Holiday Cheer Through the Years

Last year, I took you on a culinary tour of my family’s holiday traditions – from Mexican tamales to German cookies. Food isn’t the only thing I look forward to every year. Check out some of my favorites and stay tuned for more holiday pics from the archives over the next few weeks!

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Which picture is your favorite? Share some of your favorite and cringe-worthy holiday pics by leaving a comment below or tweeting them to @liane_w!

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Baking with Bourbon

Before all my friends and family start hating me for my weird tirade on their children, I thought I’d take a step back and talk about this week’s culinary adventures. Last week, I tried my hand at a truly Mexican-American combination dish: Fried Chicken Mole and Waffles. This week, I went a little more traditional Americana.

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One of my coworkers is what I consider the definition of Southern sweetheart…with an edge. As I’ve made something of a habit of bringing baked treats in to work for notable (and some not-so-notable) occasions, when I found out her birthday was coming up, I couldn’t help myself.

I decided to make a cupcake that reminds me of her–something Southern, sweet, but definitely edgy. That’s how I came up with my recipe for Pecan Pie Cupcakes w/ Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting. I’ll warn you, when I say Bourbon, I mean mean Bourbon with a capital B!

The sweet, sticky pecan pie mixture caramelizes on the top, while simultaneously seeping into the airy, pillowy brown sugar cupcake. Then it hits you, the unmistakeable warming tingle of bourbon. Between the sugar and the booze, you may feel a little woozy for just a second. That’s to be expected.

All good food should make you take a moment. It should transport you from where you stand to another place, another time, another memory, or somewhere you’ve never been before. Good food should make you feel something–joy, love, nostalgia, whimsy, even fear or anger. In many ways, good food is a lot like a good book. If you close your eyes, and bite into this cupcake, here’s where you might go:

It’s Thanksgiving in the American South. It’s a joyful, wholesome family celebration. You’re a child, running around in a post-dessert sugar rush. In an effort to calm you, your grandfather sneaks you your first taste of bourbon. His hearty chuckle booms through the air. The drink stings a bit, but the warmth feels nice juxtaposed to the chilly winter air. You play for a bit longer, but as the night gets darker and the warmth continues to spread, you find yourself yearning for your bed. You climb into bed, feeling cozy and safe in a way that only children can. You nod off…

Then you open your eyes and you’re standing in your work kitchen, realizing that you actually grew up in Los Angeles, and were far more likely to be slipped a margarita than bourbon. But that’s the magic of it….

Pecan Pie Cupcakes w Bourbon Frosting

Your Baby Freaks Me Out

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but unfortunately, I’m unavailable to babysit your newborn. Here’s why:

baby

The utter vulnerability of a baby completely terrifies me.
It* needs you, completely. They seem so fragile. Not just their physical soft spots and all that jazz, but they are at such a critical phase in their mental development. They are sponges. They have big eyes, and they watch everything. They are thinking, but they can’t speak. What if I say or do something and cause this pure little creature, immense, irreparable mental damage!? What if I crush it in its sleep like one of those prostitutes in the Old Testament? How could I live with myself?

What do babies eat?
Young children have all these crazy dietary restrictions…like they can’t eat honey. What if I forget? I don’t know what would prompt me to want to feed them honey, but it could happen.  Baby diets are stranger than Sylvester Graham’s eat-your-way-to-heaven plan. At what age can kids even eat solid food? What if they have an allergy you couldn’t know about until the baby has a reaction?

I don’t want to jinx myself.
I want to hold your baby. I know I have that look in my eye, I’m confused, scared, curious. I look at it curiously and it looks back at me, also with eyes filled with wonder and bewilderment. I want to hold it. It’s cute (maybe, maybe not), but as a child I remember one of my cousins saying that she didn’t want to hold the baby because she was “afraid she might have one.” Now I know pregnancy isn’t contagious, and I know where babies come from, but something about that image really stuck with me. Every time I hold a baby I have to hold back the urge to throw it to someone else and knock on some wood.

I’m convinced that my fear of babies has actually manifested itself physically. Brace yourself for an over-share! I’m certain, beyond any rational argument, that I have a retroverted uterus because my lady parts are so terrified of babies, they tilted themselves away from the outside world. Again, it’s not that I don’t want kids. They look like fun. They say the darndest things. Their little shoes are so cool. Not to mention, they provide a great excuse to buy dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. Until that time comes, excuse me as I entertain myself with adult things like watching Real Housewives of Everywhere and going to Jimmy Buffett concerts.

*I know I called your child an “it.” I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t think it is a person, it’s just some kind of habit. I don’t know where the habit came from, but it’s there. Maybe I’m just “beyond gender”? Maybe I’m just more accepting of the fact that gender may not be based on your physical attributes, and that in some ways gender is really just a social construct. I’m respecting the fact that one day, your child may come to you and tell you that they are really a man trapped in a woman’s body. Or vice versa. Or maybe I’m just concerned that what I think is your son is really just your ugly daughter. They’re all bald and kinda smushy-faced anyways. Unless your baby is wearing a onesie that says “Male Genitalia Below,” I’m not sure it’s always safe to assume.

Carmelot

Earlier this week I referred to my marvelous golden chariot carting me across the country. I love my car. Fondly called “The Yellow Submarine” by my friends in college, my 2007 Volkswagon GLI Fahrenheit is a thing of beauty and wonder.

Yes, it’s bright yellow. No, that was not what I imagined as my first car. To be fair, my German bumblebee was not my first car. For the years between when I got my drivers license and the time I got my own real car, I drove my mother’s hand-me-down Izusu Trooper. The forest green, top heavy, lunk of a car was a disaster. The window on the driver’s side had a tendency to fall into the door, leaving the driver vulnerable to the notoriously horrible LA weather. Okay, it could have been worse. At least I wasn’t living on the East Coast at the time, but I can promise you I drove with the rain in my eyes on more than one occasion. The car worked, and that was all that really mattered.

When I finally started to look for a car of my own, I spent months researching. If you know me, you know this process well. There’s research, compiling of documents and resources, a ranking system of some sort–typically complete with a formula weighted for more desirable attributes. I like to make educated decisions, protecting myself from the possibility of overwhelming bouts of buyers’ remorse. When I was applying to college, I spent no less than a year writing to different schools for information. When I applied to grad school I put together a binder with dividers and spreadsheets. When I was decorating my apartment a few months ago, I put together a powerpoint presentation with multiple options for each room- with cost breakdowns, hyperlinks, and color coding. I like to know what I’m getting myself into…

As I educated myself on the car options available I was practical. I wanted it to be a solid value, dependable, safe, economic, and not too bad on the eyes. I settled on a black VW Jetta. In December of 2007, I rounded up the two of the best negotiators on the planet–my mother and my grandfather–and headed over to the VW dealership. The only problem with bringing two headstrong, opinionated individuals with you to do you bidding is their ability to negotiate you completely out of the decisionmaking process. Rather skillfully, they convince you that you want what they want and the other party wants what they want. We should really send those two to the Middle East–just saying.

My grandfather was adamant that I not get a black car. First, he told me, black cars are more dangerous because they are harder to see at night. This seemed logical. I liked the idea of black because most of my family members had the practical silver, because it looked cleaner longer. Silver was fine, but I felt some need to push back against the sea of grey in my parent’s driveway. I wanted a sleek black car. He pushed back, beyond the safety, appealing to my vanity. “There is nothing worse than a pretty girl in a dirty car,” he told me for the first of (very) many times.

As we strolled the lot, a glimmer shot into the eye of the salesman. Let me show you what we have, it’s a limited edition. Now we were talking. I don’t really feel the need to be flashy, but I do like to stand out. He took us out to the front and that’s when I saw it, it’s sunshine-bright skin and crimson accents glistening in the L.A. light. “It’s a GLI Fahrenheit,” he told us, “only 1200 in the world. You can see the limited edition plate on the steering wheel. The inside is leather with details and accents to match its exterior. We only have one on the lot, and the car only comes it yellow.” It’s wasn’t love immediately. I liked the idea of having a car that only 1,999 other people in the world had, but yellow? It didn’t feel like me.

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“No one will be able to claim they didn’t see you there,” my grandfather joked. “I’ll be cop-bait,” I argued back. “Well then you better drive safe,” he replied with a smile.

We went for a test drive.

I’m not going to say my grandfather’s a bad driver. He drove me to and from school every day from Kindergarden until I graduated from 8th grade. Without ever complaining, he chauffeured me wherever I needed to go for years. His driving expertise has successfully gotten me from point A to B via two-seater sports cars, spacious Cadillacs, exhilarating jetskis, clunky motorhomes, and even helicopter. We made it to each and every destination and back safely, but there have definitely been some…questionable moments. This was one of them.

I know my grandfather knows how to drive manual. In fact, I believe he was the one who taught my mother to drive. And yet, I could see the white knuckles of the salesman as we stalled and screeched down the streets of West Covina. The man was kind, kinder than I would have been in that situation–shocking. Although, I’m sure I could muster up the patience with a commission like that. When we got back to the lot, I swear he was still shaking a little.

While I hadn’t completely embraced the car, when I finally got it home, we became quick friends. My car became synonymous with my independence, the first thing that was ever really mine. During the summer at UCLA, I’d take my Yellow Submarine up Pacific Coast Highway, just to let him soak in the salty ocean air. I actually hear this is bad for the paint of your car, but what can I say? Sometimes we want things that are bad for us. Can you say you never have?

When I moved to D.C. for grad school, I had to leave my car behind. Washington is no place for a car. While the traffic may not be as bad as Los Angeles (though it’s pretty bad), parking sucks and to make things worse, I’m convinced parking enforcement is in a constant state of needing to prove its worth in a city filled with far more important lawmakers and law enforcers. With all those visiting dignitaries, I’m sure it’s hard to find a vehicle without diplomatic immunity to ticket. I set off to the land of the metro.

But I’m a Virginian now. I moved to Rosslyn (Arlington) in May 2012, and then to the nearby area of Clarendon at the end of that lease. I even re-registered to vote in Virginia, so that’s about as official as it gets. Arlington may be VINO (Virginia in Name Only) and practically just an overflow of the District, the new location has me yearning for my independence–my car. What currently takes hours of walking, metroing, transferring, and walking again, can suddenly become a quick trip. Like my 19 year-old self, I’m eagerly anticipating the world that having my car will unlock. Maybe not the gas expenses, but there’s a world out there waiting to be explored, and I’m on my way to find it.

Happy Birthday America! (Now Eat This)

Happy Fourth of July!

It’s strange, I suppose to leave the most American place in America (our nation’s capitol) during the most American holiday. Who am I kidding? The most American place in America is Texas and the most American holiday is Thanksgiving, with National Donut Day in a close second.

That said, I can’t imagine a better place to spend this Fourth of July than with my family in Los Angeles. This year, I’m happy to announce that my boyfriend will join the Weissenberger-Venti festivities, God bless his soul…and America. I have a rule- I try not to write about my relationships. Turns out, makes it kind of awkward if things don’t work out. Also, as I’ve said before, people don’t necessarily like to have their business put out on the Internet. But as Anthony has happily agreed to contribute to my blogging-across-the-country-challenge, I figure I can make this exception.

What’s on the agenda for America’s birthday? Let’s answer the real question: What’s on the menu?

To celebrate being American on this most sacred of holidays, I’m going to share one of my mother’s famous recipes. By famous recipes, I mean a recipe that she got from someone/somewhere else and has “made her own” by adding too much or too little of some ingredient by accident and pretending it was totally on purpose.


Momma Weissenberger’s Peach Crumble

6 peaches, cut 1/2 in
1/2 lemon, zested, juiced
2 tbsp maple syrup

Mix the peaches, lemon zest and juice, and syrup together

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp nutmeg
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter

Mix sugar, spices, and butter together

Place peaches into 9×13 pan and pour crumble over
Bake 15 min covered at 350 degrees
Uncover and cook an additional 30 minutes

Enjoy!

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A Different Kind of Post

The metro is a swamp. I checked the weather last night—89 degrees with 70% humidity and a 30% chance of rain. It’s impossible to dress appropriately for this weather. I wait through the first train that comes. It’s packed and I don’t want to have to stand in other people’s sweat.

I get to work. My desk is at the opposite side of the office as everyone else, but sometimes people make small talk as they walk by me. They don’t slow down.

I read about health policy. I realize that putting together the morning issue updates might make me one of the more up-to-date people in the office. This scares me. I hope it’s not true.

The morning drags, but I have plans at noon. Last week, a classmate invited me to lunch. I checked my work schedule to make sure I wasn’t on any calls or attending any meetings or events—nothing. I agree. He suggests Old Ebbitt Grill because it’s midway between our offices. I agree. He sends me a Google Calendar invite. I accept.

When I get to the restaurant, I discover he made reservations. I’m glad. The line is long and I hate being out of the office. I order the soft-shell crab. It comes with asparagus, a potato cake, and remoulade—not enough remoulade. I had a conversation last week with my British friends about remoulade when they were visiting. I said it was “Like mayonnaise or aioli.” They asked the waiter anyways. I hate that. They hate it when I say “awesome”, but they call eggplant, “aubergine,” and zucchini, “courgette.”

The food is good. We talk about our weekends. Mine sounds more eventful, but I envy his. After splitting the check, we part with a hug and a promise to do it again soon. I smile as I walk away because we aren’t just saying that.

I get back to work. It’s a big day. An important bill is coming to a vote and it looks good. One executive jokes that I’ve single-handedly put the bill through. Later, my boss introduces me as the girl who does all the work. I wonder if they think I’m a workaholic. I wonder if I am.

I ride the metro home. The sign as I get off at my stop says “Welcome to Virginia”. I’m a Virginian now, but I can’t decide if that means I live in The South.

A friend comes over for dinner. It’s nice not to be alone. Over plentiful heapings of chicken and orzo, I talk about my brothers. I haven’t seen them in almost 6 months. If someone told me last year I would go that long without seeing them, I would have never have believed them. I wonder what they are doing. “Looking in the mirror,” I think. I smile. I look in the mirror. I’m vain. The Brits said that too. I didn’t deny it.

I had a can of soda with dinner and I feel the caffeine. I work off the jitters by making macaroons. I don’t have any bar chocolate or chips so I melt M&Ms with soy milk and butter. It’s good. I’m proud.

I watch basketball with my friend. He doesn’t stay for overtime. Even with the chatter of the TV, the apartment seems quiet.

I open my computer, deciding to write a different kind of post. I finish it and hope that no one—and everyone—read it.

Cheers, to no one and everyone.

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.
~Virginia Woolf

Good Tweet, Bad Tweet

A couple weeks ago, my parents and grandparents stumbled their way from Los Angeles to the District. Somewhere in between getting lost on the wrong side of the Key Bridge and chowing down at some of DC’s finest, I got stuck on a topic that I never talk about–social media.

Techies aren’t just born, they are bred.

I filled the 8 days I shared with my family with talk of tweets and pins, teaching them how to check-in on Facebook and explaining Twitter and Pinterest. The result? I was tagged into every restaurant we went to 3 times, and my grandpa (@MillenniumMayor) has been spam tweeting Karl Rove, Glenn Beck, Martha Maccallum, and Sarah Palin.

It’s not surprising when social media noobs like my family ask how to do Twitter the right way. I hesitate to say that there is a right or wrong way to tweet, but there are definitely better, more effective ways. Have I lost you?

Don’t fret–I have a perfect DC meets LA way to explain!


Bad Tweet

Earlier today, the US Embassy in Brussels tweeted:

The tweet references the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) which had an event on the topic of women and counterterrorism (#WomenAndCT) yesterday afternoon. It’s a well-done tweet, with the exception of using the wrong handle for CSIS. On the other hand, CSIS does a terrible job with their response:

I have a ton of respect for (and would love to work for) the Center for Strategic and International Studies, but this tweet is simply bad form. CSIS has forwarded a modified tweet from the US Embassy in Brussels that looks like it was written by Justin Bieber after he raided his parent’s liquor cabinet. Why did they shorten keywords like instrument and expert and remove the space between 4 and peace, but leave important and according complete? This tweet could have read:

MT‏ @usembbrussels #Women are important weapon against terror & instrument 4 peace say experts @CSIS http://bit.ly/HXg9jG #terrorism #Verveer

Is this better? What do you think?

Good Tweet

If you are scoffing at seeing my own face listed under the title of good tweet, fear not. My vanity has not yet taken over.
Earlier this week, I had an exchange on Twitter which I think demonstrates best practices for political and advocacy Twitter usage. As an extra bonus, it also includes one of my favorite topics, Kim Kardashian!

Kim Kardashian took headlines by storm this week when she said on her reality show that she might consider running for Mayor of Glendale someday. The city of Glendale, sometimes referred to as “Little Armenia” by locals, is very close to where I grew up–in the same congressional district, in fact. Congressman Adam Schiff represents the district, and so I thought I’d poke a little fun at him and the situation.

I never expected a response, and yet within 24 hours:

What can politicians take away from this tweet? The response (1) demonstrated that he was actually listening and engaging rather than just broadcasting, (2) took the opportunity to share one of his positions that his constituents feel strongly about (Armenian Genocide), and (3) it felt personal and real, not stiff or like a form letter. These are the kind of interactions that politicians should be aiming for to maximize the impact of their online discussions.

But the conversation didn’t end there. No, Kim Kardashian didn’t chime in. @CharaGG, however, did:

The link posted goes to an indiegogo website that asks people to donate to her documentary project that deals with Armenian genocide. My guess is that she either follows Rep. Schiff due to his strong support of Armenian Genocide recognition, or she searched for Armenian genocide on Twitter and inserted herself into relevant conversations. In doing so, she tapped into a conversation that was already occurring online with people who care about a topic. This is good social networking. This is digital engagement.

Until next time.

A toast, “To Mayor Kardashian, may the stress of politics not make her want to pull her own extensions out.”

“The people drawn to Twitter are people on the cutting edge, the real nerds who are resentful of the fact that the general population have found and taken over Facebook”

~Steve Dotto, host of Dotto Tech