The Pastrami You Meet In Heaven

Food is Love: a sentiment no one would dispute, so true that there could hardly be room for discussion.  Yet, this simple statement contains multitudes – and drives family dynamics.  It can certainly sustain a two-hour play, and there’s a thought-provoking, beautifully-acted example on view in Olney right now.

At the center of Aubergine, at the Olney Theatre Center, lies the relationship between a father and son, explored through stagecraft and character monologues as well as straight-on interaction.  The projections and stage ninjas moving furniture around don’t distract from the finely honed performances, especially those of Eunice Bae as Cornelia and Tony Nam as Ray.  As Ray’s dying father, Glenn Kubota is required to lie unmoving for most of his on-stage time, but manages once to spring upright and deliver a monologue of his own.

Ray became a chef in reaction to his father’s attitude towards food and cooking – he’s indifferent to food and sees cooking as women’s work.  Left alone together by the death of Ray’s mother, their relationship is fraught and adversarial, yet Ray moves his father into his dining room to nurse him as he succumbs to liver cirrhosis.  Ray’s only (cold) comfort is his former girlfriend, Cornelia, whom he dragoons into phoning his father’s estranged brother back in Korea.

Ray’s angst leads him to consume many cans of beer in his lonely despair.  The audience almost despairs along with him, but wait – it’s early in the play!  Lucien (Jefferson Russell), the hospice nurse, arrives.  He is a refugee from an unspecified disaster, the representative of an alien culture dealing with his own issues of loss, yet resolutely cheerful,  showing Ray a way out of his fugue.  Lucien’s gift of an eponymous eggplant – “Call them aubergines, then they taste better” –  signals that the situation is about to change.  The audience is ready for it by this time.

Jefferson A. Russell (Lucien) and Tony Nam (Ray) in Aubergine written by Julia Cho. (Photo: Stan Barouh)

Jefferson A. Russell (Lucien) and Tony Nam (Ray) in Aubergine written by Julia Cho. (Photo: Stan Barouh)

 

Sure enough, just before intermission, Ray’s uncle arrives.  He brings comfort in the form of soup ingredients, one of which is a live turtle.  Ray is expected to dispatch and cook the “very expensive, special” chelonian and feed the soup to his father, who is mostly unconscious and beyond eating.

Ray’s Uncle (Song Kim) speaks no English; most of his dialog is accompanied by supertitles projected on the backdrop.  This does not hinder his function as a dramatic device, as he deepens our understanding of Ray’s father and his relationship to his son.

Glenn Kubota (Ray's Father), Eunice Bae (Cornelia), Tony Nam (Ray), and Song Kim (Uncle) in Julia Cho's Aubergine at Olney Theatre Center. (Photo: Stan Barouh)

Glenn Kubota (Ray’s Father), Eunice Bae (Cornelia), Tony Nam (Ray), and Song Kim (Uncle) in Julia Cho’s Aubergine at Olney Theatre Center. (Photo: Stan Barouh)

The play is bookended by two scenes: a blond woman (Megan Anderson) beautifully delivering an affecting but seemingly-unrelated monologue about her father’s last meal, a lovingly-made pastrami sandwich; and an epilogue rather at odds with the tenor of the rest of the play, bringing the woman, and the sandwich, into the play’s action. It’s open to interpretation – have the characters transmogrified into their best selves, or perhaps obtained their final rewards?  Hint: at the end, even the turtle is happy.

Aubergine, by Julia Cho, at Olney Theatre Center, now thru March 4. Co-produced with Everyman Theatre; directed by Vincent M. Lancisi; part of 2018 Women’s Voices Theater Festival.

 

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What You Need, and Need to Know: USBevX 2018

Last year, I went to the trade show of USBevX, the U.S. Wine & Beverage Industry Expo.  It was both fun and enlightening. Read about it here.

This year, I will be attending some of the sessions geared towards winemaker education.  If ever there was a deep dive into all aspects of the wine industry, this is it!  Their website has complete information about the conference.

The U.S. Wine & Beverage Industry Expo, produced by the Wine Industry Network February 21 & 22, 2018 · Marriott Wardman Park · Washington, DC

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From Farm To Fabulous

Celebrate the end of a very long winter and enjoy nature’s bounty! Friends of the Olney Farmers and Artists Market invites you to join us for behind the scenes, exclusive tours of four of our most fabulous farms. The events include private tours by the owners, along with wine and/or signature cocktails and hot and cold hors d’oeuvres.

TOUR #1 SHEPHERD’S MANOR CREAMERY, SATURDAY, MARCH 10th

The View From Shepherd's Manor

The View From Shepherd’s Manor

Our first event takes place Saturday, March 10th (rain date is Sunday, March 11th), from 2 to 5 p.m. at Shepherd’s Manor Creamery. The farm, Maryland’s only sheep cheese farm,  is located in the beautiful rolling hills of Carroll County, MD, in historic New Windsor.  Get an up-close and personal tour from the owners, Colleen and Michael Histon; meet the sheep and the llama that keeps them safe; and find out firsthand how their fabulous cheese is made.  Then gather on the veranda for a fabulous array of hors d’oeuvres and wine and/or signature cocktails.

Cost is $50 per person. Proceeds benefit the Olney Farmers Market’s neediest customers, people in need who come to the market for produce.  RESERVE NOW by calling 202.257.5326 or mail your check payable to Friends of the Olney Farmers Market to PO Box 1787, Olney, MD 20830.  Tickets are limited and non-refundable.

TOUR #2 FALCON RIDGE FARM, SATURDAY, MAY 5TH

Our second event takes place Saturday, May 5th, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. (rain date, Sunday, May 6th)  at Falcon Ridge Farm in Westminster, overlooking the spectacular hills of Pennsylvania.  It is Maryland’s premiere fruit farm, featuring everything from lemons, apples and peaches to paw paws.  You’ll get a private tour of the farm, then gather in the barn for hot and cold hors d’oeuvres and wine and/or signature cocktails.  Desserts are likely to include some of Nancy MacBride’s finest pound cakes, all made with fruit from the farm.  Stanton is always full of surprises, so be prepared!  Wear good walking shoes!!

Cost is $50 per person. RESERVE NOW by calling 202 257 5326 or mail your check payable to Friends of the Olney Farmers Market to PO Box 1787, Olney, MD 20830. Tickets are limited and non-refundable.

TOUR #3 VEGETARIAN THANKSGIVING, SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 10TH

Our third event also takes place at Falcon Ridge Farm in Westminster.  Stanton and Nancy and family are putting on a special, vegetarian Thanksgiving, on Saturday, November 10th. Time will be announced soon.  You don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy their fabulous meatless dishes.  Wine and/or signature cocktails are included. Don’t forget to wear good walking shoes.  And there’s a bonus.  You might just get to feed the turkeys!

Cost is $50. per person. RESERVE NOW by calling 202 257 5326 or mail your check payable to Friends of the Olney Farmers Market, PO Box 1787, Olney, MD 20830. Tickets are limited and non-refundable.

Tour #4 Details coming soon.  Look for them on olneyfarmersmarket.org

Note: Your charitable donations may be tax deductible. We are a 501 (C) 3 organization.

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The Care and Feeding of Farmers: Future Harvest CASA’s 19th Annual Conference

They provide our basic foodstuffs.  They grow a dazzling variety of fruits and vegetables.  They use their bounty to create tasty and nourishing products that enrich our lives.  They grow “non-commercial” or “specialty” crops: what we actually put on our tables, untransformed – i.e., not monocultured corn, wheat, or soybeans.  They raise chickens in fields, not by the thousands in huge sheds.  They are, mostly, small farmers, and they can be found all over the Chesapeake region.  Last week, many converged on the University of Maryland’s Conference Center.

Seeking education and fellowship, about 500 plaid-shirted folks attended Future Harvest-CASA’s Cultivate the Chesapeake Foodshed Conference.  They were treated to workshops, speakers, panels, and peer-to-peer sessions – and happy hours, meals and coffee breaks to provide informal mingling while sampling the results of their labors, deliciously provided by many local producers.

The Lunch Crowd

The Lunch Crowd

Environmentally Appropriate Water Bottles

Environmentally Appropriate Water Bottles

Farmers Wanted Job Board

Farmers Wanted Job Board

Thursday Workshop

The Thursday workshop topics ranged from growing mushrooms to tractor repair.  I took the session on making ginger beer, because: ginger beer!  I’ve been making my own yogurt for several years as a result of a similar workshop, and found that making ginger beer is not so different.  It involves a ferment called a ginger bug, which can be reused from batch to batch and nourished with ginger, sugar and wild yeasts (alternatively, one can purchase a scoby online, a cultivated colony of yeasts and bacteria, like those used for kambucha).

We learned that naturally  brewed ginger beer, despite the name, contains very little alcohol.  This disappointed a few of the participants, but nobody left.  The samples passed around served to convince everyone that the endeavor could be deliciously rewarding.  The workshop leaders, Rachael Armistead and Luke Flessner of the Sweet Farm, are adding value to their farm’s products with ginger beer and other ferments. The workshop participants left with their own ginger bugs.  Mine is ensconced on my kitchen radiator, in anticipation of brewing a batch of beer.

Passing the Ginger Bug

Passing the Ginger Bug

Rachael and Luke Fill Bottles

Rachael and Luke Fill Bottles

We All Make Our Bugs

We All Make Our Bugs

The Bugs Rest on Our Chairs

The Bugs Rest on Our Chairs

Sampling Several Flavors of Ginger Beer

Sampling Several Flavors of Ginger Beer

Friday  and Saturday Programs

 Now, I have to admit that the sessions I attended skewed sharply towards end products and away from the process and business of farming, so if you are wondering about topics like vegetable crop production, meat and dairy issues, and business matters, you will have to look elsewhere.  I can report on the following:

In Growing Herbs for Tea, Henriette den Ouden of Habanera Farm described many factors specific to herb growing, such as the state and county regulations which differ from other crops (keep cats out of the garden! Make no medicinal claims!) and cultivation techniques (use no fertilizer; you’re not growing for appearance).  She also covered planning, processing and marketing of herbal teas and blends.

Henriette den Ouden, Herb Farmer

Henriette den Ouden, Herb Farmer

The opening general session speaker, Gabe Brown, gave such a persuasive argument for regenerative farming that I don’t know why his methods aren’t used everywhere by everybody, but then I’m not trying to make a living by farming.

Another session gathered three farmer-entrepreneurs to discuss value-added products. Rachael Armistead of Sweet Farm (from the ginger beer workshop), Molly Kroiz of George’s Mill Cheese, and Gilda Doganiero of Gilda’s Biscotti shared their experiences in developing and marketing products derived from farming.

Value-Added Panel

Value-Added Panel

When I walked into the afternoon’s session on lavender growing by Marie Mayor, of Lavender Fields at Warrington Manor, I knew I was in the right room by simply inhaling.  She produces a diverse array of soap, sachets and value-added merchandise, and supplements her income with special occasion rentals and running a well-stocked retail outlet, making her farm a destination for visitors.

Marie Mayor and Lavender Products

Marie Mayor and Lavender Products

The speaker at dinner was Michael Twitty.  He has been employed as Colonial Williamsburg’s first “Revolutionary in Residence;” also, he added, “a Black Jewish Queen.” I admired his dashiki.  Just back from Africa, where he continues to trace his roots, he claimed that all Southerners are connected “by genes, by soil, by food.”  He has traced his ancestry back to an indentured Irish woman and a black African man.  “Race is an illusion – food is reality.”  Amen.

Michael Twitty Signs Books

Michael Twitty Signs Books

On Saturday, at a session on raising native fruits and nuts, Dr. Gordon Johnson of the University of Delaware described efforts to domesticate, not only our familiar produce such as blueberries, cranberries, pecans, walnuts, and grapes, but relative exotics such as pawpaws, beach plums, and aronia berries.

Ira Wallace’s special session provided a real treat: a tutorial on garlic growing in all its wonderful variety.  Famous for her YouTube videos for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Southern Foodways Alliance, Ms. Wallace proved just as knowledgeable in person, and the slides with arty pictures of garlic were true lagniappe.

Ira Wallace at the Garlic Session

Ira Wallace at the Garlic Session

Garlic Glamour Shot

Garlic Glamour Shot

And she proved just as fascinating in the next hour as the lunch speaker, on heirloom seeds and the history of seed saving.  Could we live without the Mortgage Lifter tomato, or the Cherokee Purple?  And the story of the lost Native American corn variety recovered from Europe, where it had been exported to make superior polenta, was priceless.

Extra Added Attractions

But there were many attractions in addition to the formal sessions.  Awards were given for the Farmers of the Year,

Farmers of the Year Awards

Farmers of the Year Awards

and a meeting of the participants in the Beginning Farmer Training Program (one of the more excellent ideas of the FH-CASA folks) was held.  There were 80 beginning farmers – the biggest cohort yet!

80 Beginning Farmers 80

80 Beginning Farmers 80

The hallway was filled with exhibitors, providers of products and services for farmers.  At first glance, I thought the Full Circle Mushroom Compost company was a mushroom retailer, but no, as I talked to Lisa van Houten, Marketing Strategist, she revealed that she sells mushroom compost, a soil amendment excellent for crops of all kinds.  (It was the box of growing mushrooms on her table that led me astray.)

Lisa van Houten Sells Mushroom Compost

Lisa van Houten Sells Mushroom Compost

But there was a mushroom supplier at the exhibition, and they had many varieties and growing methods on display.

Many Mushrooms at Sharondale Mushroom Farm

Many Mushrooms at Sharondale Mushroom Farm

Other visually interesting exhibits included a whole fillet of salmon encased in ice.  Josh Jensen, Kitchen Manager and Sales Representative for Wild for Salmon, supplies fish direct from Alaska to local kitchens.

Wild for Icy Salmon

Wild for Icy Salmon

The Purple Mountain folks, local (Takoma Park) purveyors of organic garden supplies, were interested in participating in Olney Farmers Market’s Garlic Festival, planned for September.  Which brings me to the other added attraction: the eating and schmoozing opportunities.

At dinner, I sat with Damian and Claudia Baccarella of Baccarella Farms, who specialize in guess what? (Yes, garlic, again!)  We may see them at OFAM in September, as well.

And at another meal, I met Brian Knox, who runs When Pigs Fly Farm (!), and is a specialist in invasive species remediation.  His “eco-goats” were hired to clear Congressional Cemetery of invasives a few years ago.  He has problems of his own on his farm, not least, eagles preying on his chickens.  This does not stop folks from coming for miles around to eat the eggs he supplies to Easton restaurants.

And About Those Meals

Many of the ingredients for the meals were supplied by the farmers present at the conference.  Signs at each station gave credit to the producers.

Lunch Menu

Lunch Salad Menu

Dinner Menu

Dinner Menu

Ice Cream Dessert Menu

Ice Cream Dessert Menu

And the buffet tables yielded up many treats.

Lunch Plate

Lunch Plate

Dinner Plate

Dinner Plate

Ice Cream Sundae Bar

Ice Cream Sundae Bar

Lunch Dessert Goodies

Lunch Dessert Goodies

There couldn’t be a better proof of our region’s many blessings, or the accomplishments of our farmers.  May they continue to produce everything delicious!

 

 

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It’s All About the Products

The notice for this year’s Arcadia Farmer-Chef Speed-Sourcing Happy Hour reminded me that I needed to post about last year’s event.  There was also a similar (but less structured) happening later in the year, so I thought I would combine them in one article.

Imagine, if you will, a large, many-windowed room in a formerly-industrial building, now repurposed to a trendy, 21st century usage.  This describes the venues of both events.  The Happy Hour was held at the Bluejacket Brewery, and the Good Food Mercantile at Union Market.  At both of them, the room was filled with purveyors of produce and groceries, hoping to attract purchasers.

The difference was in the customers.  At the Happy Hour, farmers and producers sat behind tables and in booths and waited for matches (like speed-dating, get it?) with chefs from local restaurants.  There was much business being done, but for some reason, many more farmers and producers than chefs showed up.  Still, there were reports of matches being made, of products finding good homes in restaurants across the region.

Farmers and Chefs, Mingling

Farmers and Chefs, Mingling

Brewing Tanks for Atmosphere

Brewing Tanks for Atmosphere

The Poster Tells Us Why We're Here

The Poster Tells Us Why We’re Here

I can attest to the excellence of several of the products myself.  Zeke’s coffee, long a tent pole of the Olney Farmers and Artists Market (OFAM) and many others around the area, was there.  So was True Syrups and Garnishes, with a line of hand-made syrups meant to be used in cocktails.  I found that their grenadine syrup works very well in cooking, as a substitute for pomegranate molasses.  It contributes a pleasant, floral taste without heavy sweetness.

Syrups and Promos

Syrups and Promos

Grenadine Grilled Brussels Sprouts

Grenadine Grilled Brussels Sprouts

The syrup doesn’t usually foam – I think it got a little agitated in transit!

Good Food Mercantile is presented as a showcase for artisanal producers to introduce themselves to retailers.  There were many beverage, cheese and chocolate makers, also charcuterie and snack foods (but healthy! or at least “whole”!), with a smattering of olive oil and pickle makers.  I admit I was drawn to the oddballs in the catchall “Pantry” category, while trying to cover the whole room.  I just managed it.

Another Big Room

Another Big Room

True Syrups was the only company that I noticed were present at both events.  I took the opportunity to get a picture of the True Team.

True:Tory and Jake

True: Jake and Tory

But there were other familiar folks.  Dolcezza had brought their excellent gelati.  I learned that they use Askinosie cocoa powder, an excellent choice.

Dolcezza Empties

Dolcezza Empties

Caputo Brothers Creamery is another source of excellent products, some of which are often available at OFAM.  They make the best ricotta I have ever tasted, and I have sampled a few.  Their factory is located in Spring Grove, PA, and I am planning a field trip up there soon.

Caputos: Brenda and Rynn

Caputos: Brenda and Rynn

Vendors came from all over the country, as far away as California.  Point Reyes Cheese, some of the country’s best; Blue Bottle Coffee, now with an outlet in DC; Zingerman’s from Ann Arbor; and Victoria Amory were a few of the nationally-known brands on parade.

Browsing the chocolate, I pondered the possibility that there are too many chocolate companies in the world.  Then I saw Nathan Miller Chocolate, which had  many interestingly flavored bars.  I think the camel’s milk bar took the weirdness prize.  Yes, real camel’s milk.  At least that’s what they told me, with straight faces.  It was actually not as bad as one might think.

And those oddballs?  Sugar Bob’s smoked maple syrup from Vermont (where else?) advertised “sweet smoky goodness” and recommends not using it on pancakes, but in marinades, glazes, and cocktails.  This stuff is wonderful, and Bob is a hoot.

Sweet, Smoky Sugar Bob

Sweet, Smoky Sugar Bob

Oliver Farm oils, from Georgia, proudly noted that their products were “gluten free.”

Gluten-Free Oliver Oil

Gluten-Free Oliver Oil: Valerie and Clay

One of the small coffee roasters was sort of scary.  With varieties labeled “Zombie Desert,” “Cocaine,” and “Defense Against the Dark Arts” (actually I would totally drink that), Cafe Kreyol from Manassas took the concept of outlaw coffee to the max.

These Will Put Hair on Your Chest

These Will Put Hair on Your Chest

Sort of from around here, the J.Q. Dickinson Salt Works produce salt from springs originating below the Appalachian Mountains, in the most appropriately named Malden, West Virginia.  I haven’t been able to ascertain whether Malden was named after Maldon, the famous salt-making town in England, or if there was serendipity at work, but I am determined to find out!  Maybe with another field trip.

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Lights On In Baltimore: Food Lab@Light City 2017

Climbing the stairs to the second floor space of IMET Columbus Center, on a pier of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, I was worried that this event would be a generator of monotonous visuals – just one set of folks talking after another.  It was, after all, a conference about food in Baltimore, with a program of mostly panels full of knowledgeable but possibly not optically varied folks. Might it be like others I have attended: interesting in the moment, but hard to transform after the fact into an article full of pictorial interest?

Well, silly me!  This was part of Light City Baltimore, the annual extravaganza of installations, fireworks, and illumination (in all senses of that word).  The venue was all tarted out with a stage backdrop that flashed, glowed, enlarged, and projected.  No boring pics here.

Pre-Conference Light Show

Pre-Conference Light Show

 

And speaking of pics, selfies were the order of the day.  The organizers started out with one.

Dionne Joyner-Weems, Vice President of Marketing, Visit Baltimore; Jamie McDonald, Founder, Generosity, Inc. & Co-Chair, Light City; Al Hutchinson, CEO, Visit Baltimore

Dionne Joyner-Weems, Vice President of Marketing, Visit Baltimore; Jamie McDonald, Founder, Generosity, Inc. & Co-Chair, Light City; Al Hutchinson, CEO, Visit Baltimore

Then Chef Jeff Henderson, a former drug dealer who became a Food Network chef and author, cooked Crab and Andouille Maque Choux while relating his inspirational story of how cuisine became his way up from prison.  “The kitchen has always been the place of transformation for me.”  His food was delicious.

Chef Jeff Cooks

Chef Jeff Cooks

And the Stove Has a Close-Up

And the Stove Has a Close-Up

We Eat Chef Jeff's Maque Choux

We Eat Chef Jeff’s Maque Choux

And speaking of inspiration and transformation, the next two speakers had some to spare: the Reverend Dr. Heber Brown III on the beneficial effect of a garden in his church’s front yard, and then, expounding on growing the scale of those gardens and other urban agriculture, was Danielle Nierenberg, President of Food Tank.

Rev. Brown's Church Garden

Rev. Brown’s Church Garden

Ms. Neirenberg and Mr. Huffman

Ms. Nierenberg and Mr. Huffman

Just before lunch, Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen told us about the meal we were about to consume.  It was produced for about the price of a typical school lunch, and Spike had the spreadsheet to prove it.

Spike Rocks the Spreadsheet

Spike Rocks the Spreadsheet

Then we ate that lunch.  It was a bowl full of good things: grain, radish kimchi, eggs, spicy cabbage, microgreens.  Even the kale was rendered edible.  And peach cake for dessert.

Lunch and Lunch Menu

Lunch and Lunch Menu

Giselle, Ready to Serve Peach Cake

Giselle, Ready to Serve Peach Cake

If the cake wasn’t dessert enough, there was ice cream by Baltimore’s own Taharka Brothers.  They’re very badass, and make delicious ice cream.

Badass Taharka Ice Cream

Badass Taharka Ice Cream

After lunch, I have to admit I wasn’t in the mood to sit for another bunch of panels, so I roamed around the venue a little.  There was a balcony, for a nice change of perspective, and two great views out the windows.  Also some interesting sights inside the hall.

Spike Gjerde and Others on Balcony

Spike Gjerde and Others on Balcony

Distracting Vista from Balcony

Distracting Vista from Balcony

The Ship Next Door

The Ship Next Door

Light City Volunteer's Light-Up Sneakers Charging

Light City Volunteer’s Light-Up Sneakers Charging

Foodie Sweater

Foodie Sweater

Drawing my attention back to the presentations, Antonio Tahhan, a Fulbright scholar and Syrian-American food blogger, talked about the cuisine of Aleppo.  Pomegranates, Aleppo pepper, quince, pistachios – and “War is the opposite of food.”  A profound motto.

He had food to sample, as well: tahini and grape molasses served with pita.

Mr. Tahhan In Background, Samples in Foreground

Mr. Tahhan In Background, Samples in Foreground

And then, the undisputed star of the show – Chef Marcus Samuelsson.  The energy from both chef and crowd was high as Chef Marcus butchered a salmon and smoked a fillet on stage, while he chatted about his life and philosophy, and a continuous loop of stills played in the background.  Sampling the fish was a high point of the conference.

Chef Marcus Cooking

Chef Marcus Cooking

As a Background to Selfies

As a Background to Selfies

Addressing the Salmon

Addressing the Salmon

Showing the Audience the Fish

Showing the Audience the Fish

A Nice Piece of Fish

A Nice Piece of Fish

And Who's This Guy?

And Who’s This Guy?

After the conference ended, he stayed around to sign autographs and pose for selfies.

Chef Marcus Signing

Chef Marcus Signing

And Yet More Selfies!

And Yet More Selfies!

The day wrapped up with a public tasting and purchasing opportunity for local food businesses.  The quality varied, as one would expect at such an event, but it was a fitting close to a day full of insights and ideas about food issues in Baltimore and beyond.

Food Innovators Happy Hour

Food Innovators Happy Hour

Neat Nicks Products on Photogenic Display

Neat Nicks Products on Photogenic Display

Planning for the 2018 Labs@Light City is now underway.  More information is here.

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Review: Rasika: Flavors of India Stories by Ashok Bajaj; Recipes by Vikram Sunderam; Coauthored by David Hagedorn

Many consider Rasika the best Indian restaurant in Washington, DC.  For years, the crispy spinach (palak chaat) dish has been the subject of constant requests for the recipe by patrons.  It has now been revealed, along with many others, in a new cookbook by Rasika’s owner and chef.  They had help from David Hagedorn, a veteran local food writer.

In the introductory notes, Sunderam writes: “Above all, [Bajaj] and I wanted to present the recipes in a way that would inspire all cooks, including…those unfamiliar with, or perhaps daunted by, Indian cooking, to give it a go.”  A laudable goal, but I’m afraid the book falls a little short.  Sumptuously produced and beautifully photographed as it is, the recipes are mostly a little bit intimidating for those not already familiar with Indian cookery.

It opens with a section of thirteen Basic Flavorings and Sauces.  Anyone intending to cook extensively from this book would be well advised to start by stockpiling a few or many of these, since most of the following recipes use one or more of them.  This approach keeps those recipes from containing endless lists of ingredients (and of course echoes a common restaurant prep strategy), but it also means that most of them fall victim to the stacked-recipe fallacy, which can be deflating for the cook looking for something involving a little less commitment.  Some – such as Pan-Seared Red Snapper with Shrimp Balchao – contain three levels of reference.  Also, there are many examples of dread Overleaf Fallacy, which I find far less forgivable.

So what’s a reviewer looking for a recipe or two to try out, just to test how well they are written, without having to invest hours and dollars in a new cuisine, to do?  Well, I did manage to find a way or two in.  In fact, one recipe was possibly the tastiest version of butternut squash I have ever made (and I’ve made a LOT of squash!).

Butternut Squash Bharta is a variation of the traditional Indian Baingan (Eggplant) Bharta.  Should any ultra-traditionalist be shocked at this unorthodox variation, there is a footnote giving the procedure for making the dish with eggplant, if desired.  It only contains one level of reference, and that to the simplest of spice preps – Toasted Cumin Powder – which is just exactly what it sounds like.  It was accompanied by a detailed headnote about variations in moisture content and tenderness of squashes.  I just made one minor adjustment: I cut the prescribed amount of oil in half, from 6 tablespoons (a cheffy vestige in my opinion) to 3.  The result did not suffer.

this one

I also made Cauliflower and Peas with Cumin  (Jeera Gobi Mattar), as traditional an Indian dish as ever there was.  It was just OK, nothing special.  Possibly I should have used hotter peppers.  I have to confess that all the meat, fish and poultry dishes seemed to demand far too much commitment for this humble reviewer.

So, bottom line, the audience for this book is that segment of the Washington population that are fans of Rasika and Ashok Bajaj’s other restaurants, and wish to duplicate those dishes at home.  It helps if they are already familiar with Indian cooking, or really, really want to be.  I think I’m going to stick with my collection of Madhur Jaffrey’s books for go-to Indian dishes – except for that Squash Bharta.  That’s in my repertoire to stay.

P.S.: A friend suggested that, as Indian grocery stores are filled with ready-made spice and sauce mixes, using these could be a big time-saver.  I myself (because this is the kind of casual Indian food I usually cook) have a packet of MDH brand “Baingan Bhartaa masala – Spice blend for roasted aubergine” in my pantry.  I wouldn’t use it to review the book, of course, but attempting to match up the recipes in the book to the products in the store would be an interesting exercise.

Rasika: Flavors of India, Stories by Ashok Bajaj; Recipes by Vikram Sunderam; Coauthored by David Hagedorn, Harper Collins, New York, 2017.

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Stranger Things in Sandy Spring

The Thanksgiving holiday has caused the following thing to happen (apologies Washington Post):

The Turkey That Ate Sandy Spring

The Turkey That Ate Sandy Spring

An apparition has popped up in an otherwise tasteful front yard in Sandy Spring.  Opinions vary as to the genesis of this beast.  One theory holds that tongue depressors (or possibly Popsicle sticks) suddenly became overdosed on growth hormone and assembled themselves into this fowl collage.  Supporting this hypothesis: the house is next to a dentist’s office.

I submit that an unfortunate Adirondack chair met a farmer with a hatchet – it certainly wasn’t hatched!  Supporting this?  Cherchez the fowl feet, fashioned from a saw-toothed farm implement, clearly visible in the close-up.

Gobbler Up Close

Gobbler Up Close

Can’t wait to see what they do for Christmas!

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Wish I’d Been There! “Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party” Exhibit

Who doesn’t love the French Impressionists?  And one of the best-known and beloved of their paintings is right here in Washington, DC: Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party.  The Phillips Collection has organized an exhibition around their pride and joy, which will be on view until January 7, 2018.  “Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party” is a visual feast.

The exhibition considers various aspects of Renoir’s relationships to the painting’s subjects.  Many of them were fellow artists, so their works are on display.  Other pictures depicting the population of Luncheon are here, too, by Renoir and other artists (it was a small circle of friends).

Curator Eliza Rathbone Speaks About the Boating Party

Curator Eliza Rathbone Speaks About the Boating Party

Some pictures show the joys of the riverside life, especially boating and restaurants with lovely viewing patios.  I had always assumed that the “party” would have arrived at the restaurant on a single boat, but no, the pleasure fleet on the Seine was composed of small boats, carrying three or four people each, so they would have rowed or sailed separately and rendezvoused at the restaurant.

Early Photographs of River Life

Early Photographs of River Life

And what about my hope that there would be some enlightenment about the Luncheon itself?  (As I try to justify relating this article to food or cooking!) Alas!  There were only two food-related pictures, both of asparagus.  Nicely rendered asparagus, and with a story to boot: Charles Ephrussi, an art critic and collector who appears in Luncheon wearing his top hat, paid Edouard Manet more than Manet expected for A Bunch of Asparagus.  Manet was so grateful for the unexpected bonus that he painted another picture, of a single stalk, as lagniappe.

The Asparagus Paintings

The Asparagus Paintings

To be fair, Luncheon only shows the dregs of the meal’s last course.  Still, there are aspects of Paris fashion (including an interactive game and a darling display of hats), so it might not have been too much to hope for a study of what these folks might have been noshing on during their enviable afternoon!

Hats on the Feed

Hats on the Instagram Feed

But, as part of their extensive investigation of the canvas, we can see that there was repainting of the table area, and an interactive part of the exhibition shows those changes.  Was it because Renoir was concerned with the proper placement of glassware?  No, more likely it was coincident with the replacement of one of the original women sitting at the table with Aline Charigot, Renoir’s future wife (the woman holding the little dog).

Despite the lack of food focus, the exhibition is a real treat for Impressionist lovers.  I recommend it highly.

Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party” at the Phillips Collection thru January 7, 2018.

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Alice, Let’s Write – Review: Coming To My Senses, by Alice Waters

Here is a book written by the mother of the farm-to-table movement in this country, founder of the fount of garden-derived cuisine and high priestess of French-influenced but American-driven  gastronomy.  A reader would expect it to be overflowing with culinary gossip.  If one reads it in the hopes of finding secrets of how Alice Waters developed the dishes and overall sensibility that led to such outsize influence in this country’s cooking culture, one will be disappointed; but approaching it to learn her family’s eating habits (the Automat! yes!) and her early friendships and trips through Europe, and finally how her habit of feeding the various congeries of friends and lovers (“Alice, you must open a restaurant,” they chorus) led her to open Chez Panisse, then you will be entertained if not deeply enlightened.

“I’m not a reflective person by nature,” she writes in the preface, and perhaps inevitably for a “with” book, there are no reflections on existential angst, no soul-defining secrets revealed.  One has a feeling of skating on the surface of Alice’s life.  We are told about her relationships with her parents, siblings, lovers, and friends, how she was involved with the Free-Speech Movement in Berkeley in the 60’s, what the French art-house films of Marcel Pagnol meant to her.

Every so often, the stream of linear autobiography is interrupted by a few paragraphs of forecasting.  These are almost always an opportunity to drop famous names, and describe Alice’s relationships to them.  Julia Child, Paul Prudhomme, Madhur Jaffrey, Bill Clinton – all figure in small, sparkling vignettes inserted into the narrative.  These snippets only whet one’s appetite for what could be a whole book of more interesting encounters; they are told in much sprightlier prose than the plodding narrative style of the book they are embedded in, like plums in pudding.

Some examples of inspiration are noticeable when Alice is describing ingredients:

If a particular grape varietal is planted on a certain hillside and is tended in a certain way, you get a transcendent result. I was thinking there must be a similar Premier Cru for peaches. There’s a terroir for peaches, where if the right varietals are planted in the right spots, they can be the greatest peaches of all – like a Suncrest peach in August from Mas Masumoto’s farm in the foothills of the Central Valley, or an O’Henry peach from Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood.

If only there were more passages like that!  Well, perhaps there will be a sequel.

Coming To My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook, by Alice Waters with Cristina Mueller and Bob Carrau, Clarkson Potter, New York, 2017.

Alice Waters Book Cover

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