks, and around my forehead and chin line to make my face shape a little more enhanced. When you paint your whole face green, is loses a lot of its natural dimension, so I highly recommend this step.

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Finally, I did a bright red lip to finish off the look. In the musical, Elphaba’s makeup is actually done with a dark green lipstick on the lips, but I didn’t want to A) buy another product I’d only use once and B) you KNOW I love a good red lip. ;)

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Once the face is done, it’s time to paint up the rest of you! Neck, ears, chest, hands, and arms. I didn’t do as many layers on my hands and arms since, well, it takes a loooong time to paint your whole body with a foundation brush. I’m just saying.

Once you’re all painted up (and down and all around), just toss on the rest of your ensemble! Again, this was using clothing items I already owned (except the hat). I wore a black dress, black tights, black booties (from Seychelles), and, of course, my witch’s hat! My one tip is to PUT YOUR TIGHTS BEFORE YOU PAINT YOUR HANDS GREEN. Just take my word on that one, k?

So there you go! Green Gretchen, for all the world to see. I think the general idea behind this makeup would also work for a Hulk or She-Hulk costume, Shrek or Fiona (as two of my Elites did last night!), Poison Ivy, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, the Green Giant, or, of course, other green thing you can think of. Just be prepared to take multiple showers to get it all off.

Even though Elphaba may be gone for now, though, the witchiness of this week is not over quite yet! Tomorrow Sean and I head down to Orlando, FL for the trip of a lifetime! We’re meeting my sister, bro-in-law, and niece to visit Universal Studios and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Disney World, and then the two of us head out on a 3-day cruise out of Port Canaveral over the weekend to celebrate Sean’s big 3-0!

Stay tuned to my Instagram if you want to keep up with our Floridian adventures, otherwise I’ll be seeing you after a week of Butterbeers, Bernie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, Minnie Mouse ears, endless eats, sunshine, and happiness. :)

A Taste of Taiwan

Hello there!

So, alas, I’m not doing too well on my whole trying to post more than once a week thing, am I? I always feel weird apologizing for something like failing to blog, since in the grand scheme of, y’know, the world, it’s really quite inconsequential and I don’t want to imply that I think my blog posts bring such high value to your lives that I need to apologize when I don’t get them up but… basically, this is still my ridiculously long-winded way of saying sorry. Heh.

I’ve been super busy with work, as always seems to be the case now, but — as is also the case — I’m not exactly complaining. After all, I really can’t complain when my job involves getting to do things like…

Craft lollipop spiders and ghosts at the Tysons Harvest Festival, or…

Get my inner Ghost on and take a spin on the pottery wheel at one my of Elite Events, or…

Noshing at deliciousness at my events — this was at my Elite Event at Zoe’s Kitchen on Wednesday, mmmm!

But, of course, an overflowing event schedule, coupled with prepping for my trip to Paradise (also known as Harry Potter World) next week, coupled with trying to keep up with the outrageous number of TV shows I choose to follow (HAVEN’T WATCHED LAST NIGHT’S VAMPIRE DIARIES YET NO SPOILERS!!!!!), it does keep me unfortunately tied up.

But! I’m here now! At least for a few minutes. And I have an amazing new discovery to share with you, to boot.

Longtime readers of this blog might remember that I am actually a global child. Not in the pretentious, “citizen of the world” kind of way, but in the “my dad is in the State Dept and we moved ever 3 – 4 years” kind of way. So while, yes, I do consider Northern Virginia home, I did most of my growing up in places like Poland, Taiwan, and Canada.

Taiwan in particular housed a lot of my formative years. I did grades 9 – 11 there, and since it’s also what I consider to be the most culturally different from my life here, I often find myself missing it most. I haven’t been back since 2004! Oh lord. That was 10 years ago. TIME, MAN.

A-hem, anyway. One of the things I miss most about Taiwan is the food. I mean, dude. THE FOOD. I didn’t even fully appreciate it while I was living there (we never do, do we?) because I was probably too preoccupied with school and friends and boys — all extremely unimportant things in comparison to THE FOOD. On the streets of Taipei is where I took my first sip of zhen zhu nai cha (bubble milk tea), where I slurped up my first xiao long bao (soup dumpling), and where I greedily downed my first bowl of niu rou mien (beef noodle soup).

Last, but most definitely not least, it’s also where I first encountered the incredible street food known as Taiwanese popcorn chicken.

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Bits of battered chicken, deep-fried with basil and doused in a salt-pepper blend so that it’s just the right amount of flavorful and spicy, and then often eaten out of a bag with a long toothpick. One taste — no, one smell! — and I’m 15 again, standing in the Shi Lin Night Market, gazing into a stall full to the rafters with bedazzled, bejeweled Asian hair clips.

This food, this delicious delicacy, I was sure it was all but lost on me. After all, Northern Virginia has more than it’s fare share of awesome Vietnamese and Korean restaurants, but there are really only a handful of Chinese places to boast about. And most of them are Hong Kong-style.

But behold.

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Turns out all I needed to was cross the state line by just a few meager miles, and I’d be home again.

Jumbo Jumbo Cafe has two locations in Rockville, MD, just a relative stone’s throw from where I live in VA, and. Is. Awesome. I don’t know why it took me so long to visit this place, since I’d heard about it quite a while ago. It’s the kind of thing I’m kicking myself over having put off for so long.

This is the real deal, folks. It’s so legit that the sign on the outside of the building doesn’t even say “Jumbo Jumbo”. It says “Asia Taste” or “Bubble Tea Express” depending on which location you visit. I know. Weird. But, hey, what’s a hidden gem if it’s not actually hidden? And now that I have visited both locations (and verified that the deliciousness is oh-so-real), I’ve decided to share this valuable secret with you.

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It is the most authentic Taiwanese food that I’ve had the pleasure of eating in a long, long time. Definitely the best in the DMV area that I’ve found so far. Not only do they have Taiwanese popcorn chicken, but they also have the aforementioned niu rou mien…

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They have beef with tomato (seriously delicious stuff, guys)…

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And, perhaps most importantly, THEY HAVE THE BEST BUBBLE MILK TEA IN THIS WHOLE AREA.

No lie.

They don’t serve xiao long bao, alas, but Bob’s Shanghai is only like a mile away, so no worries, hehe.

So while I may not be around to blog as much as I’d like in these parts, rest assured that I’ll always come back to tell you tales of my latest food discoveries. This week it’s Taiwanese popcorn chicken, and next week it’ll be chocolate frogs and Butterbeer again (wheeeeee!), and who knows what it’ll be the week after that! ;)

Jet Setting and Home Cooking

Hello there! Or, should I say, welcome aboard!

Last night I helped out my fabulous coworker (and the Yelp DC Community Manager) Kimberly at Yelp’s Jet Set Fête, a Mad Man-era travel-themed explosion of local businesses and amazing times. I won’t bore you with too many details (just check out the link above if you want to find out more!), but suffice it to say that Kimberly definitely out-did herself on this one!

As always, it was a bit of a family affair, not only because I was there working with my entire DMV Yelp Family/Flight Crew, but because my own family got to join in on the fun! Both my dad and my sister-in-law are members of the Yelp Elite Squad, and my whole fam really brought their A-game outfit-wise, hehe.

This week is actually a bit of a madhouse event-wise. Kimberly’s big Yelper Party was on Tuesday, tonight I have an Elite Event of my own (at a pottery studio! I’m so excited!), and Friday is a double-header with meeting a visiting coworker for lunch and then attending the James Beard Taste America Dinner (!!) that night. I know, I know, my life is really hard.

Obviously I lovelovelove getting to host and attend such awesome events, but hopefully none of you are rolling your eyes too heavily when I say that it can also be a bit draining. I am definitely what I would consider to be a social and extroverted person most of the time, but even so, being constantly “on” can be hard to keep up night after night!

Which is why I think I tend to go in kind of the opposite direction on those nights that I do have to myself. You know, nothing but laying on the couch bra-free, catching up on missed TV, a couple of schnauzers in my lap? Hehe.

Fortunately, while it would also be oh-so-easy just to order pizza or Chinese on these nights, I have been doing pretty well with upping my cooking game lately. Last night’s night “off,” in fact, led to the creation of a pretty spectacular feast, if I do say so myself!

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Sean’s pomegranate short ribs that he’s been sous vide-ing for days (no, seriously, they’ve been cooking for two whole days! Crazy!) were finally ready, so I whipped up a couple of sides to go alongside ‘em.

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I whipped up some mashed potatoes (well, smashed potatoes, since I was too lazy to peel them, haha) with a little bit of butter, sour cream, and some spices, and maple roasted brussels sprouts, too!

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Now, I’m no stranger to cooking brussels sprouts. I love ‘em! I mean, I’m not kidding when I say that I can easily take down an entire pound of roasted b.sprouts in a single sitting. Of course, I try not to do that often as they are a particularly, er, fibrous veggie, but still. It’s happened.

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What can I say? Those little baby cabbages rule my world. I did do something a smidge different this time, though, that I ended up being very happy with.

See, normally I go through the process of cutting the stem off of the bottom of every single sprout, before halving them. While this method completely eliminates the possibility of biting into an undercooked (and thus, bitter), stem part, it’s very time consuming and also results in lots of the little leaves of each sprout flaking off and potentially burning.

So this time, I simply quartered each sprout, stem on! By doing it this way, they stayed intact, and they also cooked faster AND I got even more of all the delicious caramelized browned bits, which are obviously the very best part.

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For this “recipe” (I use that word loosely, since I use zero measurements and pretty much just wing it every time I roast brussels sprouts), I tossed them in olive oil, salt and pepper, and some maple syrup. Just make sure everything is coated evenly, spread them into a single layer on a baking sheet, and pop ‘em into the oven at 375* for about 30-minutes! If you’re impatient, you can do 400* instead, just make sure you keep an eye on them.

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Before long, you’ll have an entire baking sheet full of deliciousness! Of course, roasting the sprouts with maple syrup is super delicious, but they are just as good done plain with just oil, salt, and pepper, or maybe adding a little brown sugar in there instead. Also, adding bacon is always, ALWAYS an excellent idea. There’s just something about bacon and everything brussels sprouts that goes so well together.

Anyway, that covers my latest cooking creation. See, nobody has an excuse not to eat brussels sprouts, because now you know just how easy it is! And I say, if you think you don’t like b.sprouts, it’s just because you haven’t had ‘em done RIGHT. So just let me know if that’s the case, and you’ll come over and I’ll cook them for you, and you’ll be converted, k?

As mentioned, tonight I’m hosting an event at a pottery studio, so send me lots of good, Ghost-y vibes in the hopes that I end up creating something magical (slash actually worth sharing with you), and I’ll see you soon!

Top Chef, Eat Your Heart Out

You guys know I love to cook, right? Everything about cooking, I love. Chopping, dicing, mincing, searing, simmering, blending, whisking… I love it all! Of course, the main reason I love cooking so much is because I love eating, naturally, but I think there’s something in the act of cooking itself that calls to me as well. The catharsis of working in the kitchen, the instincts that creative cooking calls upon, it lights me up!

So it is especially great to be dating a guy that has a passion for cooking as well, albeit with a slightly different twist. Sean is an engineer by nature, and while my cooking philosophy is all about a dash of this, a smidge of that, let’s add this and see how it all turns out, Sean is fascinated by the nuts and bolts and science of it all. So as molecular gastronomy and modernist cuisine has made its way further into the mainstream, he’s been especially enraptured. And his interest in that side of cooking means that I get to benefit from all his investments.

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Including sous vide cooking! While I was staying at my parents’ place last week during Jen and Mia’s visit, Sean and I cooked up a feast of epic proportions for the whole fam with his shiny sous vide machine.

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For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of sous vide, it involves cooking food sealed in airtight bags in a water bath heated to a very precise temperature. This method allows food to cook for long periods of time (depending on the type of meat, you can cook some things like short ribs and other tough cuts of steak for several days!) without losing flavor, overcooking, or breaking down, resulting in melt-in-your-mouth textures and full-flavors.

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Sous vide tends to get a lot of screen time on Top Chef because it’s kind of a set-and-forget it method of cooking until it’s time to finish whatever you’re cooking, which frees up a lot of time to work on other stuff in between. Alongside the sous vide chicken thighs (and a roasted cauliflower steak for my vegetarian sister), I also whipped up some potatoes au gratin, green beans with caramelized onions, and a cauliflower puree. Mmm!

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Now, speaking of finishing whatever is being cooked via sous vide, the one thing about this method of cooking is that it doesn’t leave food looking particularly aesthetically pleasing when it’s all said and done. After all, when everything is cooked perfectly evenly, with heat permeating from all sides all at once, no browning, searing, or crisping will occur. Which just means it needs to occur after the food is finished cooking in the sous vide!

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By searing food in a pan, on a grill, or with a cooking torch at the end of its cooking process, you end up with a delicious, crispy skin and some color that makes it look just as delicious as it tastes! We cooked the thighs for about 90 minutes in the sous vide, then finished it in a hot cast iron pan for just a minute or two on each side. The result?

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A fabulous meal that I was even more proud of than usual! The consistency of the chicken was absolutely perfect, with the flavor completely permeating every bite. We seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper, put a little bit of butter, some thyme, and garlic into each of the sous vide packs before cooking, and it all was perfectly balanced at the end.

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On the same night we did the chicken, actually, we also experimented with eggs cooked via sous vide. I didn’t know this before, but you can actually pop eggs — in their shell and all! — into the sous vide at certain temperatures for the perfect cooked eggs! 145-degrees leads to amazing, soft poached eggs, a little bit higher and you get soft-boiled, all the way up to hard-boiled!

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We cooked the eggs for just shy of an hour, and they were pretty much the perfect Eggs Benedict consistency. This is particularly great, because there’s no limit on the number of eggs you can cook at once! So we were able to make a dozen poached eggs for a big brunch we held at the house later in the week, and it was awesome.

I can’t wait to experiment more with this fascinating form of cooking! In fact, as you read this, Sean has some pomegranate short ribs going in the sous vide. We’re letting these ones cook for a reeeeeeeeeeally long time, so here’s hoping it works out just as well as this one did!

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Babies, Black Eyes, and Bobs

Hello!

I know, another week+ long blogging hiatus has occurred. My only defense is that I was pretty much permanently camped out at my parents’ house the entire time my sister and niece were visiting, which meant zero access to my desktop, which is where I edit all my DSLR photos.

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The good news there, however, is that this means I actually took a lot of REAL photos over the past week! Which really worked out since, as you already know, Mia is pretty much the best thing to take pictures of ever.

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I rest my case.

Although, I do have to admit now that I have an iPhone 6, my phone photo game has stepped up significantly anyway. Guess that means my excuse really doesn’t fly, ahaha.

So, as tends to happen when life is, well, being lived, lots of stuff happened over the past week. First and most importantly, as you already know,  Jen and Mia came up for a visit. This meant lots of time spent hanging with my family, listening to baby babble (it’s the bessssst!), and emotionally reverting to my sixteen-year-old self. (Oh, and if you were wondering, Mia LOVED the Elsa doll I got her!)

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Also, I managed to slam my eye socket into the corner of a chair and give myself a black eye.

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I actually think it makes a much better story if I just say that Mia punched me in the face, so let’s pretend that’s what happened. You know, instead of me getting into fisticuffs with an inanimate object, mmkay?

All kidding aside, it actually was pretty awful. I’ll spare you some of the much uglier, nastier pictures I took, but suffice it to say that my whole eye was hugely swollen for a couple of days, and the bruise on my eyelid is just finally starting to lighten up now. (Thankfully, it just kinda looks like I’m wearing purple eyeshadow, and also that I must be reeeeeeeeally tired… in one eye.) I definitely realize how lucky I am not to have damaged my actual eye or vision though, especially given the $4K I spent on LASIK not too long ago.

Aaaaanyway, self-inflicted injuries aside, we all tried to cram in lots of hometown nostalgia for my sister while she was here, but I couldn’t let her leave without introducing her to something new, too. Specifically, my absolutely wonderful hair stylist, Linh at Be Scene Studios. I booked her an appointment so Linh and I could both try to convince her to do something fun and fashionable with her hair. And the result of our persuasive effort?

A fabulous, chic bob — Linh’s specialty! And it looks even better in person, and is nice and low-maintenance for someone who doesn’t even own a blowdryer… like Jen.

Sadly, though, ultimately my sister and my beautiful niece did have to return home. How did I soften the blow of their departure?

Why, by volunteering to groom Sully from Monsters, Inc, of course.

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Er, I mean, by hunting down a unicorn and cutting off its tail.

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Jk, jk. Obviously, I went ahead and let my own hair go under the knife, as it were. Yes, merely days after Jen got her rad new ‘do, I headed straight back to Be Scene for some new locks of my own. I guess seeing my sister’s stylin’ new haircut just made me crave one too badly to wait!

For good measure, here are a few final pics to remember my (faded) hair as it once was:

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The during:

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And, the after:

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As it turns out, it is actually really easy being green!

It’s funny, every time I’ve gone to see Linh in the past, I’ve always been that girl, all “Keep the length! Not too much off the bottom!” even though I was more than game for pretty much any color on the rainbow spectrum. Also, it’s a little weird that I was so stubborn about the length for so long, since it’s not like my hair has never been short, right? I mean, my hair’s been everything from pixie-short blonde to super-long rainbow. Oh well, at least I finally got to a place where I was willing to shed more than an inch or two, ’cause I’m loving it!

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Plus, this color, man. It’s beautiful! It’s like a super vibrant emerald green, and I am having SO much fun with it! We’ll have to see how it ends up fading (hopefully it’ll still be pretty), but for now it is so bright, so flouncy, and it actually shimmers in the right light! I’m thinking… Elphaba for Halloween?

Wellps, that about catches us up with what’s been a-going on over the past week or so. While camping at my parents’ place, I did get to do a lot of fun cooking, including a sous vide dinner with Sean that I actually managed to document in photos for once! So keep an (unbruised, unblackened) eye out for that, amongst other things, and I’ll see you on the flip side!