Cocktail Trials: The House Punch

Mixing up punch

Like many thing, a good punch is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration

My husband has been arguing that our house needs its own punch. Every home needs some basics, he says, like an address, a bathroom, some furniture  … and an official punch recipe.

Greg, a huge Alton Brown fan, was inspired by the celebrity chef’s show on punches. In the episode, Brown points out that back in the day, all clubs had their own punch.  Liking the idea of my living room being transformed into an 19th century gentleman’s’ club complete with leather armchairs chairs and a library of well-worn books, I agreed to try the punch.

What Makes a Good Punch?

Armed with Alton’s golden ratio for punches,  I hit the grocery store drink aisle and gathered a selection of beverages that I thought would go well with gin, our house’s favorite liquor.

Here were our contenders (along with the ration Alton recommends).

1 of Sour (Key lime juice / Trader Joe’s sparkling limeade)

2 of Sweet (pinapple juice, sweet tea, Sprite)

3 of Strong (gin)

4 of Weak (a lager, club soda, Sprite, sweet tea)

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The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Wok-Fried Soft Shell Crab

soft shell crab at sea side crab shack
Perhaps the best thing I ever ate: seaside crab shack’s fried crab

Inspired by the Food Network show The Best Thing I Ever Ate, I’m creating the DC version. Nothing is more frustrating than hearing someone gush on about a dish that you can’t actually have (unless you are willing to drive to Tuson or fly to Tokyo, that is). So I’m creating my own blog version, and it’s full of dishes that are easy access to anyone in the DC metro area.  First up:

Seaside Crab House
Dish: Wok-Fried Soft Shell Crab

Seaside Crab House is a Vietnamese restaurant in Fall Church’s Edan Center. If you aren’t familiar with Edan Center, get familiar. It has the best banh mi sandwiches and bubble tea/smoothies around. It is also like being in foreign country (Vietnam, if you want to be specific), so restless travelers (like myself) can get a little dose of an international vacation without leaving the beltway.

Best dish aside, this restaurant is awesome. It has three of my favorite things: cheap seafood, outdoor seating and beer by the pitcher.  It specializes in all types of seafood, including crawfish, which it sells by the bag and boiled in ginger and garlic. All their dishes are delicious and reasonably-priced. The grilled clams are especially good.

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Summer shrimp boil

Over here, we celebrated Memorial Day with a different take on all-American cuisine. Rather than BBQ and apple pie, we cooked up shrimp boil and key lime pie.

I may be a convert to this Southern take on the casual summer dinner party. It’s great for a group dinner because everything is done at once. No idling around while you wait for the third round of burgers to grill. Our guests pretty much devoured everything, with just enough left over for next-day lunches.

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Grilling Mania! Making a whole meal over charcoal

Yesterday was 75 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Perfect grilling weather.

Taunted by a display of artichokes at the Trader Joe’s across the streeet from my office, I put together this meal. The whole thing is cooked entirely on the grill. (Although, you have to steam the artichokes first, so that may be cheating).

I didn’t really have a recipe for this. As it was a weeknight, I took a few shortcuts. The flatbread was Trader Joe’s pizza dough (I haven’t actually been able to make better myself), and the chicken kabobs were Trader Joe’s “Chicken Asada,” sliced up and threaded onto skewers.

The only part I made from scratch was the artichokes, and I bungled that by attemping to clean them first (as in this video), rather than steam them and scoop out the inediable insides afterwards. Despite being a hassle, the artichokes were a nice break from the salad/kale that I eat as a veggie side at least five days a week.

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Flavors of Summer: Grilled shrimp, watermelon salad and pineapple rice

For a meal involving all brand new recipes, this one worked out excellently. It’s the perfect summer dinner party solution.

All three of these dishes are currently on repeat at my house. It’s been two weeks since my initial experiment with the pineapple rice, and I am typing this as a third batch bubbles away in the ricemaker.

Pineapple Rice:

Adapted from Our Best Bites. When I lived in Beijing, my favorite restaurant made Dai food (a people who live in southern China near the boarder of Vietnam). One of their specialties was a delicious, sticky pineapple rice. I know that recipe didn’t have butter in it (like this one), but this is the closest I’ve found so far.


1 cup jasmine rice
2 T real butter
Juice from 1 large lime or two smaller ones (taste as you go, I add a lot!)
1 can crushed pineapple (You may want 2 small cans)
½ – ¾ C chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

Time to break out the ricemaker!  Cook rice in 1 cup water and 1 cup pineapple juice (drained from the canned pineapple) s soon as it’s done, toss in the butter and stir to melt. Add lime juice, remaining pineapple juice, crushed pineapple and cilantro. Stir to combine, and then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

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I Won’t Be Growing Zucchini

tomato plant in my gardenOne of the things that most excited me about moving out of an apartment and buying a house was the prospect of planting a garden. After a few weeks of hemming and hawing over where to put the plants in the mess of a backyard we inherited from the previous owner, I finally planted my garden two weeks ago.

I’m proud to report that everything is still alive!  I planted tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, herbs (basil, rosemary, dill and cilantro) and three types of peppers. With the rain (and my bordering-on-obsessive watering), everything is looking perky.

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Peep Diorama Mania

UPDATE: Alas, my Peeps diorama didn’t win. But at least my Twitter account got a shout out on the Washington Post website. If you are curious, check my 5 seconds of fame here.



Some people fantasize about winning the lottery or a Nobel Prize. I dream of one day taking my place among the winners of the Washington Post peeps diorama contest.  I’ve been blown away by the top entries each year I’ve lived in DC.  This year was the first time I actually got around to entering the contest myself.

My husband and I tackled the royal wedding last weekend. He worked construction on a very accurate, mini version on Westminster Abbey.  I handled Peep styling and costume design. Of course as a blogger, I had to give a shout out to my favorite royal wedding Internet memes frowning flower girl and Princess Beatrice’s horrible hat.

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How to Get Kicked Off of Top Chef

Someone will have to "pack their knives and go."

I’m watching Top Chef again. Just like last time, I’m moaning that every season is the same. Apparently, the chef-testants don’t watch the previous seasons, because this year — just like all the rest — several have broken the show’s cardinal rules.

In honor of the show I love to hate, here are the top things I’ve learned to never do on Top Chef.

On Top Chef, never, ever:

10. Volunteer to be front of the house during the restaurant wars episode. Yeah, the other cheftestants told you that you are a combination of charming and efficient — making you perfect for the job. That’s because they are smarter than you and know this role is the kiss of death.

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Chronicles of Adulthood: I broke down and bought napkins

Martha Stewart embroidered fruit napkins: Please shoot me if I ever make these.

These days, like anyone plowing towards 30, I’ve gotten a lot of adulthood thrown at me in the last few months: a wedding, a house and a lot of new bills to pay. On top of that, I’ve been abandoning my hand-me-down collection of furniture and kitchen supplies. Thanks to the wedding registry, I now own a lot of the typical trappings of adulthood: matching towels, two changes of sheets and a complete set of silverware. Life does feel more official when you don’t have to drink wine out of coffee mugs and make scrambled eggs in a wok.

But despite the array of appliances and dinnerware that hid in my cabinets, I still didn’t have one thing that most normal homemakers own: napkins. Why buy napkins when paper towels do double duty as mouth/hand wipes and counter top cleaners? Napkins seemed excessive, expensive and bad for the environment. But more than that, refusing to buy napkins was my one last hold out from the just-out-of-college days when I used to make toast in a frying pan.

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What’s Taking So Long? Is it Yelp’s Fault?

People bashed us on Yelp

The Yelp button no one wants. Thanks Photoshop!

I have done a lot of complaining both online (here and here) and offline about restaurants that take way too long to open. Every time the news breaks that a new bar, restaurant, coffee shop etc. is coming to Alexandria, the owner sets an approximate opening date. “Before Christmas,” they say. Or “early spring,” another promises. The store front is renovated, the “help wanted” sign goes up, everything appears to be ready…. but why is it not open!? The promised opening flies by and anticipation turns into irritation.

I proposing a theory. I know nothing about running a restaurant, but it’s America, and I can spout off my unfounded ideas if I want to.

I’m blaming it on Yelp. The website and mobile app has alerted me to countless new dining options, weened me off guidebooks and helped this chronically indecisive diner figure out what to order. However, I now think it’s time for it to shoulder some blame.

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