Iron Chef Gretchen

Hey, hey, hey! I hope everyone had a great weekend! I most certainly did, thanks to a myriad of reasons, really, but a big part of that was attending Taste of Georgetown on Saturday!

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I love “Taste of” events because they really appeal to that part of me that is never satisfied only being able to order one thing off a menu. I’m too indecisive! I’d always rather get a bunch of things to share (or at least steal food from my friends’ plates, hehe) because I am greedy like to sample lots of different things.

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In addition to getting to nom on great foods from some of Georgetown’s hottest restaurants, I also participated in a chef showdown challenge at the festival with the Yelp DC Community Manager, Kimberly, and her fiance, Rob!

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It was crazy fun, albeit it SUPER hot (just check out how red my face is in the pics above, hahaha), and I got Sean to come along and play photographer. Each team was paired with a local chef — ours was Chef Bryan from Paolo’s restaurant — and came up with a master chef meal that included our secret ingredient…

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Rhubarb!

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I’d never even eaten rhubarb in anything but a pie before, so it definitely proved challenging to incorporate into a savory meal. Under Chef Bryan’s tutelage, however, we came up with a surf-and-turf plate that my mama would’ve been proud of.

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Drumroll please….

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Ta-da! Not too bad for a butane burner meal, eh?

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We made a red snapper with a raw rhubarb and asparagus slaw on top, and a filet atop a corn and asparagus succotash with red wine rhubarb compote on top. The filet was AWESOME, and the fish turned out great, although I was a little iffy about the use of raw rhubarb in the slaw. It’s just got a very naturally sour/tart flavor, and is really fibrous, so I don’t know if I’m such a fan of it raw. Cooked, though, it’s delicious, and I have so many ideas for incorporating it into savory meals now!

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Unfortunately, I guess the judges agreed with my assessment because we came in second (though the judges said it was super close!) but I still think Team Yelp were all winners that day. It definitely makes me want to start showing off my knife skills (I really am quite proud of my quick-chop prowess!) on a more regular basis. I think between this and watching marathons of Food Network Star, I’ve been bitten by the bug…

If you had a cooking show, what kind of show would it be? Or, as they say on Food Network Star, what would you “Culinary POV” be? I like to think I’d be able to have some sort of Whasian-related hook, but the truth is I actually know how to cook very little Chinese food! Hahaha. Guess I’d actually stick with my healthified comfort food thing.

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

So remember when I was going through my list of all the crrrrrazy changes that have been going on in my life? You know, stuff like my beautiful niece being born, my super cool big bro getting married, and everything in between? Well, I kinda left one thing out, and it’s actually one of the biggest changes of them all (at least, with regard to affecting me specifically).

See, about a month ago, I started a new job.

And while I’m hesitant to actually say (type?) the words “perfect job” for fear of the karmic retribution for my humblebraggery… that’s kind of what it is. Perfect for me, at any rate. And I think if you just take what you know about me, and lay that against the main functions of this job, you’ll probably agree with me.

Taken straight from the job description:

About you

  • Lives to write; writes to live. You know who you are… pencils down!
  • Has a fire in the belly. Walks through walls. Takes no prisoners. In a word: driven. Even when no one is watching. Especially then.
  • Social connector. You are the hub of your social world. You know everyone. Everyone knows you. The fun one. Diplomatic, too.
  • You reside in Northern Virginia and consider yourself a local expert.

About the job

  • Writing. Write locally compelling newsletters weekly and inspiring reviews daily, as well as persuasive pitches to venue owners and marketing partners.
  • Event planning. Conceptualize, negotiate, plan and execute cool, fun and buzz-worthy (big wow factor!) events/parties.
  • Marketing outreach. Connect with the right local organizations, barter weekly newsletter sponsorships for promotion.
  • Socializing and adventuring. Meet up with folks. Attend civic events. See and be seen. In the scene. Always on.
  • Communication. Be accountable with stellar communication to your peers and those who support you at HQ.

See?!? I mean, granted, some of these points might be bordering on the “toot your own horn” category (I’m pretty sure not everyone knows me), but you see where I’m coming from, right? Let’s line up the pieces:

  • Writing: Even if this blog weren’t enough proof (and in case I hadn’t mentioned it for the 86,000th time), did you know I wrote a book?
  • Event planning: Cue my last two themed birthday parties.
  • Social connections: What, you don’t follow my inane blatherings about food and the Vampire Diaries on Twitter yet?
  • And the cherry on top of this epic life sundae, Northern Virginia: If you guys should learn anything about me, it’s that I am weirdly obsessed with Northern VA. As in, people really do think I’m weird for loving it so much. My own family included.

So what is this magical, splendiforous new company I work for, you ask? Well, here’s a hint:

Adorable schnauzer faces too distracting? Let’s see that from another angle:

You are talking to the brand spankin’ new Northern VA Community Manager for Yelp.com!

Excuse me while I squee a little over that… again. ๐Ÿ™‚

So! That’s the big announcement, one which I have literally been BURSTING at the seams to tell you all about! It’s also the reason why blogging has come to a sad slowdown over the past few weeks, since I have been seriously wrapped up in this new job, and couldn’t even tell you guys about it! Well, the cat’s officially out of the bag now, and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

I am officially the person spearheading everything hot, fresh, and local in Northern VA! It’s a work from home position (wheeee!) that allows me to traverse all across the 703/571, spreading Yelpy cheer far and wide! I get to throw awesome events for local yelpers and the Northern VA Yelp Elite Squad, write the Weekly Yelp newsletter, man the @YelpNoVA Twitter and Yelp NoVA Facebook pages, and, best of all, continue doing what I love best: Write about (and take pictures of) my life… especially all the epic food in it!

So what does this mean for you, my lovely readers? Well, I promise you that I will remain my good old schnauzer-obsessed, Harry Potter-lovin’, ukulele-crooning self. Only, now that it’s officially announced and whatnot, I can finally start blogging about the things I do in relation to my new position (without being sketchy about it, like my ubervague post about the South Moon Under event I attended, hahaha).

In terms of the blog, this means you’ll start seeing a lot more of the usual stuff again — restaurant recaps, recipes, life stories, sad attempts at fitness, even sadder attempts at fashion, and photo smorgasbords — as well as lots of new content, too! I think it’ll prove especially interesting as I (attempt to) navigate through what this new position will have on the whole semi-healthy living blogger thing I’ve got going. It’ll definitely be a challenge having food on the brain 24/7 (as opposed to how it was before, with me only thinking about it, like, 19 hours a day), and it poses some interesting questions.

Like, how will this job affect my healthy living efforts? (DUM DUM DUM!) Will it undo everything I’ve worked for over the past few years? (Ha, probably.) Will it provide me with new ways to balance out my life now that I’m not chained to a 9-5 anymore? (Hopefully!) Your guess is as good as mine! One thing’s for sure: I will definitely be reporting on the trials, tribulations, and good times that come out of this new adventure. This is as new and uncharted for me as it is for you, and personally, I can’t WAIT to see what happens.

Thanks for sticking around to watch things unfold! You can bet your sweet bippy that I’ll be expecting a friend request if you’re on Yelp, and while you’re over there, feel free to check out the official announcement of my Community Manager-ness!

Wellps, guess there’s nothing to do but play myself off now… See you on Yelp!

PS: If this sort of thing sounds like it might be right up your alley too, Yelp is still hiring Community Managers across the country — and the globe! See if there’s an opening in your area here!

PassionFish

Herro. So, now that I’ve adequately covered the many emotions that came out of schnauzer poisoning scare from this past weekend, let’s tune back into our regularly scheduled programming, eh?

Friday, my family and I put the final pin in my birthweek celebrationgs (as opposed to birthday, since the events stretched quite a bit past the actual date, haha). My mom has been in Houston attending to my sister and niece for the past month, so we delayed our family celebration until she got back. The whole family headed out to the Reston Town Center to eat at PassionFish, a seriously delicious (but ‘spensive!) seafood restaurant with an Asian flair.

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When I made the reservation on Open Table, I did put in a note that we were celebrating my birthday dins, but I didn’t expect PassionFish to really do much with that info — maybe put a candle in my dessert or something? Well, imagine my surprise when we sat down and opened our menus, and this was inside:

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They had specially printed menus for our table that said “Happy Birthday, Gretchen!!!” on the left page! Totally unexpected and a really, really awesome touch.

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And they even packaged it up for me to take one home as a souvenir! I felt special. Heeeee.

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Right, so. Food. Instead of a bread basket, every table at PassionFish gets a plate of crostini with a crab/fish spread. I’m not actually sure what was in the spread, only that it was yummy.

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We also ordered shrimp & crab spring rolls and the kung pao calimari for apps. The appetizer list was really where you saw the Asian influence in the menu.

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Oh, yes, and obvs there were drinks, too. Tay got the “Dirty CEO” martini, and the rest of us shared a bottle of vino. Mmm.

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I also got a beet salad, with pecans, goat cheese, and greens, and a few other people got soups (my dad got this butternut squash & lobster bisque which was uhhhhhmazing!)

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My entree was a plate of seared scallops over a bed of corn polenta, these little spaetzel-like noodle things, and with super crispy ham (think basically bacon) on top. The scallops were cooked perfectly, and the combination of flavors were so, so, so on point. I tried everyone else’s dishes too (duh!), and whlie they were all really good, I still think mine was the best. Win!

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Even though we were all pretty much stuffed at this point, and we had cake waiting at home, our waiter informed me that I got a free dessert for my birthday. Never one to pass up free food, I selected the donut holes, which came in an adorable little mini fry basket and were hot and delicious. Just enough for the 6 of us all to share a bite or two! And they did, as you can see, come with that birthday candle. ๐Ÿ˜‰

As mentioned, the evening wasn’t quiiiiite over yet though, as there was a cake at home for me!

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So the night ended with my family all sharing ice cream cake. My mom also gave me her present — a super gorgeous ring with diamonds from her jewelry collection! It’s really beautiful, I’m a little scared to actually wear it, hahahaha. You guys already know the unbelievable present Sean got me, and I had also already received my present from my dad, sister, and brother earlier — a Nike Fuelband! Which I’ve been wearing every day and it really is a great reminder of exactly how sedentary I am on an average day. I never really got the point of fuel tracker things before, but I definitely get it now — it’s actually fun to make sure you meet your goals and can track your activity!

Whew. So that does it. Thus, my week of birthday celebrations (and obvious gluttony) officially comes to a close. (Sad panda!) Wellps, guess now I can start planning out birthday #26 now, eh? Hehehe.

Before I go, I just have two quick things:

Caitlin from Cait Strides has put together a t-shirt fundraiser in the wake of what happened in Boston. 100% of their proceeds are going to One Fund Boston, and their goal is to raise $1,000 for the victims’ families! Check it out: http://skreened.com/janeofsometrades/keep-running-bahston

Lastly, the winner of the Shabby Apple giveaway is being chosen tomorrow, so get your entries in now!

Happy Tuesday, friendos! <3

What is Health? (Baby, don’t hurt me.)

Ha! After reading the title of this post, hopefully all of you have the song “What is Love” by Haddaway (made famous…er by the cinematic masterpiece Night at the Roxbury) stuck in your heads too. WELCOME TO MY HELL.

Also, hi. Happy Monday and whatnot. Today marks the official 1-week-til-baby day for my sister. Her due date is technically March 25th, so this weekend I’m headed down to Houston. Depending on the timing, I’ll either be welcoming the new little nugget (SQUEE! BABIES!), or I’ll helping my sister keep her sanity as she pushes a football out her hoo-ha in any way I can if the baby takes a little longer to come.

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Cue the episode of Friends, “The One Where Rachel is Late.” And man, this post is already full of delicious, outdated cultural references. Go me.

So, my weekend was actually pretty low key. Not a ton to report, which is a good thing for once! I’ve been able to do quite a bit of work on my second book, and get some ideas down for my upcoming (impending?) HUNGER GAMES-THEMED BIRTHDAY PARTY, which will be happening next month. Yes, I have an entire board on Pinterest dedicated to the planning of my Quarter Quell, and it. Is. Glorious. It might even blow last year’s Harry Potter party out of the water.

Man, I love my birthday.

So, somehow the planning of said party has made me mildly (very mildly) introspective about the nature of celebration, and how it relates to healthy living. You’ve probably already noticed a bit of a pattern with me, in that I really love to celebrate things. Blogiversary? Dog’s birthday? Mastered 6 chords on the ukulele? Let’s celebrate! And usually my kind of celebration involves food, as all good things do, which means I constantly am making excuses as to why I can break the “healthy” rules for one meal, one evening, one weekend. It’s a celebration, after all!

I’ve been trying to work on this. Trying to be “better” about my food choices, about eating out, about constantly “breaking the rules.” However, as I pinned yet another Jell-O shot recipe to my birthday party board, I started to wonder if I’ve been condemning myself for the wrong thing. Yes, this is a weight loss blog, and I am someone who is constantly trying to shape her life around healthy habits. But what IS health? Is it really just down to the nuts and bolts of what I put into my body, how much exercise I do, and the like? Of course not. Health is much more complete and complex–at least when it comes to total health, not just nutrition and fitness.

Okay, sure, I don’t think anybody’s going to give you license to eat a dozen cupcakes in one sitting cause it’s OMG!so healthy. But I wonder instead if the truly unhealthy thing about me right now is my mentality. I shouldn’t be getting on my own case about eating a cupcake, I should be scolding myself for always looking for an *excuse* to eat a cupcake. If I want a cupcake, I should have a cupcake (well, not right now, since I gave up desserts for Lent, but you know what I mean).

I’m struggling with a similar thing when it comes to revamping the ratios of my diet. I’ve said a few times now that I’m trying to focus on protein and healthy fat, over carbs and sugar. But I have an entire lifetime of thinking “fat is bad” to overcome in doing so. So yeah, it doesn’t really feel “right” when I’m ordering a steak instead of a salad, or eating half an avocado with my breakfast. I’m still trying to break my old thought-process when it comes to “dieting” (low-fat! Nonfat! Skim! Low-cal!) and it takes time. But I think that my overall health and happiness deserves that.

Nobody is going to make the argument that it’ll be healthy for me to get schwasted and have an epic time at my birthday party (at which, I should mention, there will also be cupcakes, hahahaha). But it IS arguable that the minor “damage” I’ll be taking that night is outweighed by the happiness and personal satisfaction that might come out of it. I’m sure I’m not really phrasing things correctly, but I think you all kind of know what I’m getting at by now.

For me, healthy living as I think a lot of us think of it–whole grains and kale salads and running 3 miles a day–is not something that will ever come naturally. Yes, I am a more informed, more restrained person than the 250-pound, binge-eating version of myself, but I am simply never going to be the girl who would honestly rather have a piece of fruit over a slice of cake. I will NEVER want to go for a jog, when I have the option to sit on my butt and watch episodes of anything on Netflix. I mean, I *might* do those things anyway, but it wont be because I WANT to. I’m just not hardwired that way. So instead of trying to completely revamp my life, deny myself the things I know that I like–and will always like–and leave room for deprivation to lead to unsatisfaction, and unsatisfaction to lead to unhappiness, and unhappiness to lead me right back into binge eating (or some other equally destructive behavior), I make smaller changes. I try to make good choices, and still leave room for the occasional bad one.

Consider this my official statement saying that I’m done trying to constantly fit my life into whatever standards of “healthy living” I’ve worked up in my head. After all, it’s not some all-or-nothing kind of thing. It’s not like once I stray outside the boundary lines, I’m gonna get kicked out of the healthy living club. The healthy living police aren’t going to come take away my domain name. From now on, I will work healthy living into the kind of lifestyle I know that I want, which means that, yes, there will be TV-watching the occasional plate of cheese fries. But there will also be brussels sprouts and long walks with adorable schnauzers and good times spent with great friends.

A lifestyle that is mostly healthy, but more importantly, sustainable. Which, in my opinion, is better for me than a year of stringently healthy dieting and running, followed by a burnout that causes me to backslide even further down. I think I’m *finally* getting the concept of the whole 80/20 thing that healthy living…ers sometime preach. While, granted, my ratio might be more like 70/30… on a good day… I finally get the idea that I don’t have to strike for the 100% perfect ideal. I can allow myself “permission” to have it both ways. Kind of.

So, yes. My birthday will likely be the epitome of UNhealthy living. But after my night of Capitol-inspired debauchery, I’ll get up. And hopefully I won’t making proclamations about my need to start all over again, or how I need to “undo” the damage I did the night before. I’ll just pick up where I left off. I’ll continue on.

What is health to you? When you think of health, do you only think about your body, or do you account for your mind and emotions as well? When it comes to “healthy livng,” do you feel like it’s more important to set a high standard for yourself so you constantly have something to reach for? Or is forming a realistic lifestyle the key to long-term success?

The Wine Kitchen

So, remember when I said that I was going to work on not eating out as much? LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL. Yeah, apparently that’s not really happening quiiiiite yet. But! I did get some delectably delicious photos out of it (consider this your warning not to read the following post when hungry) so… you’re welcome?

Some of you may remember that a few weeks ago, I went up to Frederick, MD to participate in the Frederick Restaurant Week Sneak Peek. Well, this past week WAS Restaurant Week, so this past Saturday Sean and I headed back up to Frederick to meet the wonderful Lauren & her husband, Greg, for dins.

Photo stolen from Lauren :)
Photo stolen from Lauren ๐Ÿ™‚

We actually first met up with Lauren & Greg at an oil & vinegar store that was a couple blocks away from the restaurant.

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I’ve been seeing these kind of places popping up all over the place (one that’s near me is called “Ah Love Oil & Vinger”, hahaha) and it’s super fun to go around to taste all the delicious infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars.

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This place had a MAPLE SYRUP balsamic vinegar that, I swear, I would have walked out with a gallon-tub of the stuff, had we not had to run to our dinner reservation. Next time, next time…

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We actually ended up eating at a new-to-me restaurant–not one of the ones that I visited during the sneak peek–based on Lauren’s recommendation… and the fact that we forgot to make our reservations ’til kinda late. Heh. It ended up being an absolutely AMAZING meal, so this was clearly fated!

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We ate at The Wine Kitchen, which is right on the little waterfront area that runs through downtown Frederick. Great location, and since the weather was so amazing this weekend, we took full advantage of embarrassing our men by taking lots of photos by the water.

Photo, again, stolen from Lauren.
Photo, again, stolen from Lauren.

The Wine Kitchen, rather obviously, has a fabulous wine menu. They offer lots of variety, and also tasting flights grouped together by wine type.

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I ended up going with the Pinot Evil flight (best name ever), and because great minds think alike, Lauren got the exact same thing!

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It consisted of three pinot noirs, one of which was from Oregon which means it was automatically the best one. Duh. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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Then, we ordered a few appetizer/small plates to share. We got the bacon biscuits with maple butter (mmm, butter…) and the seasonal vegetable, which happened to be BRUSSELS SPROUTS. See? FATE. We actually ended up ordering a second order of the b. sprouts, hehehe.

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The Wine Kitchen’s Restaurant Week menu was a little different from what I’m used to… in kinda the best way possible. Instead of giving you a set prix-fix menu, they basically offer their entire regular menu! You could order any starter, entree, and dessert for the fixed Restaurant Week price (there was an upcharge for certain menu items). You know how much I love options, so I thought that their approach was really wonderful! I started off with the kale salad, which had shredded apple, cornbread crumbles, and ham. It was deliiiiicious.

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I also snagged a few bites of Sean’s tuna tartare starter, which was epicccc. It had pistachios in it! Brilliant.

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For my entree, I went with the crispy lamb belly, served with mushrooms, onions, and pureed sweet potatoes. It. Was. Incredible. Possibly the best lamb I’ve ever had, perhaps with the exception of the roast leg of lamb my family had at Zaytinya for my birthday dinner, like, 3 years ago.

And for dessert, I got what was essentially a deconstructed fruit plate, but none of my photos turned out (perhaps I’d just had too much wine at that point?).

Regardless, all in all, it was an EPIC meal, spent with some seriously epic friends. I’m so sad that Lauren & Greg are moving out to Colorado later this Spring! Ah well, guess that’ll just be my excuse to go back to visit Boulder, eh?

Actually, this weekend was full of fun blogger-y meetups, since Sunday I got to have brunch with Jen from Knack for Nutrition, too! Although, I was almost late because Daylight Savings Time really threw me for a loop this year. I kept looking at my computer clock (which gets updated automatically) and thinking that the time was off, and I had way more time than I actually did! Heh, you’d think after almost-25 years of time changes, I’d get used to it. Well, I guess it’s technically more like 22 years of time changes, since when I lived in Taiwan, they didn’t do DST. So let’s blame my years living as a teenager in Taipei as the reason why I can’t tell time anymore, yes?

Does Daylight Savings Time still mess you up? Or are you a clock-changing pro? Regardless of whether it’s got me outta whack these few days, I’m happy to turn the clocks back. With the days getting longer, and the weather this weekend being as beautiful as it was… BRING ON THE SPRINGTIME!