Hope For The Future Of The Planet

North we drove, almost due north, until we swung north-east at York, up to a small town in Pennsylvania with big things happening on a farm just outside it. We took a road trip to the Rodale Institute Experimental Farm near Kutztown, between Reading and Allentown. There are more good things happening up there than I can count! Lest you think that the title of this article is a touch hyperbolic, let me tell you about some of them.

The Rodale name is familiar to anyone acquainted with organic gardening. Indeed, Organic Gardening Magazine is the flagship publication of an empire dedicated to healthy lifestyles, with books, magazines and social media encouraging self- and world-improvement; for instance, they published Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. The experimental farm puts into practice what the publications advocate.

Driving up to the farm, one is first impressed by the view of rolling green fields against a blue sky.

The View From There

The View From There

Then comes a picture-perfect farmhouse complete with cats, but inside it’s all bustling. The house is a business center, one of a collection of buildings: classrooms, barns, greenhouses, equipment sheds, a geodesic dome (!) among other livestock housing, and environmentally responsible tertiary-treatment recycling toilets. At least one of them has a green roof.

Farm House Complete With Cat

Farm House Complete With Cat

Tertiary Toilets

Tertiary Toilets

The Green Roof

The Green Roof

And rain barrels with messages (for the school groups).

Rain Barrel Lesson

Message On A Barrel

Aaron Kinsman met us with a golf cart, and gave us a tour. First stop was the organic apple orchard: 1100 trees, managed with LISA (Low-Input Sustainable Agriculture). Their leaves are sprayed with kaolin (clay) to make them taste bad. The coddling moth’s mating cycle is interrupted by pheromones. The result? Beautiful apples without pesticides.

Aaron And The Apple Trees

Aaron And The Apple Trees

There are 330 acres of experimental agriculture.  Aaron was eager to explain them all.

There are many animals. The pigs are heritage breeds, Large Black and Tamworth. They are raised for 7 to 8 months before their meat becomes a palette for some very lucky restaurant chefs.

Happy Pigs

Happy Pigs

There is a veterinarian on call, who treats the animals with a mix of conventional medicine, homeopathy, herbs, and acupuncture. Now, I find acupuncture barely credible for humans, but am stretching mightily to imagine it for pigs and donkeys.

Speaking Of Donkeys...

Speaking Of Donkeys…

We met Mr. Tuggs and Irwin. “They’re rescue donkeys,” said Aaron. “We didn’t plan on them.” But the goats are on purpose. Nigerian dwarf goats named Alfalfa, Rose, Daisy, Iris, Clover, Marigold, and Zorro – he’s the buck.

Flowery Goats

Flowery Goats

There are oxen, Lewis and Clark. There are chickens, of course there are chickens, housed in movable coops.

Free-Range Chickens

Free-Range Chickens

And there are bees, a colony of hives. It’s the Honeybee Conservancy, dedicated to studying how to make them thrive. They are Thomas Hybrid Hives, looking like nothing I’ve seen before, of vertical African design. The bees draw their own comb size. Forcing bees to live in over-sized comb cells is apparently one of the stressors contributing to honeybee decline in conventional hives.

Bees Up Close

Bees Up Close

And From Afar, With Bicycles

And From Afar, With Bicycles

Then we went to see the fields. We drove past the field leased to the CSA,

CSA At Work

CSA At Work

past the compost piles,

Compost

Compost

out to the flat rows of green. These were not so photogenic, but were educational. Rodale ran a great experiment here, for 30 years, practicing crop rotation, all varieties of cover crops, no-till methods, GMO, non-GMO, you name it. The Farming Systems Trial’s results show that organic methods are at least as good, and often superior to, conventional farming, by several measures: healthier soil, less greenhouse gases, less energy input, and more profitable. Read more about it at www.rodaleinstitute.org.

On the way back, we met James Burkholder, Rodale’s neighbor farmer. He is applying Rodale’s methods on his farm, thereby extending the oasis of organic farming in the midst of the conventional wilderness. He raises cows.

Farmer James

Farmer James

Neighbor Cows

Neighbor Cows

The Rodale farm welcomes visitors. There will be an Apple Festival on September 20, when the public will be invited to harvest those organic apples. There is much more information at www.rodaleinstitute.org.

 

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Prince Caspian for a Night

Singers! Food! Musicians! Food! Dancers! Food! Artists creating Art before our eyes! And did I mention food?

Most Americans couldn’t find Azerbaijan on a map, but the Azerbaijan America Alliance (AAA) gave a spectacular Gala Dinner and Cultural Evening that could rival the best any in Europe could offer. (For the record, it’s just south of Russia, on the western shore of the Caspian Sea.)

We were graciously invited to the event to write about the distinctive cuisine served at the dinner. Now, we didn’t know what to expect; like most of the Americans referenced above, Azerbaijan is not usually on our cultural radar, but we were in for a very pleasant surprise.

This Must Be The Place!

This Must Be The Place!

The Projection From Inside

The Projection From Inside

The Cavernous Hall

The Cavernous Hall

The vast interior of the National Building Museum held tables for about 500, and a large stage. Waiters passed wine and pomegranate juice (Azerbaijani wine? No, Californian). The waiters looked very fetching and exotic in their tall hats.

The High-Hatted Waiter

The High-Hatted Waiter

In a quick peek behind the scenes, I got a preview of the dessert course, the plates laid out in their hundreds behind a curtain.

Almost Endless Desserts

Almost Endless Desserts

We took our seats, and met our tablemates. Among them were a young couple, Jason and Tunzala. She is from Azerbaijan and remembered the dishes from her homeland, so I learned a few insider facts I would not have otherwise.

But first, there were speeches: A welcome by Anar Mammadov, the founder of the AAA; remarks by H.E. Elin Suleymanov, the Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan; and a keynote by Congressman Dan Burton, the chairman of the AAA. Then, the music started, and dinner was served.

Many acts performed with great energy. This was frustrating, as their constant motion made unblurred pictures practically impossible! But I did manage to catch a few.

Sabina Babeyeva, Azerbaijani  Pop Star

Sabina Babeyeva, Azerbaijani Pop Star

The Pearl of Azerbaijan Dancers

The Pearl of Azerbaijan Dancers

More Dancers - And Some Schmoozers

More Dancers – And Some Schmoozers

Art Was Assembled While We Watched

Art Was Assembled While We Watched

The appetizer, Caspian Salad, was an artful arrangement of greens and salmon with pomegranate sauce. “It would be sturgeon at home,” said Tunzala. It was good nonetheless.

Caspian Salad

Caspian Salad

Next came Dolma. Stuffed grape leaves are most commonly thought of in America as part of Greek cuisine, but they are found throughout the Mediterranean, and, yes! Caspian countries. These contained ground lamb and rice, and were served with a minted yogurt sauce. They were delicious, exemplars of their kind.

Dolma

Dolma

There was a lovely brace of lamb chops with lavash and a sumakh sauce,

Lamb Chops

Lamb Chops

then a dumpling stuffed with Basmati rice, chicken, chestnuts, and dried fruits identified on the menu as Shakh Plov, “Signature Dish of Azerbaijani Cuisine.” Tunzala said that it is always served as the last course at weddings. I have to apologize for the quality of the picture; I had reached my wine limit just then!

Shakh Plov

Shakh Plov

Dessert came; the assortment of pastries, filled with nuts and honey, I had seen earlier. Tea was served in glasses with filigreed holders. Very agreeable.

The AAA’s stated mission is to further a mutual understanding between Azerbaijan and America. Events like this one will surely help to accomplish that!

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We Make Progress Through Olney

About 30 lucky folks gathered at Jane McCarthy’s lovely backyard to enjoy wines contributed by the Winery at Olney and appetizers for the Market’s Progressive Dinner fundraiser.

 

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Jane’s Back Yard

We then proceeded to Taste Gastropub for a tapas course of watermelon, radish and cherry tomato salad – and more wine.

Around the corner, we found ourselves in an upstairs room at Ricciuti’s, for a pasta main course accompanied by, yes, more wine!  James Ricciuti stopped by greet our party.

 

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Upstairs At Ricciuti’s

And lastly, we ended the festive evening at al Sospiro for a plate of three desserts.

 

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Al Sospiro, Ho!

Thank you, Taste,  Ricciutis, al Sospiro, the Winery at Olney, and Jane!  And all who contributed to our Friends of the Olney Farmers and Artists Market fundraiser!

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In Search Of “Natural” Food

Attending the Natural Products Expo East, you might wonder about the definition of “natural food.” Products from ice cream and gelato to whole grains (yes, Bob’s Red Mill was there), to soda, barbeque sauce and candy were on display.

I understand that there is no officially accepted definition of “natural,” as there is for “organic,” so the companies exhibiting at the Baltimore Convention Center are free to claim the descriptor at will. And they do! Unlike the Fancy Food Show, where an air of damn-the-calories decadence dominates, most exhibitors at NPEE want to sell you on a health angle. If that healthy product happens to be super-premium ice cream, so be it!

I had a good time, of course, because the show involved eating, and some of my favorite products were there to try. Bruce Cost Ginger Ale was showcasing their 66-calorie product, called, appropriately, “66.” It uses monk fruit to replace some of the sweetener in their full-cane-sugar ginger ale. Now, I would call that both natural and delicious.

And speaking of drinks, Honest Tea was there, pushing not only tea but a book. The founders, Seth Goldman and Barry J. Nalebuff, talked engagingly about the growth of their business from five thermoses into a 100-million bottles-a-year behemoth. Their social mission has survived from founding in Seth’s Bethesda kitchen to being sold to Coca-Cola in 2011.

Honest Tea's Goldman and Nalebuff

Honest Tea’s Goldman and Nalebuff

Their book, Mission In A Bottle, tells all about it. Tea is real. Tea is in earnest.

That brass band from Bob’s Red Mill was there again. So was Bob. It was nice chatting with him again, and marveling at the large variety of grains on display. Stores never carry the full range of Bob’s products, so seeing them all at once is awesome. And definitely natural!

Bob's Band

Bob’s Band

Bob's Products

Bob’s Products

And as for the frozen treats, the friendly folks at Gelato Fiasco were spooning a delicious sampling of their exotic flavors. It’s always good to chat and taste with them!

Fiasco Folks

Fiasco Folks

And just down the aisle, I was stopped in my tracks by the Gifford’s Ice Cream booth. Could it be the locally famous company which sold the Washington, DC area’s best ice cream back in the Twentieth Century, and had a brief revival in the Twenty-Oughts? Yes and no, and it’s complicated: the folks at the show are a dairy-owning family named Gifford who have been making and selling ice cream sporadically in New England since the late 1800′s, but not under their own name. When Gifford’s of Washington went out of business in 2011, the Giffords of Maine bought the name and trademark.

And how is their product? Well, it can’t match the memory of ice cream parlors with twisted wire chairs, a marble counter and individual pitchers of hot fudge for the sundaes, but it’s pretty darned good. Indeed, it has won prizes at the World Dairy Expo and other events, so it must be superior. And all-natural flavors – there’s that word again!

ISO The Gifford's Of My Youth

ISO The Gifford’s Of My Youth

There were some folks from the heartland (North Carolina, that is), who brought their grits, cornmeal, and whole-wheat flour to the show. Bear Branch Milling Company’s slogan is “A Man Full of Grits is a Man Full of Peace.” Still, they looked rather on the fierce side – like peaceful bears, maybe.

Bears Full of Grits

Bears Full of Grits

The Montanans had a display similar to the one last year, and were just as friendly. But, wait, olive oil grown in Montana? Well, no, imported, actually; but value-added with flavors in the Big Sky State. And all-natural, of course.

Made In Montana

Made In Montana

And lastly, Marisa McClellan was signing copies of her book, Food in Jars. The latest proof of the old maxim, “everything old is new again.”  Canning, as a way of preserving food: something my grandmother would recognize.

Marisa and Book

Marisa and Book

It’s an eclectic show. There are household, heath-related, and cosmetic products as well as food, filling the Baltimore Convention Center every year – a one-stop shop for retailers, who can find products to fill their store shelves which consumers can feel good about using.

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The Ends of The Earth, Next Door

I went down to the Folklife Festival on Saturday. I was hoping to go on Friday, because one of the demonstrations at the Chinese kitchen was listed as “Duck Blood Glass Noodle Soup,” but didn’t manage to.

“You didn’t miss it – it didn’t happen,” said Arnie Malin, the Foodways Coordinator for the Festival. “I couldn’t find any duck blood.”

He shouldn’t feel too bad about that, though, as he did locate an impressive array of other ingredients. Another dish was billed as “Capsella Meatball Soup.” Capsella is shepherd’s purse, a plant which grows wild just about everywhere around here but is not sold in stores. Chinese leeks, bought frozen, made a good substitute. Anyway, as he told me, the Festival isn’t about absolute authenticity in the food preparation, but about the people preparing the food, and the stories they tell while they do it.

I was allowed back in the kitchen to meet the cooks and take pictures. I found two chefs from the same restaurant in Beijing, prepping for the demos. Yuman Zhao is a pastry chef who was about to demonstrate “Huangyang-Style Jade Shumai.”

Chefs Yuman and Peng, With Dumplings

Chefs Yuman and Peng, With Dumplings

Chef Peng Wang in the Open-Air Kitchen

Chef Peng Wang in the Open-Air Kitchen

True to Arnie’s promise, Chef Yuman’s demonstration included an explanation of the significance of jade in Chinese culture. The dumplings are colored jade green with spinach juice, to represent the precious stone, which has a spiritual significance beyond its value as decoration.

Chef Yuman Got a Rhythm Going With the Chef Knives

Chef Yuman Got a Rhythm Going With the Chef Knives

But I was most impressed with her technique in forming the “flower-bottle top dumplings,” as she shaped the dough into a roll, pinched off bits, flattened them with her palm, then used a stick to roll each into a flat round. She had two sticks. The professional one had tapered ends, but the home-style stick was just a cylinder. I suspect it can be made from a broom handle.

Two Sticks - She Can Use Them Both

Two Sticks – She Can Use Them Both

The dumplings are filled with mixed vegetables, garnished with a little chopped bacon, and then steamed in a bamboo steamer. They are beautiful and delicious.

Flower Bottles, Garnished With Bacon

Flower Bottles, Garnished With Bacon

Over at the Flavors of Kenya, the “Swahili Snacks” program was just finishing up. The demos had been divided into Coast and Upland cuisine, and Amina and Fatma were cooking some coastal specialties.

Amina and Fatma, With Interpreter

Amina and Fatma, With Interpreter

The coastal areas of Kenya have been influenced by trade with India and parts East, while the uplands dishes use less spice and have a distinctive taste due to use of a fermented cooking oil (about which, more later).

Amina in the Kenyan Kitchen

Amina in the Kenyan Kitchen

Fatma is from Lamu, and works in a museum. She has been cooking since she was eight years old. She and Amina had made two traditional snacks. Date cake was made with dates, eggs, butter, flour, sugar, and cardamom, garnished with raisins. It was pleasant, but no match for the deep-fried goodness of bajia: fritters made with gram flour and baking powder, mixed with potatoes, bell pepper, onions, garlic, coriander leaves, and salt. (“Don’t forget to write down salt,” said Fatma. “It’s very important!”) She’s right.

Kenyan Snacks: Bajia and Date Cake

Kenyan Snacks: Bajia and Date Cake

The next session was equal time for upland Kenya. Emily and Alice Oduor live near Lake Victoria, and run a catering business. Emily demonstrated how to prepare “Upland Stew: Beef Pilau,” while explaining that pilau is a universal dish in Kenya, but has regional variations. The major variation in her version was the use of that cooking oil I mentioned earlier. I got a whiff of it, and it smelled like nothing you would think of as edible – but then the finished dishes smelled remarkably enticing! Its transformational power must be something akin to Asian fish sauce.

Chefs Alice and Emily Oduor, with Interpreter Phyllis Ressler

Chefs Alice and Emily Oduor, with Interpreter Phyllis Ressler

Emily explained that although it’s called “ghee” in Kenya, it is far removed from the clarified butter of Indian cuisine. Here’s how she explained its manufacture:

Put unpasteurized milk into a gourd at room temperature for 24 hours, until it starts to look like yoghurt. Then, shake it “for all afternoon,” and as it becomes covered with “yellow cream,” collect that cream and boil it for two hours. Now, the oil can be kept indefinitely, without refrigeration. Emily brought a bottle of it with her from Kenya, wisely assuming that she’d never find it here.

Audience Members and Pilau in the Mirror

Audience Members and Pilau in the Mirror

Then Alice cooked collard greens, after impressing us all with her knife skills. She shredded those greens while remarkably not cutting herself.

Cutting Collards Closely

Cutting Collards Closely

The dish is known as “Sukima Wiki,” or “Push the Week.” Alice explained that it means that, because the dish is cheap and easy to cook, it can push the food budget for the week to last until the next paycheck. The only ingredients are collards, onions and that “ghee,” and it only takes five minutes after the collards are added to the sautéed onions.

Emily gave us a lesson in Kenyan hospitality. Kenyans cook in big pots, enough for the “unseen [unexpected] guest.” House guests will be offered food without being asked first, in order to not give them an opportunity to refuse out of politeness. It made me want to book passage to Kenya immediately. Land at the coast, and make my way to Lake Victoria!

And P.S. There was a huge arch constructed on the grounds at the entrance to the Festival. It was a magnet for selfies. I couldn’t resist.

Arch Selfie

Arch Selfie

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OMG! Wine and Oysters and More at the OEG

Remember my article about the wonderful Stargazing Dinner fundraiser for the Olney Farmers and Artists Market? Elyse Kudo, of Jackson Family Fine Wines, who donated the wine for that event, arranged for us to attend a fabulous Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc and Oyster Dinner at the Old Ebbitt Grill. It was a chance to educate our palates while indulging our senses.

The private dining room in the basement of the OEG (as its familiars refer to it) is decorated to resemble a cozy hunting den. There is a bar and room for several tables for eight. Each table was set with more glassware than I own.

The Tables Are Set

The Tables Are Set

After a warm-up glass of sparkling wine and a few passed nibbles, we were seated. Each place setting had a placemat with information about the wines and oysters we would taste together.

Place Setting

Place Setting

Marcia Monahan-Torres is the winemaker for Matanzas Creek Winery. She learned her craft in her native Chile, and has put her stamp on the wines made in Sonoma County.

Marcia Monahan-Torres Tells Us About Her Wine

Marcia Monahan-Torres Tells Us About Her Wine

She gave us a lively description of the characteristics of each wine, and led us through each taste. Together with Rowan Jacobsen, the oyster expert, she provided the knowledge and background to appreciate the taste experience of each wine and oyster variety.

We Wait For Our Oyster Lesson

We Wait For Our Oyster Lesson

The oyster pairings chosen for our dinner were mainly from the West Coast. The lone Easterner was from Maine(!) (O my Chesapeake soul!) Here are the pairings: Sonoma County with Kumamotos; Bennett Valley with Hood Canal (“frisky”) oysters, Helena Bench with Kusshis, and Journey with Maine Pinnaquins.

It was mentioned in passing that the OEG is the only restaurant which tests every single bag of oysters it accepts, for possible pathogens. That’s understandable, as its reputation rests on oysters and other seafood. I don’t think any pathogen would have stood up to the amount of alcohol served that night.

Still Life With Wine and Oysters

Still Life With Wine and Oysters

After the oyster service, we got down to the serious eating. A salad of asparagus and crabmeat was served with a 2012 Matanzas Creek Chardonnay; rack of lamb with 2011 Merlot; and Chocolate Decadence with 2011 Journey. Matanzas Creek is justifiably proud of their Journey wines.

Asparagus and Menu

Asparagus and Menu

Lamb, Rare and Very Tender

Lamb, Rare and Very Tender

Dessert Decadence

Dessert Decadence

The wait staff was having a good time as well – maybe not as good as the patrons, but they were cheerful and very polished.

At Your Service!

At Your Service!

This Waiter's a Pro!

This Waiter’s a Pro!

Altogether an amazing evening!

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Whirlwind World Tour at the Embassy Chef Challenge

The Embassy Chef Challenge is an annual benefit supporting the free programs and events provided by Cultural Tourism DC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting Washington DC’s art, culture and heritage. This is a unique advantage of living in the Washington DC area – a chance to try a diverse selection of cuisines as interpreted by Embassy chefs from around the globe.

The Challenge is a compressed, indoor version of the two events that Cultural Tourism DC is best known for: the Embassy Open Houses held each spring, when many international embassies have thousands of people coming through their premises for a taste of culture.  Fifteen Embassy chefs took part in vying for People’s Choice and Judge’s Choice Awards. There was also an auction with items offering culinary and travel adventures.

I got to the Ronald Reagan Building a little early. There were some arty picture opportunities from the balconies surrounding the floor.

Looking Down On The Food

Looking Down On The Food

Floor Before The Event Begins

Floor Before The Event Begins

There was a small reception for the judges, organizers, and VIPs, with some very creative serving arrangements. At first I thought these spheres were little terrariums, but they turned out to be a unique delivery system for mussel salad provided by Belga Cafe. Participatory gustation: we were instructed to shake first, then consume.

 

 

Salad Spheres

Salad Spheres

The main event took place in the soaring atrium space of the RR Building. It started filling up with hungry and thirsty folks. There was a welcoming ceremony, in which the organizers thanked the participants, sponsors and embassy staff for their contributions to the cause of Cultural Tourism DC. Capricia Marshall, the honorary chair, spoke winsomely, as did Timothy Cox, Chair of the Board of Directors.

Timothy Cox and Capricia Marshall Say Hello

Timothy Cox and Capricia Marshall Say Hello

And then, the actual Mayor of Washington, DC appeared! He proved very popular.
Then we were free to taste. I started to methodically work my way around the room, determined to appreciate each country’s offerings. They ranged widely in the degree of detail applied to each station; some were simple and food-focused, others more elaborate. Of course, the latter made better photo ops.

Mayor Gray Appears

Mayor Gray Appears

Uzbekistan not only had very tasty food, but carved fruit as the highlight of an eye-catching display.

Trinidad and Tobago seemed to have modified a parade float for their display. They served marinated crab atop a giant Styrofoam replica of the same, with parade costumes on manikins and a colorful backdrop. And it was here that I learned that many of these plates were being served by the actual ambassadors themselves.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan

The Thai Embassy was distinguished by the wonderful matching silk dresses worn by the staff, and the Ambassador’s wife. And, as it turned out, by the food as well. They won the Judge’s Choice award with their Spicy Salmon Salad – “Phla Salmon.”

Trinidad and Tobago Crab

Trinidad and Tobago Crab

Thailand

Thailand

The Norwegian chef displayed his patriotism by his splendid pants.

Norwegian Pants

Norwegian Pants

But no one could best Poland for costume. Their servers were beautifully turned out in native garb, the men as well as the women. The food was artfully presented, as well. They had two dishes, smoked trout and a cheese terrine, as well as Polish beer.

 

The dish that captured the People’s Choice Award was served by the Russian Federation – Salmon Ice Cream with Black Caviar Sauce. Chef Roman Shchadrin found the recipe in an old book of dishes served at the court of Catherine the Great in St. Petersburg. He was churning it on site.

Poland

Poland

And way down at the end, Botswana had a sleeper hit with Pulled Goat Meat. They had a simple display, but the food was delicious.

Russian Ice Cream

Russian Ice Cream

Towards the end of the sampling time, I noticed some food swapping going on among countries. Poland and El Salvador improved International relations while posing for a picture.

Food Swap!

Food Swap!

And then it was time to announce the winners of the competition. The judges were introduced.

Judges, L to R:  Bart Vandaele,  Amy Riolo,  Joan Nathan, Xavier Deshayes, Lauren DeSantis, Tim Carman, Nathan Bates

Judges, L to R: Bart Vandaele, Amy Riolo, Joan Nathan, Xavier Deshayes, Lauren DeSantis, Tim Carman, Nathan Bates

The Judge’s Choice winner was Chef Jiraporn Bunlert of the Royal Thai Embassy. The People’s Choice award was given to Chef Roman for that amazing salmon ice cream. The winning chefs posed with the ambassadors.

All the chefs were assembled for a group picture with the judges.

Chefs and Ambassadors

Chefs and Ambassadors

The crowd of serious foodies and schmoozies (I just made that one up) was delighted. So was I.

All Chefs

All Chefs

Happy Crowd

Happy Crowd

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You Take A Stick Of Bamboo

And cook it in the springtime, oh oh, oh oh, yummy! I’m lucky enough to have a source of fresh bamboo, which is so different from the canned stuff as to be unrecognizable.

My friend Jim grows many varieties of bamboo in his backyard. He gave me a bagful with three different kinds. How does he cook it? He doesn’t. Fortunately, my other friend Liz does. She recommended the Chinese red-cooked method.

Raw Bamboo Shoots, With a Quarter For Scale

Raw Bamboo Shoots, With a Quarter For Scale

First you have to simmer it for an hour to tenderize it, then proceed with your recipe. I simmered, and then stored it to cook later in the week, but before I got around to red-cooking it, I had an emergency – a dish in desperate need of a vegetable, without time to boil the pokeweed I had picked earlier. Luckily, the bamboo was just sitting there waiting. It worked really well.

I had a package of sirloin steak tips and a recipe for steak in Balsamic vinegar. I added some sweet onions and planned to serve it over a scallion pancake (pa jeon), which came frozen from Trader Joe’s. (This pancake is not up to the dish served in Korean restaurants, but it’s not half bad.)

Steak and Bamboo Cooking

Steak and Bamboo Cooking

A quick slice and dice of three or four bamboo stalks and my dish was complete. I just added them at the end of cooking and let them heat up.

Finished Dish - Steak and Bamboo over Pa Jeon

Finished Dish – Steak and Bamboo over Pa Jeon

Delicious. Thanks, Jim!

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More Is More: Tom Sietsema and Jose Andres at the Newseum

In the Newseum Auditorium on Monday, the restaurant critic and the chef held about 500 people enthralled for nearly two hours. David Hagedorn was there, too, but as moderator he was lagniappe: a nice surprise but not vital to the experience. He did add to the ambiance of the sartorial spectacle with his chartreuse socks.

The Sign In The Newseum Lobby

The Sign In The Newseum Lobby

But I get ahead of the story. First, there was the reception for those in Press Pass, the annual membership program for the Newseum. There were passed nibbles, wine and a view on the sixth floor, then a trip down in the glassed-in elevator to the best seats in the auditorium. Those in the first row could rest their wine glasses on the edge of the stage. What a perk!

Marscapone Purses

Marscapone Purses

Wine And The View

Wine And The View

As an introduction, two short videos were shown. There were clips of a Sixty Minutes segment on Chef Jose, and “Tom Sietsema’s TV Dinners,” featuring a tour of Tom’s refrigerator. The highlight? A souvenir from the White House: M&M’s signed by POTUS himself.

M&M's or O&O's?

M&M’s or O&O’s?

Then they got down to a wide-ranging conversation encompassing not just the current foodie scene, but back stories of both men and tales of restaurants gone but not forgotten; the new neighborhoods of destinations like H Street, and the trend, partially fueled by social media (ahem), of reviewing new places as soon as they open.

David, Tom, Jose, Wineglasses

David, Tom, Jose, Wineglasses

That led to a discussion of amateur online reviews, which Tom described as both great and hellish at the same time. Now, critics get judged too – and even though “the Washington Post still has gravitas, it keeps us on our toes!”

Chef Andres reminisced that in the early 90′s, he would wait in front of the Post building on Wednesday for the Sunday magazine to be delivered, to see if he had been reviewed. His first review was only two stars!

Last Sunday’s Spring Dining Guide made amends for that. The only four-star review was for Chef Andres’ Minibar, and he was called a “genius” on the cover, to boot. That led to a discussion of the cost – at $600 a person, it should be a “transporting experience!” But Chef Jose maintained that good food costs money: “Put these things in balance – do you want the DNA of a clown, or do you want to be an avatar?”

First Row Perk - A Refill

First Row Perk – A Refill

Tom pointed out that the DC food scene has been encouraged by a President and First Lady who enjoy eating out and who have elevated their personal chef. And on the subject of trendy places which don’t take reservations, he expected that FLOTUS and POTUS would have to stand in line at Little Serow (but I’m not sure he was serious)!

Then he blamed Chef Jose for the whole “small plates” trend. After all, he was the first to introduce Washington to tapas at Jaleo. But tapas, the chef countered, gives one control over the dish – it is eaten at the perfect moment of creation!

The discussion ended on a high point with Chef Jose extolling the burgeoning food scene, including food trucks. Young people can own their own business, control their destinies! “More is more!”

And no occasion of 2014 would be complete without a selfie.

Selfie!

Selfie!

But this is my cherished souvenir:

Signed_Program

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Up To New York City: The 2013 Fancy Food Show, Part 2: Everything Off The Floor

Parties, panels, demos! Even before the show opened, there was entertainment at the opening reception. A medley of songs from “Les Miserables” was presented with the lyrics rewritten as a paean to Fancy Food. For the big finish, a checked tablecloth waved overhead in lieu of the Tricolor.

The Big Finish

The Big Finish

There was a lot to see and do off the show floor. One interesting synergy: a panel called “Chop, Chat and Charm,” with three very public chefs: Sara Moulton, Kelsey Nixon, and Roger Mooking, talking about the chef as performer; then, a little later the same day, Sara put advice into practice with an actual cooking demo.

Media Chef Panel

Performing Chef Panel

It was fascinating to see her enact some of the principles she mentioned in the panel: tell a story; know your audience; ask questions as well as answer them; recruit an audience member to help; have samples and giveaways. And, if you’re on TV, smile all the time!

Sara Moulton With Audience Volunteer

Sara Moulton With Audience Volunteer

The Italian Trade Commission sponsored a panel called “Find The Fake,” a tasting designed to educate participants in detecting fake olive oil. This is a growing problem around the world, and the Italians, with more olive trees than any other country, are understandably concerned.

There were two representatives of UNAPROL (Italian National Union of Olive Oil Growers Association), and Bill Marsano, a veteran food and travel writer, on the panel. After they extolled the virtues of Italian oil, we were led in a guided tasting of four samples, three real olive oils and one fake. Then we were rewarded with bottles of the real thing!

Olive Oil Experts: Bill Marsano at left

Olive Oil Experts: Bill Marsano at left

There were several off-site parties all on the same day, so we had to make a choice. We went with the Buyer’s Best Friend party at Vermilion Restaurant. There, we met folks from Gelato Fiasco, a company with two stores in Maine selling excellent Italian-style gelato. They also ship pints south, to be sold in grocery stores near us. Life is good!

Buyer’s Best Friend is a wholesaler that gives small, artisanal businesses a chance to be distributed in larger markets. They are always one of the friendliest places on the show floor, and I totally approve of their business objectives. And they throw a great party, too!

Star Cooper With Fiasco Flavors

Star Cooper With Fiasco Flavors

I got an arty shot of part of the New Product Display, one of the highlights of the show.

Impressions of New Product Display

Impressions of New Product Display

Stay tuned for Part 3: Product Spotlight

 

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