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.


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