Tuesday, October 16, 2007

how to deal with tomatoes that are past their prime

So as predicted I was unable to post all of last month and the first half of this one. It might be a little too late to post about NYC from August, but moving on...

The weather has finally started to get crisper and more appropriately fall-like, which puts me in a slow-cooking, stewing mood. So far, thinking back, I've made winter squash soup, split pea soup, squash and potato puree, and, a couple weeks back, we made Ethiopian food for the first time at home (misser wot and that mixed vegetable curry that I always forget the name of) using M's cookbook that he bought me for my birthday. I've also been eating a lot of Chinese wheat noodles mixed with oyster sauce and topped with a hard-cooked egg and stir-fried greens.

So this past Saturday at the Mount Pleasant Farmer's Market I purchased the $12 bucket-o'-tomatoes again (*that's about 8 pounds of tomatoes), thinking, (irrationally, in retrospect) that they would be just as deliciously ripe and fresh as the August tomatoes. I selected some romas and other assorted heirlooms. I got them home and discovered that they were a little tough, quickly going mealy, and one of them was smelling a bit off (read: moldy). I had to come up with a way to use them quickly or at least prepare them for later use. The solution came to me fairly quickly in the form of a broiled tomato sauce for huevos rancheros. I just preheated the broiler, rinsed and plopped about a dozen of them in a glass baking dish and slid it under the broiler for about 15 minutes, rotating with tongs as needed until they were uniformly wrinkly and black in places. After letting them cool for a bit I peeled them, mashed them with a pastry cutter, and then added them to a skillet of sauteed minced red onion and a couple of serranos that I've been keeping in the freezer. That simmered for a bit (20 minutes?) to thicken, and thus I managed to solve half of my tomato "problem" in one fell swoop.

We had a surprise visitor down from New York that day, so the three of us enjoyed our plates of eggs out in the deck in the sunshine, served with tortillas (heated directly over the gas flame for a few seconds), topped with tomato sauce and shredded sharp Cheddar, and leftover beans and rice.

I repeated the broiler trick with the remainder of the tomatoes the following night, and this time I remembered to core the tops out and make little "x" slits in the bottom of each tomato prior to broiling for easier peeling. Now they're sitting whole in the fridge mixed with basil leaves, ready to be turned into tomato sauce when I have a minute.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

A little restauranted out

Friday: Bukom Cafe in Adams Morgan
Saturday: Havabite eatery in Farifax, Vienna Inn in Vienna (VA)
Sunday: Amphora diner, Vienna (VA)

As much as I love discovering new foods and getting a break from the kitchen once in a while, I'm actually looking forward to getting back to "normal" life (i.e., not eating in restaurants every day while M's parents were visiting). Perfect timing, as it's now September and I still plan to honor my "locavore challenge." The keyword there is "challenge" : I've already "fudged" a bit but to my credit, all three of the things I've ordered in restaurants so far in September have been vegetarian (which was one of my goals):

Havabite: Greek mezze plate (hummus, taramosalata-- okay, so I'm not counting fish -- eggs, tzatziki, pepperoncini, olives, pita, feta, tomatoes and cucumbers
Vienna Inn: Veggie 5-bean "heirloom" (whatever that means in their context) chili with cheese
Amphora: cheese blintzes (with overly cornstarched strawberry "sauce" and sour cream on the side. I also stole bites of M's Eggs Benedict, which I guess is a cheat)

A review of Bukom cafe is in order (highly recommended for some items) but for now I'm going to stop here. My NYC report is also overdue!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Who knew ginger was so easy to grow

A month or so ago, I bought a big hunk of ginger root at the Bestway and, per instructions found online somewhere, buried it in a pot of loose soil.

Weeks later, it's got gorgeous healthy green shoots that smell of, guess what? Ginger! when you rub their leaves. No flowers as of yet, though I hear the common store-bought ginger often produces (relatively) un-showy yellow flowers.

This thing was much easier to grow, by far, than my tomatoes or basil. I've resolved to make a second attempt at an indoor herb garden this winter; I think the basil was just a little too sun-baked.

Now I just have to figure out how to use it. Not that I don't know how to cook with ginger, but rather, I'm just not sure whether to harvest the whole root and dry it, or break off bits as I need them, etc.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Annie's Grill in Fredericksburg

I'm back in school, which means that posts are going to get few and farther between, but I did want to put in a plug for Annie's Grill in Fredericksburg, VA, where we ate last weekend with M's parents.

It's on Princess Anne Street, a couple streets up the hill off the main drag (unfortunately I do not have the street address). If you go there, order the honey-dipped fried chicken. It cost a little over $6 for half a chicken, two sides and bread. For sides, there's homemade mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, batter-fried okra, stewed kale, beans, pickled beets, and probably a few that I'm missing.

The chicken was much better than we were expecting: tender insides and shatteringly crispy skin. Our server (who was also half the fun of this place, he was very entertaining) admitted a little sheepishly that they got the chicken pre-frozen, which made me wonder if the freezing might contribute to the frying.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Labels aren't everything

A New York Times article on 'cage-free eggs' that my good friend tipped me off to; she grew up on a farm and her mom still raises chickens and sheep back in Minnesota.

Again, a reminder that if you really want to go sustainable/ethical, it's best to not only check the label but know the source. And that's where local is better, for some things at least.

For me, free-range eggs are much better just from a taste standpoint. And obviously ethically they are better as well. It just might not be possible for large producers to supply truly free-range chickens -- because for one thing, that would require more land for them to range on. Multiple, small producers that supply local consumers with truly free-range eggs might be the most sustainable option.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes

On Saturday I bought approximately 8 pounds of heirloom tomatoes at the Mount Pleasant farmer's market for $12. This amounted to 17 tomatoes!

Hooray for tomatoes and their myriad uses! Here's what they've gone into so far:
~sliced and eaten with Gouda cheese and bread
~mixed with diced cucumbers for a quick salad
~salsa fresca
~enchilada sauce!

That last entry was for a dish that we based on one from Diana Kennedy's Tortilla Book. Made them last night and served with black beans (made in the crockpot from dried beans) on the side. I'd been craving enchiladas since my Friday late night 'snack' at Haydee's. We basically filled corn tortillas with a mixture of sauteed grated zucchini, roasted, diced peppers (sweet and poblano) and mozzerella cheese, and topped them with the aforementioned enchilada sauce, made from tomatoes, garlic, white onion and chipotle chiles in adobo. The sauce was so sweet from the tomatoes, it didn't need any added sugar! We weren't entirely satisfied with the recipe (needs a little tweaking), so I'm not going to post it in its entirety, but I did make a double batch of the enchilada sauce and froze half of it for later when the bounty of tomatoes is no more.

Farmer's market record for this week:
17 tomatoes
5 summer squash of several varieties
3 cucumbers (my mistake; they proved to be old and tough. They looked nice enough!)
2 more young cucumbers from a different vendor
dozen eggs
1 bunch leeks
2 sweet red peppers (so good!)
3 gorgeous poblano chiles
6 peaches from Reid's orchard
1 package (about a pound) ground buffalo from Cibolla farms
1 package (about a pound) ground pork from Cibolla farms
garlic, two varieties: German white and Kazakhstan

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


So I think like any other goal I've pursued, whether it's meditation or less negativity, the process benefits by having clear guidelines. I'm posting them here as encouragement for myself more than anything else.

-olive oil, rice, dried beans, spices, citrus fruits (for now), rice stick and other Asian staples, alcohol (wine and beer)
-Eating in restaurants when we travel (I also want to support local businesses even if not everything they serve on the menu is "local" in a simplistic food miles sense)

Try for:
-Only buying produce from the farmer's market until it closes (with rare exceptions)
-Only eating meat that was grass-fed and sustainably raised
-Doing some canning this fall

Personal goals:
-Make own cheese, yoghurt, and bread (and try to source local milk and flour)
-Grow herbs indoors in the winter
-Grow as many veg as possible in the summer
-Subscribe to a CSA (if I find that it works out financially for us)

Absolutely not:
bananas, factory-farmed meat

Work in Progress...

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


How can I even think about cooking when the heat index is supposed to hit 106 this afternoon???

Monday, August 6, 2007

Another take on food miles

This commentary on the New York Times: Food that Travels Well
sheds more light on the complexity of the food miles issue. The question is, where do you draw the line? When does it become obsession/elitism? As eating locally becomes more and more publicized I could see this becoming similar to the organic movement, where most people will label check, toss the item in the cart and call it good. I'm pretty sure that as I explore this (relatively) new way of thinking about what I'm eating, that I will change my opinion numerous times along the way. Meantime, it's kind of fun to have guidelines to eat by (that don't involve counting calories or carbs; this feels more like a treasure hunt, a delicious challenge!). Instead of bok choy from California, we ate red kale from Maryland tonight. And it actually tasted pretty good with soy sauce (although I'm not sure if M agreed...)

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A declaration

Well, it's obviously going to affect much of what I've been posting of late, but I've decided to take the Eating Local challenge for September (through the Locavores site, http://www.locavores.com). Details pending...

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Vietnamese Market!

M found a Vietnamese market in our neighborhood! (well, roughly, it's on Park just west of 14th street NW, wedged between a more pedestrian, for this neighborhood, Latino market and hair salon) You have no idea how wonderful this is for us recently transplanted from Seattle (and Uwajimaya), who for the past year have had to make pilgrimages to the suburban Northern VA H-Mart for our Asian staple needs. Now we need only walk a few blocks to load up on our rice, nam bla/ngoc mam (fish sauce), rice stick, Thai chiles, fried garlic, etc. And they have frozen lemongrass! I'm looking forward to trying some of that, along with the ubiquitous meatballs ('luk chin' in Thai) in our noodle bowls this winter. And maybe some of the Pho seasoning that they sell; the one time I tried to make Pho from scratch at home it was somewhat of a disaster.

After our perusal of the market, we went and sat in the park across from the tennis courts on 16th street (across from the Mount Pleasant library), eating our snacks (Some kind of steamed coconut milk cake thingy with shrimp and some other mochi-like steamed rice cakes with dried shrimp and scallions)and drinking tamarind drink and sweetened chrysanthemum tea while we watched the kids biking around and playing. Having little snacks like this in public parks reminds me of the times I used to spend with my dad after he'd picked me up from gymnastics, and we'd go to his friend's Thai/Vietnamese market, pick up some Banh Mi or rice rolls, and eat them in the Stewartville lakeside park.

There's a Vietnamese restaurant a couple doors down from this place that advertises Pho and Banh Mi, but when we went there to see about getting a snack, the sight of gamblers clustered around a table in the front scared us off (they didn't exactly look like they were serving food, although there was a woman at a table by the window eating).

Now, I'm off to make some summer rolls!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Chili dogs at Wonderland

Just when I thought that the weather was settling down into tolerable balminess, it has ballooned into sweltering heat again. So it was in this heat that we trudged to the Wonderland last night, settled in and ordered a couple of cool beers (a hefeweizen and a Newcastle brown ale respectively) and one chili footlong apiece. We've been there several times before, to have a few drinks, dance and on a couple occasions see the Balkanics play, but this was the first time that we'd ordered food.

During happy hour (6-8 pm), footlong chili dogs are $3 (!) and it's $2 off of tap beers. And these are decent beers too, like the aforementioned Newcastle, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Lagunitas.

Even though the hot dog itself was nothing special (but decent enough and truly a footlong), the chili was very tasty (a little smoky like Ben's) and the buns were sturdy and *toasted*, always a plus. Definitely worth $3 (that is, if greasy hot dogs don't make you uncomfortable in this heat).

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Allman's barbecue

Just returned from our extended weekend in the Outer Banks, North Carolina, at the invitation of some friends of ours. Prior to leaving, I had hopefully written here that I planned to return and write about our roadfood finds. Unfortunately, it appeared that while Avon, NC and surrounding towns were filled with restaurants bearing clever names like "Dirty Dick's" (slogan: "I got my crabs at Dirty Dick's!") and "The Froggy Dog," none were recommended by our hosts as sources for good eating. The beach was great, and we prepared some excellent food in the beach house kitchen, just no restaurant eating.

As it turns out, the only place we ended up going to en route (both ways) was Allman's barbecue in Fredericksburg, VA. This marked the second time that we had been to Allman's. On the way down to Fredericksburg we had been racking our brains trying to remember the name of the BBQ place in Fredericksburg that we had patronized back in February (at one point understandably guessing Attman's, which is the name of the Jewish deli that we had a late lunch at while celebrating our anniversary in Baltimore last month) and were finally saved by a stray paper stuffed under the seat that I had scribbled on after our memorable meal.This time we went to their drive-through on Highway 3, as opposed to the restaurant on Jeff Davis Highway (aka Highway 1).

Here at the drive-through unfortunately, you could not order their tasty fries, so we ordered three barbecue pork sandwiches (you can have them either "minced" or "sliced") -- M and I got ours topped with coleslaw, and our friend Mike got one plain. We also ordered sides of baked beans, and unsweetened (once again, for pre-sweetened tea I guess you have to go to the sit-down restaurant!) iced tea. Each sandwich came in its own bag with two containers of barbecue sauce each and three sugar packets for the tea. The grand total came out to be just over $20. Barbecue is the thing to get here; they also serve malts which we recall (the chocolate version at least) as being fairly mediocre (a little too icy) from last time.

We ate this spread in the hot car in the parking lot, savoring the beans even as their temperature matched that of the surrounding air. Their beans have a rich molasses flavor --yum. The meat I found to be a little dry (drier than last time) but the vinegary sauce saved it.

Currently Allman's doesn't seem to have a website up, but you can read about the place here

Friday, July 27, 2007


As a new blogger, this really surprised me: DC Blogs Noted !

Heading out of town

We're leaving for North Carolina tomorrow morning, on a 5-day vacation. First time to the Atlantic coast! Since we're driving, I'm looking forward to enjoying a few meals on the road (As always, our well-thumbed Roadfood guide will be along for the ride). I could see where my nascent interest in eating sustainably and supporting sustainable agriculture could eventually clash with my love of diner food, but in some cases it happily intersects, as in the Farmer's Diner in Vermont. (I first heard about this place while reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle).

Now, if only there was one of these types of places in the D.C. area...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Making choices

I recently finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's memoir, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A year of food life." While I'm not so crazy about the title, and some of her descriptions ring a little false, I agree with her premise that eating locally can benefit yourself, your community and the environment. So many of the health problems in society today can be traced to industrial farming practices. Also, as someone who is passionate about food, I tend to appreciate the locally grown vegetable not only because of where (and, frequently, how) it was grown, but also how it tastes.

I'm not a vegetarian by any stretch of the imagination, though I have toyed with the idea before. The last time I seriously tried it was about two months before I left to study for 6 months in China; that didn't last long over there. After reading Kingsolver's book, I feel more than ever that the ethical choice for me is not going to be about meat v.s. veg, but about local v.s. (fill in the blank). It's funny to think that I would puzzle more over buying a banana or orange than I would a grass-fed steak, but that's what I've been doing lately.

There are four main reasons, that I see, why it's not a good idea to buy meat raised and produced in factory farms:
1) Not good for your health (bad fats; meat is pumped full of antibiotics; e coli)
2) The animal led a miserable existence, if you can call it an existence
3) Huge amounts of waste are produced - from the natural waste of the animals, to the gas burned up in trucking the meat cross-country.
4) It's expensive. Maybe not as expensive as the locally produced, free-range and grass-fed meat that you might get at your local farmer's market, but at least that I see as an investment (and reasons 1-3 do not apply).

Obviously it's not something that happens overnight, and her family has the means (and the land) to live on locally produced products for a year (their established radius was 50 miles). There are some things that are easy for me: not buying soda or processed, packaged food; shopping at the farmer's market; baking my own bread when I have the time; growing tomatoes and herbs on my balcony. When I think about it, the hardest thing, if I were to embark on a project like this, would be to give up citrus and other tropical fruits. Oh, to live locally in Southern California...

The other really hard thing for me would be to give up so-called "ethnic food." As evidenced by my entries here, a lot of the restaurants that I enjoy eating at serve dishes containing ingredients that winged their way to my table from thousands of miles away.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Simple sandwich

Had this on Saturday with a green salad. At this point, it's the only broiler sandwich I can see myself comfortably preparing and eating in hot weather.

Open-faced prosciutto and egg sandwich (inspired by Giada De Laurentis)
Serves 1

3 thin slices of prosciutto
1 egg
.5 cup tomato sauce, warmed
Several fresh basil leaves, chopped
One thick (1") slice bread (I used a slice from a "farm boule" from Trader Joe's)

1. Butter both sides of bread and toast in a skillet. Remove to an oven-safe plate and spread with tomato sauce. Layer prosciutto slices evenly over the sauce. Preheat broiler.
2. Crack egg into skillet from step 1 and fry over-easy until yolk is just set.
3. Place egg atop prosciutto.
4. Grate some Romano or Parmesan over the sandwich to taste.
5. Slide under broiler for a few seconds, until edges of prosciutto start to curl and cheese melts.
6. Grind some black pepper over top and serve with salad.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Keren restaurant

There have been two reasons why we've resorted to eating out so far since moving to D.C. :
1) dinnertime, not home yet and too tired to cook
2) celebration

This morning, our breakfast out was more serendipitous. Call it "dictated by fate" if you will. We had a dentist appointment scheduled, but when we showed up (five minutes late, I might add), the blinds were drawn, no one answered the doorbell/knocking, and a call to their answering machine yielded a full queue with no way to leave a message! So, we decided to use the extra time and go out for breakfast.

Both of us have passed Keren restaurant before but hadn't really thought much of it. However, this time we headed there hoping we could get some of those delicious Ethiopian breakfast beans like what they serve at Dukem (beans might not be the best choice for everyone for breakfast, but we basically embrace any and all manner of breakfasts).

Once inside, a quick glance around (and at the menu) told us that we were in an Eritrean restaurant, not an Ethiopian one. For one, there were pictures of the coastline-- Ethiopia is a landlocked nation. For another, the dish of jumbled-up bits of injera and curried meat was called 'fatta' on the menu, not 'fitfit' as we'd seen in the Ethiopean restaurants we frequent. The menu also featured spaghetti dishes, a fact which tied into something later on in our meal.

We ordered Egyptian mango juice and ful (stewed, spiced beans)- here the ful came with a side of salad, and M ordered scrambled eggs as well. The salad was fresh and contained crisp romaine lettuce, not anemic iceberg. The bread that came with the beans was crusty and fresh and great when dipped in our dishes of beans. It was not lost on us that practically all the ingredients (with the exception of the clarified butter and the particular blend of spices) could have been easily reconfigured into a Mexican repast and no one would have blinked an eye.

As we tucked into our food with English Al-Jazeera playing on the television overhead, we noticed the cook (owner?) chatting with one of our fellow diners, in Italian. Now, M. and I were aware that Italy had some presence in Eritrea in the 19th-20th centuries, but we were puzzled as to why these two people, in this setting, would be conversing in Italian as opposed to the local language (Tigrinya was the only one we were aware of). Italian influences on the food seemed more straightforward than use of the Italian language. Was Italian a lingua franca in Eritrean among local dialects? Was the diner an Ethiopean or from somewhere else in the region? Was their use of a Italian a mark of status, class or education?

A quick internet search shed some light, but didn't completely answer all of our questions. The CIA World Factbook entry on Eritrea does not list Italian among the languages spoken in the country. The Wikipedia entry for Eritrea cites Italian cultural influence but does not talk about the language; it also cites mother tongue education but not Italian language education. It could be that the diner was Somalian, but he seemed a little young to be educated in Italian.

Perhaps we'll just have to visit the Horn someday to resolve this tantalizing linguistic puzzle. But in the meantime, hopefully return visits to Keren are in our future so long as we stay in the neighborhood.

For another review of Keren restaurant, from 2006, visit this page on DCist.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Potato cakes with chard

Chard and Potato Pancakes
Makes 4 medium-sized pancakes, enough for a hearty breakfast for two.

4 leaves swiss chard, washed and chopped into small pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
1 generous cup mashed potato
1 egg, beaten
Tablespoon of feta cheese (I used some type of Bulgarian feta from Whole Foods)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a bit of olive oil in skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic, saute for a few seconds. Then add chard and cook, stirring often, until wilted and cooked, 4-5 minutes. Set chard aside and let cool slightly.

In medium bowl, beat egg, then mix in mashed potato and crumbled feta, adding chard mixture last. When mixed well, heat same skillet over medium high, add a little oil. When oil is heated, add potato mixture in dollops to form four cakes (work quickly). Cook about 3 minutes to a side (don't over-peek!) until crispy and brown; flip and finish when browned all over.

Serve with applesauce and sour cream, if you like. I threw these together this morning and we ate them with toasted buttered bagel halves.

Mama Ayesha's

When school got out back in May, I was optimistic that I would be able to clean our long-neglected apartment in no time. But then internship piled upon job piled upon life and other obligations, and usually by the time I get home I'm so exhausted that I just have enough energy to cook and clean up (the latter if I'm lucky), and then it's bedtime.

This past weekend marked the first in a while that we weren't tied up with something, so I took advantage of the time on Sunday to make a cleaning and organizing afternoon of it. And after that, we decided to take a break and get dinner out (even in the heat, and with M somewhat disabled by his new shoes which gave him a fierce blister). I recommended Mama Ayesha's (Lebanese place in Adams Morgan), since I've been walking past there on my way back from the Metro, and also because I was inspired by my Arabic immersion lessons last week (also part of my duties for my summer job -- paid to learn Arabic? You don't have to twist my arm...) to get some food from the Arab world.

All in all, we probably (and predictably) ordered way too much food. We started with Homous bil Lahmeh with lamb and pinenuts, which I have made before with ground beef. It was very smooth, but I think the combination overall was too mild (not enough dynamic contrast). M ordered a combination plate from the grill that contained very nice chunks of grilled lamb and "springy" (I don't know how else to describe it) nicely spiced kofte, and I ordered the baked garlic chicken. The chicken was some of the best I've had in a long time! I know that restaurant reviewers often say this of chicken done right, but I have to add my voice to the mix: it was so tender *it fell off the bone*. I admit that some of the white meat was a little dry, but the flavor of whatever marinade they put on it (Mama Ayesha's "special garlic sauce") saved it. The skin was also lovely. (my meat eater's self-hatred is kicking in a little at the moment, but what can I say. I'm my mother's daughter. I eat the skin, and I enjoy it!).

I would guess that it was a mixture of yoghurt, garlic, hot peppers, and either sumac or lemon (which would account for the tang). I'm not sure if it was lemon, because my own prior disappointing experience roasting chicken that had been sitting in lemon water told me that a long lemon soak is not always good for the tenderizing department. The pita was chewy and crispy, and great warmed up the next day. We also ordered a salad that turned out to be chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and parsley mixed with tahini (hey, I can do that!). After such a huge meal, our stomachs called for some settling with the help of Arabic coffee -- their version is cardamom heavy, and like we've seen before, comes pre-sweetened (M thinks it may be brewed with the sugar). I was happy with my semi-sweet, and M with his sweet.

We also ordered a bottle of wine (again, in retrospect probably a little much, also considering the heat). Not a place that we would go regularly, since it's a little spendy (the price of M's combo was a little more than we'd like to pay). For kabobs we would probably go to Moby Dick's more often, though admittedly the meat and spicing of Mama Ayesha's kofte is better.

Mama Ayesha's also gets points for atmosphere: I especially liked the star cutouts in the ceiling.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Heller's Bakery

One of the only respites from the sweltering D.C. summer has been the farmer's market. I can put up with the heat and humidity, as long as I believe that the vegetables I buy at market are going to be better for it! This past Saturday, after picking up a few yellow peaches (which were not mealy and very sweet, contrary to what I've come to expect from years of supermarket peaches) and some zucchini and swiss chard (the latter of which later went into two very delicious ham, swiss and chard omelettes), I was feeling a little thirsty, so I decided to walk across the street to Heller's bakery to get an iced coffee.

I've been wanting to go to Heller's ever since we moved here late last summer. The green awning reminded me of a little bakery in Northfield, MN where M and I used to get pastries occasionally. Once inside and forced to wait in line, it occurred to me that I should try out their baked goods (since it was a bakery, after all!). M had requested bagels to go with some cream cheese that we had leftover from making maki sushi (yes, I do make *that* kind of sushi sometimes), so I ordered a half dozen and waited for my coffee. Then, halfway out the door, I realized that duh, bakery bread would be much better than Bestway or Safeway bread, so I waited in line again and ordered a loaf of wheat (the price for a loaf of wheat, at $2.25, was about the same as it would be anywhere else, even Trader Joe's). The nice man behind the counter even asked me if I wanted it sliced! (I said, of course!)

Later, as we bit into the first slice while making omelettes, I was so glad I stopped by! The wheat bread was incredibly fluffy and soft in the middle, with a really chewy dark crust. It didn't need hardly any toasting (or butter, for that matter). Next time I might get it unsliced because the slices were a little too thin for such a fluffy bread. Then the next morning we tried the bagels. They were huge, for one thing, and decently chewy. M, who is more picky about his bagels than I am, approved. I found our bread source! Hurray! It's so exciting to find a good local place, especially for bread!

I'll have to go back and try their pastries; they also had something that looked like fat squares of bread pudding topped with lemon filling that interested me.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Spanish lessons

I've never studied Spanish, but the other night I found myself helping out at a Spanish immersion institute dinner run in part by a couple of women from the Spanish embassy. (this is for my summer job, where I've been assisting with summer language teaching institutes for foreign language teachers). I think I would have been completely lost, were it not for my prior experiences studying French and Italian.

Aside from muddling through with Spanish, half the fun was eating! They brought some wonderful chorizo, cheeses, and bread, and the group learned how to make gazpacho and tortilla espanola.

The "Spanish lesson" of the title came when I tried to say "I'm hot" (as in, It's really hot in the kitchen with all of these helpful bodies!) and, drawing on my Italian knowledge, I tried "Tengo caldo." In response, I got admonished (well, I was talking with a language teacher).

Hmm. I guess I hadn't looked at our bilingual packs of chicken bouillon cubes enough.

Stupid false friends. Cognates can only help you so much...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Washingtonian Cheap Eats 2007: A Commentary

Here are the Washingtonian's 100 best cheap eats for the DC area in 2007. Thought I'd pull from their list in order to document, to date, places we've been and places we want to go. Will jot some notes down for a few and leave the others for embellishment later. I'm sure at least a few will turn up on this blog sooner or later in more tantalizing detail...'till then:

Fish addendum

After I posted about Marlin the other day I belatedly thought to do a little research, since I didn't want to be promoting fish that had safety concerns or were over-fished, etcetera.

A quick Google search yielded this article.

The article is also a useful starting point to learn more about different types of fish and various concerns related to the catching and eating of them.

According to this article, Marlin poses both a health risk (due to Mercury levels) and is over-fished, like swordfish. However, I think like everything else it would be fine in moderation (and who knows the next time I will eat it), though probably better consumed in areas close to where it is fished.

29 Diner

Yesterday I had the good fortune of taking my car to get looked at about a half a block from this neat looking old diner of the 1950s variety called the 29 Diner (Open 24 hours) on Lee Highway/Fairfax Blvd (it's around the corner from Bombay Bistro on Chain bridge). Since I hadn't eaten yet, I figured it was the perfect place to get breakfast.

Of course, as soon as I saw "Country ham" on the menu I knew what I was going to order! I didn't grow up with the stuff, but I can't resist a salty, chewy slab of ham. I ordered a plate with two eggs over-easy, home fries and rye toast. This particular piece reminded me of lap cheung (Chinese cured sausage). The other items were just normal (and the potatoes even a little underdone) but the atmosphere made it all worth it. It was a curious mix of modern and "vintage" (in quotes for fear of overuse), with tabletop jukeboxes (that played rap and 'The devil came down to Georgia') and a customer who sat ensconced in his own booth working on his laptop in the corner.

While I was up at the counter paying my bill, I started chatting with my waitress about where to catch the nearest bus (since I was stranded without a car). She sympathized with my car trouble, then pointed me down the road "It's over in front of the Denny's, unfortunately..." and then grimaced. I laughed, and she followed up with "Well, the stuff we serve here you can't get at Denny's."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Fish tip

Since it's grilling season, we were in the mood for grilling fish out on our visit to M's cousins in Virginia earlier this evening. Tip: If you're in the mood for swordfish but unwilling/unable to shell out over $16 a pound, try marlin. At Wegman's the marlin was about $5 per pound cheaper than swordfish and had the consistency of a cross between tuna and swordfish. I believe this was my first time having marlin. It was rubbed with a mixture of Old Bay, dry mustard, marjoram, dill and lemon pepper (courtesy Chard, I can't take credit for that), grilled briefly, and served with grilled zucchini, a salad, and a rigatoni side (that would be me): rigatoni tossed with minced garlic, quartered grape tomatoes, fresh basil, salt, pepper, a little olive oil and white wine. The wine was chosen by one of the staff at Wegman's- a New Zealand sauvignon blanc that was very complex as whites go.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Lunch at Nirvana

Though I had promised myself that I wasn't going to eat out this week (given our series of meals out with our guests the other week), today, after a hectic morning, Nirvana (on K between 18th and 19th) was the perfect place to de-stress over lunch, at M's suggestion. Their menu is entirely vegetarian (Indian), and they have an $11.99 lunch buffet (apparently the price was jacked up recently but it was still packed when we went; we had to sit at the bar because there wasn't any room for a party of two at the tables!). Although I wouldn't say that it's the best value (unless you have time to wait in line twice, which we didn't), there were a couple stand-outs in the buffet line up that I would go back for. One of them was a dal that had thick, probably homemade square noodles in it; the dal was spiked with a bit of fresh ginger and had a slightly smoky flavor. I think it's a staple of their buffet because M said they had it last time he was there for lunch. The other was a pakora korma (a first for me); the sauce was decadently creamy and just spicy enough. I got some lemon pickle on the side (can't pass up lemon pickle if they're offering it!) but to be honest I think I still prefer the Priya jarred lime ginger pickle that we used to buy in Seattle at the India-Pak grocery on the Ave before they discontinued it...(that was sad). They also had a biryani that tasted like it was seasoned with 5-spice (so it had kind of a Chinese flavor to it) and contained lima beans, golden raisins, and these hot dog-like veggie things that M liked, to my surprise (he remembered them from the last time he went; this was my first time to Nirvana). We realized too late that the idea was to put all the curries in their own separate containers, thali-style, instead of just using one for the dal. That way, you have more room on your plate for rice! We just dumped everything on the plate and it was a (delicious) mess of raita, palak/saag (spinach), a veg curry, the korma, and several pieces of what looked and tasted like chapathi.

Apparently DC Foodies rated Nirvana's dinner as sub-par in 2004; you can read the review here. It could be that the lunch buffet is the way to go. In the realm of Indian restaurants, that wouldn't be unprecedented...

Friday, June 15, 2007

A whirlwind week

So we have guests visiting from Seattle for the week, which means that we've been taking them out to dinner at some of our favorite places. What follows is a brief review of each. It was my second time eating at Dukem and Pasta Mia and one of a handful at Mixtec and Ben's.

Dukem on U Street (MUCH better than the overrated Meskerem on 18th)
-It was mid-afternoon on a Sunday; the place was fairly packed considering it was between 2-3 in the afternoon. A woman was circulating with a tray of bread cubes, followed by a tray of strong Ethiopian coffee (espresso-style). Incense floated in the air. We ordered our perennial favorite, kitfo (raw freshly ground beef mixed with spiced melted butter and served with fresh cheese), along with a lamb wot and a veggie sampler (misser wot, chickpea fritters in a thick, dark, slightly bitter sauce reminiscent of mole, if you can forgive me for mixing cuisine metaphors; a milder lentil wot and the tomato-onion-green pepper salad). The lamb wot, a new dish for us, had a well-blended sauce with just enough spice that was a pleasant surprise.

Saturday, June 9, 2007


Empanadas are something that I never really ate before moving here; now they are one of my favorite snacks/meals on the go, and luckily the Julia's in Adams Morgan is only a few blocks from our apartment building.

Yesterday the heat index was supposed to hit 100 (I never checked to see if it actually made it) and around 4:30 in the afternoon it probably wasn't much cooler. Since I was hungry I stopped at Julia's, hoping for a spinach empanada. (I usually get the saltenas or chilean beef but lately have been craving veggie stuff when I'm out). To my disappointment, the spinach tray was empty, but then just as I was in the midst of ordering one of the veggie daily specials I noticed the woman behind the counter refilling the spinach tray with plump freshly-baked ones, so I changed my order. At $3 they're not cheap by every regional standard but they're reasonable for D.C. Even eaten in the heat out in front of SunTrust bank it was delicious--I felt very lucky to have arrived in such a timely manner. The filling- spinach mixed with ricotta and muenster, lemon juice and pinenuts (according to the menu, although I did not detect any pinenuts in my filling) was tangy and well-mixed, the pastry just the right mix of crustiness and doughiness, and I ate it carefully so as to not waste any of the juices gushing out. It was surprisingly satisfying in the heat.

Whether as empanadas, jiaozi, pasties, tamales, zongzi, chimichangas, eggrolls, spring rolls, or whatever a culture chooses to concoct, handheld packet foods rarely disappoint.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Li Ho

On Wednesday we decided to dine in Chinatown for dinner before going to see Killer of Sheep at the E Street Cinema. Although DC's Chinatown is nothing compared to its more famous counterparts in Vancouver, San Francisco, and even Seattle where I used to live, I had heard that Li Ho's noodles were tasty and wanted to check it out.

Current favorite summer salad

Like all salads, this is subject to your own tastes and the availability of ingredients. Made this last weekend after the season's first trip to the farmer's market with farmer's market romaine and my first batch of home grown sprouts. We ate it with whole wheat pitas that I had baked earlier in the week. To me, this was one of the most satisfying and refreshing salads that I had consumed in a long time. Pick from the list at will, but I think the essentials are definitely greens (duh), apple, mint, radish sprouts, sesame seeds, and feta.

Summer Salad

Romaine lettuce, torn into chunks
carrots, sliced into thin matchsticks
celery, sliced crosswise
half a cup fresh radish sprouts-- they're spicy like horseradish!
handful of herbs (mint, basil, parsley, what have you), finely chopped
about a half a cup of feta cheese (for 2), crumbled
sliced red apple (okay, so apples aren't exactly summery)
about a quarter cup of red onion, minced/finely chopped (could also use shallot)
sesame seeds
Diced cucumber
freshly ground black pepper to taste
olive oil and red vinegar, mixed in equal parts to make a dressing (I use Koon Chun Chinese red vinegar 大紅浙醋)
cured black olives on the side

Layer starting with the romaine and building from there in whatever manner you choose. Drizzle with dressing and serve with olives and whole wheat pita bread if you have it.


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