celebration days

Spent the fourth of July in Virginia with my faaaaaaaaaaambly.

The neighborhood where my mom grew up (where my aunts still live) has a community-owned lot where they always celebrate the fourth. People get very into dressing up (note the apron!)


There’s an epic potluck (we’ll talk about those dumplings in a minute)


And the “local pyromaniac” (as my mother calls him) sets off huge amounts of illegal fireworks later in the evening. Discussion of pyromania led to reminiscing about all the places my mom’s brother has inadvertently set on fire (included are two entire yards and a dock. Apparently he’s inclined to put a bunch of fireworks directly next to each other and send a flame in their general direction).

We spent much of the night in my aunt and uncle’s gorgeous backyard, catching up.

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So Steve made dumplings- his delicious, decadent, time-consuming, effort-consuming, labor of love recipe.

Safeway didn’t have ground pork so he got ground lamb, and combined it with his usual veggies (he also made a shrimp version for my pescetarian aunt)


Then, just to gild the lily a little more, he cooked some of the dumplings in bacon fat, left over from the morning’s breakfast. Mom dieu.


We had a feast of that, along with all the usual fourth of July suspects (hot dogs, burgers, potato salad, etc.)


My aunt made a fabulous watermelon-feta-basil salad that was the highlight of my plate. (Dena, I immediately went home and made this recipe, except with mint just for fun. It is amazing)


For the dessert department, I rediscovered a recipe I’d made for Thanksgiving years ago- rustic apple galette from Health magazine, of all places.

Apple mixture:

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(tip from my best friend- if you have hard, dried-out brown sugar, microwave it for thirty seconds or so with a hunk of apple. I had a convenient apple core at the ready! Somehow the apple rehydrates it so it becomes soft and crumbly again)

The crust was a little finicky this time, but I can’t in good conscience blame the recipe since I had it pulled up on my iPhone (I love dropping that sentence, I’m so new to smart phones) and was running around the kitchen and helping with dumplings and playing with the cat and not at all attentive to all of the important steps of the recipe, like adding the liquid in tablespoon sized batches rather than just dumping it all in at the same time.

Anyway, after some coaxing it basically came together despite my abuse of it. I used a bit of oat flour (aka just ground up oats) because when I’m not home no one bothers buying whole wheat flour (ha!)


In went the apples, to which I added a few extra spices including cardamom, coriander, and black papper


Hot outta the oven:


In filtered glory!


Speaking of holidays, I never bothered to post about Easter. That would be a shame, as Sheila worked very hard to make it a special day for my mom and sister.


Perhaps as atonement for all the shedding. Seriously, this was after one brushing session (I promise, my family vaccuums. It’s just hard to keep up with her.)


Easter was wonderful as ever. We (my mom, sister, and I) hosted this year (there’s been an ongoing turf war over who hosts Easter- not contributed to by anyone who reads this blog- which is totally absurd) and everyone contributed so much as always. My aunt Kathy brought spanikopita and beets beets beets!


Malindi made caramelized onion hummus, based on the stuff she’d buy regularly while studying abroad in England (it was AMAZING. I will say that I helped some in the onion process. My family is really impatient. Said my mother “Ugh, you always do it so much better than me. It’s because I try to do it so fast, right? How long should it really take? Ten whole minutes?” Said I: “Uh… more like thirty.”


Dena and Louie brought gorgeous lilies.


Fred brought another lamb (one of three… as usual my mom fretted there wasn’t enough) and grilled it, in a manly fashion. (Kathy supervised as the boys plated, as is appropriate).


I made Moroccan carrot salad as I do every time we host Easter, because one it’s gorgeous, two it’s seasonal and reminds me of the Easter bunny, and three it’s wonderfully flavorful with hints of caraway seed and harissa and of course the fab kalamata olives and feta. You slice the carrots with a mandoline- and this year I managed not to hurt myself!- and cook them via pressure cooker or microwaving (what I did) which actually helps make some of the nutrients in the carrots more bioavailable. People had already made a dent by the time we took this picture. This is a recipe of which there are never, ever leftovers.


Malindi made deviled eggs, which were fantastic. (Our Costco-sized paprika container made it a little difficult to dust them. I got to taste test one that got too much!) Malindi also demanded that we purchase labneh, which is amazing.


The appetizer end of the table. There were also marinated mini mozzarella balls from Costco that kind of made your eyes roll back in your head when you ate them. Extremely low calorie, obviously. Taramosalata, too, and Malindi’s awesome hummus. We also got a lot of gluten-free dippers, since we had a few gluten-eschewers joining us, including my mom’s friend from Seattle’s daughter. My mom really enjoys collecting people who are far from home (which is a common thing in DC).

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My mom made Olive stuffed leg of lamb from Emeril which is SO FREAKING GOOD. It involves marinating in full fat yogurt and stuffing with olives and bread crumbs and pine nuts and other awesomeness. I am deeply hungry just looking at this.


There were also roasted potatoes and orzo with tomatoes, both of which serve as delicious vehicles for lamb drippings. With yogurt on the side.


Goodies kept appearing, brought by guests- a fun whipped cream and jello (? maybe?) and fruit thing; sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top (I am so enthralled by WASP Easter because I’ve always just celebrated Ethnic Easter!); Greek Easter bread.


Some of what I ate 😀


I made super decadent and delicious gluten free chocolate cupcakes.


Annnnd my aunt brought kalidopita, a walnutty spice cake; and my other aunt brought a delicious variety of cookies (she’s gluten free now too! There’s something in the water… or wheat, I guess.)


Because we have lots of April birthdays in my family, there was also birthday cake! Opting for seasonality, I wanted to make a strawberry cake. A little digging around the Internets produced this Smitten Kitchen recipe for strawberry chiffon cake. I hadn’t given myself a proper cooking/baking challenge in awhile, so away I went. It helped that I had my grandma’s tube pan- not only was it a high quality material, it also made me feel like she was helping me along from the other side 🙂

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My sister took action shots of me assembling the cake in my grubby pre-Easter clothes.

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So beautiful! I let the berries soak for a decent length of time in sugar and lemon juice and they got all juicy and nice.


Annnnd the completed project. Lovely way to celebrate my mom, and being with my family, and Easter, and spring.

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