Quick! Before It Bursts!

New York has popup stuff happening all the time: restaurants and stores that are designed to be here today, gone tomorrow. Washington, not so much – until now.

Hurry down to Georgetown, because this Sunday is the last day that the Sabra Hummus House will be serving their signature product with some novel and intriguing toppings. Designed to be temporary, it’s a venue to test out the concept of a restaurant dedicated to hummus and its accompaniments: pita, tzatziki, babaganoush, and other Mediterranean tastes.

Hummus House Outside

Hummus House Outside

The decor has a few nods towards the Middle East theme, but most of the effort to transform this former clothing store has gone into the menu.

The Communal Table

The Communal Table

A View of the Open Kitchen

A View of the Open Kitchen

Inside Looking Out

Inside Looking Out

Along with more traditional hummus preparations, there are some more adventurous choices. I ordered the Mezze combination, one each bowl of babaganoush, tzatziki and avocado combined with Arcadia Farm vegetables (notice the attribution to a local farm? More on that below).

Mezze Entree

Mezze Entree

My lunch companion opted for East Meets West – hummus with inventive combinations of toppings, to wit:

  • • edamame, crystallized ginger and sesame oil – a great, offbeat flavor combination with eye-appeal from the bright green beans;
    • salty roasted pepitas and pumpkin oil – the tamest combination, and least successful IMHO; and
    • crispy rosemary roasted chickpeas and preserved lemon – a knockout.
East Meets West

East Meets West

But wait! There’s more! We had timed our visit to coincide with the weekly chef demo. It turned out to be not so much a demo as a tasting – an array of little bowls of hummus topped with a whole gourmet food store’s worth of condiments. Mary Beth Albright, the local cook and food blogger (also a lawyer specializing in food policy), who had designed the menu in the Sabra corporate kitchen in Richmond, had everything from Sriracha sauce to truffle oil for patrons to try.

Mary Beth Sets Up the Tasting

Mary Beth Sets Up the Tasting

Quite a Spread of Spreads

Quite a Spread of Spreads

There were more of these than usual, she told us, because some were left over from the private “top your own hummus” party at the restaurant a few days ago. Truffle oil truly improves a bowl of hummus. So does pickled ginger.

I asked Mary Beth about the process used to develop the Hummus House concept. She spent days tinkering with likely combinations of ingredients, because, unlike conventional restaurant openings, all the dishes had to be ready to serve for the entire run of the popup. There was no time for adjustments during the short duration of this experiment.

The staff did not seem fazed by the imminent demise of the establishment. They were having a good time.

L to R: Mary Beth, Chef Cory, Seba, Regina

L to R: Mary Beth, Chef Cory, Seba, Regina

The emphasis on locally grown produce is a connection to Sabra’s commitment to the Future Farmers of America (FFA). As a part of that, they are assisting a group of young farmers who want to grow chickpeas in Virginia, and will be donating $25,000 from the Hummus House to the National FFA Scholarship Program. I say, the more local farmers, the better!

Sabra Hummus House
1254 Wisconsin Avenue NW,
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 333-0500

Hours of Operation
Open September 29 – October 26, 2014
Lunch, 11am – 3pm & Dinner 5pm – 9pm

 

Posted in Eating, Restaurant Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Fun and Food at National Harbor

In May, the annual National Harbor Wine and Food Festival combined some of Washington’s top chefs with tastes of food and drink. Then they threw in a great venue – right on the water – and good spring weather. That’s the formula for a great weekend!

Alas, we could only stay for Saturday, but it was enough to see chefs Mike Isabella, Rock Harper, and Scott Drewno playing to the crowd (especially Chef Rock, who had his homies from Alexandria cheering him on!)

First, though, some observation on that crowd and the venue. The pier had a new attraction this year: the just-about-to-be-completed Ferris wheel.

The View From The Chairs

The View From The Chairs

The bubbly flowed at the Opici tent as Ann-Marie poured tastings. Sparkling wine is my favorite tipple, and they had Cava, Prosecco and Champagne varieties to be savored.

Opici's Ann-Marie Pours

Opici’s Ann-Marie Pours

Patrons could pose in a Big Chair with the river in the background and pretend they were on a cruise.

Edith Ann, Where Are You?

Edith Ann, Where Are You?

One guy wore his sentiments on his back.

Tell Us How You Really Feel!

Tell Us How You Really Feel!

There was a bachelorette party having a good time, posing and procuring headgear from the Balloon Man.

Busy Teasing the Bride

Surrounding the Bride

One Bridal Headpiece Coming Up!

One Bridal Headpiece Coming Up!

At the Stella Artois tent, I sampled the new line of cidre (European style cider) and admired the hostesses in their matching dresses.

Stella Cidre Sisters

Stella Cidre Sisters

Off the pier, a large beer tasting tent was pitched on the grass. It was a great place to picnic and chill.

Chillin' Out at the Beer Tent

Chillin’ Out at the Beer Tent

And more cider for tasting – my choice over beer any day!

More Cider

More Cider

Now, about those chefs. Mike Isabella of Graffiato in Washington, DC did a little tasting himself before his demo.

Chef Mike Sipping

Chef Mike Sipping

Then he got down to business and showed us how to make gnudi, which are like gnocchi (and just as much fun to say), poached in water and showered with goat cheese, prosciutto, eggplant and basil.

Chef Mike Makes Gnudi

Chef Mike Makes Gnudi

Chef Rahman “Rock” Harper continued the Italian theme with his preparation of risotto, using mascarpone, butter and Parmesan cheese (what wouldn’t taste good with those ingredients?) “It’s rice and cheese at the end of the day!” So true.

But First, a Selfie

But First, a Selfie

Chef Rock Rocks It

Chef Rock Rocks It

Plating the Risotto

Plating the Risotto

The Italian spell was broken by Chef Scott Drewno of The Source by Wolfgang Puck, who opted to prepare lamb skewers with Asian spices. He showed off his new toy, a stone mortar and pestle he got from Eden Center for $20.00, perfect for grinding spices and making marinades.

Chef Scott's New Toy

Chef Scott’s New Toy

Chef Scott Cooks

Chef Scott Cooks

The crowd at the demo tent appreciated the big monitors so they could get close-ups of the cooking action.

In The Monitor

In The Monitor

After the demos, the three chefs posed for pictures by Nycci Nellis of TheListAreYouOnIt, who organized the demos for the festival.

Would It Be Trite To Say "Cheese"?

Would It Be Trite To Say “Cheese”?

On the way back to the car, I couldn’t help but peek into the Peeps store. If you are hankerin’ for a sugar overdose, that is the place!

Peeps Store

Peeps Store

But we were sated for at least the rest of the day. Sweet wine, cider, food, and cooking camaraderie were plenty for us!

Posted in Cooking, Eating, Events, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

By The Pricking Of My Thumbs

Something tasty this way comes. It’s chestnut season, and the Asian Chestnut tree in my yard is giving up its bounty this week.  It takes me back to the roasted chestnuts being sold on street corners in Philadelphia in my childhood.

Backyard Chestnut Tree

Backyard Chestnut Tree

Close-up of Nuts, Showing Prickly Hulls

Close-up of Nuts, Showing Prickly Hulls

Nut About To Drop

Nut About To Drop

Once a year, I get to try beating the squirrels to these abundant but annoyingly tedious nuts. They have spiky outer hulls (ouch!), papery inner hulls, and more than one competitor for their meat. Some will fall free before hitting the ground, but lots have to be removed from the hulls after they fall.  Besides us and the squirrels, a beetle lays eggs in the flowers in the spring. If the nuts are not processed within a few days of falling, the eggs hatch and the nuts deteriorate from worm damage.

So you need to be on alert if you want to gather a few pounds of nut meat to keep for the rest of the year. We’ve been boiling them after cutting a slit in the shell, peeling them before they cool down (or else the inner hull won’t separate), and freezing the result for the last few days.

Beautiful Chestnuts

Beautiful Chestnuts

Boiling With Slits Cut

Boiling With Slits Cut

Out of Shell, and Inner Hull

Out of Shell, and Inner Hull

The Mess and the Products

The Mess and the Products

Last year, I pureed the nuts with chicken stock and froze them in 1 cup bags.

Puree Ready to Freeze

Puree Ready to Freeze

I’ve been using them as the basis for soup and stuffing. This year, we’ve been able to get more large pieces out of the shells, so I am freezing them separately. Several years ago, I tried making marrons glacés, but it took a lot of time and the results weren’t worth the work.

In the past, I tried freezing the nuts without shelling them, but didn’t have the gumption to process them afterwards, so they just took up room in the freezer. Now, I can just pull out a bag and it’s ready to use.

We also have a black walnut tree. Years ago we put a lot of work into shelling those nuts, as well. (One of these days, I will write an article titled “Things I’ve Done Once.”) Nowadays, we leave them to the squirrels. I wish I could make a deal with the little nut thieves to take all the black walnuts and leave the chestnuts to us!

Here’s a link to a recipe I intend to try: Apple and Chestnut-Stuffed Pork Loin with Cider Sauce

Posted in Cooking | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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.

 

Posted in Eating, Events | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Eating, Events | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

 

image

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.

 

image

Upstairs At Ricciuti’s

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

 

image

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!

Posted in Eating, Events | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Eating, Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Cooking, Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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!

Posted in Eating, Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Eating, Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment