I Eat, Therefore I Speak

Review: The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, by Dan Jurafsky, Norton, 2014.

A book that combines two of my favorite subjects! What could be better?

I majored in anthropology in college, where I picked up a smattering of linguistics, and during my career in information management rubbed elbows with a few computational linguists, so I thought I could give this book a somewhat knowledgeable critique from several angles.

Turns out I didn’t need any specialized knowledge to enjoy 95% of it. Jurafsky bends over backward to adopt a folksy, populist tone as he discusses language analysis of menu descriptions, restaurant reviews, and the cost of potato chips; traces several cases of food evolution through word derivations; and describes the potential effects of vowels on food names.

He explores questions you may or may not have ever wondered about, such as why we refer to food with either sex or drug metaphors in restaurant reviews, or whether there is a relationship between “macaroon” and “macaroni” (guess what – there is).

Several chapters explore not only linguistic associations among foods through time and space, but how these can be used to trace social attitudes of the people who ate them. Anthropology in action!

There are only a few chapters in which Jurafsky’s academic research peeps through. In the very first, “How to Read a Menu,” computational linguistic techniques are used to analyze word frequency in restaurant menus to reveal how more expensive restaurants describe food differently from the cheap joints. In “Sex, Drugs and Sushi Rolls,” those metaphors are analyzed in Yelp reviews. Again, a chapter near the end, “Does This Name Make Me Sound Fat?” makes a discussion of vowel sounds understandable, and even enjoyable, to laypersons.

But his academic background reveals itself in the footnotes, hidden in the back, just before the extensive list of references. With no obtrusive superscript to detract from the reading experience, and indeed, no reference to the footnotes at all in the introduction or text of the book, the inattentive reader may not even realize this feature exists until finishing the final chapter. In my obsessive-compulsive way, I found myself skimming the footnotes to each chapter in advance, just in case I was missing something. Occasionally, there was an additional tidbit of knowledge to be found.

I did find one error in the text that a proofreader should have caught. In one chapter, Jurafsky refers to “the old term for fifty cents…’two-bit words'” – but this colloquialism means twenty-five cents. He uses it again, correctly this time, later in the book. This is an example, by the way, of many instances of repetition throughout, enough so that I wearied of the device. A second quibble I had concerned his constant references to his wife, Janet, and the city he lives in (San Francisco). It’s another way he tries to inject folksiness into a book which could easily turn abstruse. That it doesn’t is a credit to his balancing skills. Still.

The Language of Food painlessly educates the reader in aspects of linguistics and food history. Dan Jurafsky proves himself able to explain obscure topics without sugarcoating the science. I for one would like to go out eating and drinking with him and Janet, next time I visit San Francisco.

Language of Food

Posted in Food Book Review | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Ethnic Bazaars Abound Around Here

Faithful readers of this blog will know of my fondness for church bazaars (another link here). For the 2014 Christmas Bazaar season, we decided to concentrate on those with a big food component. Many in this category were the Nordics (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland), but others were right up there. Here are some of the best we visited.

The Danish Bazaar at St. Elizabeth’s in Rockville has grown considerably since we last visited, several years ago. A big crowd comes for the excellent selection of open-faced sandwiches and desserts. Getting there before the bazaar actually opens is a good idea, because even though they have many tables lined up for seating, they can’t seat everyone waiting to get in until some folks leave.

Danish Menu

Danish Menu

Danish Serving Line

Danish Serving Line

Our Danish Lunch

Our Danish Lunch

The ambiance is reminiscent of a high-school cafeteria, if your high school lunchroom had included whole families.

Part of the Danish Crowd

Part of the Danish Crowd

He Has HIS Lunch!

He Has HIS Lunch!

But the sandwiches were the best of all the bazaars we went to this year. The bazaar also included a baked goods table and a selection of imported Danish stuff, but the thing that made this bazaar unique was the Aebleskiver Operation.

All About Aebleskivers

All About Aebleskivers

Little round pockets of dough, not unlike pancakes but plumper, and often stuffed with jam, these treats are produced by the combination of a special pan, a certain skill in turning, and some practice.

I was especially interested because I happen to possess the first of these, and when I tried to acquire the second by dint of the third, I was a miserable failure. However, by carefully watching the expert aebleskiver operators, I was able to uncover the subtle technique that I sorely lacked. I expect much better results with my next batch.

Pouring The Batter

Pouring The Batter

Turning The Little Buggers

Turning The Little Buggers

The Finnish Bazaar at the River Road Unitarian Church in Bethesda also attracted a crowd, one which could not be accommodated in the relatively small dining room. People were finding seating and eating all over the building. It was cozy, but cramped. Fortunately, no one seemed to mind.

Finnish Menu Flags

Finnish Menu Flags

Eating And Canoodling On The Stairs

Eating And Canoodling On The Stairs

Finnish Seating

Finnish Seating

The food was similar to, but with fewer choices than, the Danish bazaar’s offerings, and suffered slightly by comparison. The serving line had extra added attractions in the form of winsome Finnish serving elves.

Finnish Serving Line

Finnish Serving Line

Winsome Serving Elf

Winsome Serving Elf

Our Finnish Lunch

Our Finnish Lunch

The non-eating part of the bazaar was expansive. In addition to the requisite baked goods and ethnic tchochkas, there were fiddlers, an instant-win drawing with gingerbread houses for prizes, and a selection of giftware.

Finnish Fiddles

Finnish Fiddles

Gingerbread House Prize

Gingerbread House Prize

Bottle Openers.  Make Mine A Moose!

Bottle Openers. Make Mine A Moose!

And some ornaments that brought me right back to elementary school.

And Call It Macaroni

And Call It Macaroni

The smallest and homiest of the three was the Hungarian Bazaar at the Women’s Club of Bethesda. Everyone there seemed to know everyone else – it was like a big party for a few hundred of your closest friends. Who knew there was such a big Hungarian community around Washington?

There were only a few tables selling goods (but there was a big used book sale on the lawn, all in Hungarian). The main emphasis was on food and entertainment. And what entertainment! The Tisza Ensemble, musicians and dancers, performed to Hungarian folk tunes for an hour.

Hungarian Tables And Musicians

Hungarian Tables And Musicians

Hungarian Merch

Hungarian Merch

Hungarian Folk Dancers

Hungarian Folk Dancers

And Audience Participation!

And Audience Participation!

The food was hearty and somehow appropriate to the woodsy, folkloric vibe. We came late (about an hour after the bazaar started), and some of the dishes were already gone. Of what remained, we decided on a sausage on a bun and goulash soup. Also, I indulged in a chestnut puree dessert, but was disappointed in the very faint chestnut taste.

Hungarian Menu

Hungarian Menu

Food And Flyer

Food And Flyer

Overall, we would not go back to this bazaar for the food (unless early enough for the presumably best stuff), but will definitely plan to return for the dancing and overall gestalt. A children’s dance was scheduled for later in the day, but we could not stay for it. I’m sure the kids were just as entertaining as the adult performers!

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

Botanically Interesting Days

Today I set up my new desk calendar. The nice folks at Botanical Interests  have been sending me their calendar for several years now, and it has brightened my desk with lovely illustrations of flowers and vegetables.

Calendar Cover

Calendar Cover

Cauliflower For January

Cauliflower For January

In Case You Want To Plant It

In Case You Want To Plant It

About The Owners

About The Owners

Their online seed catalog is guaranteed to cause any gardener to desire far more plantings than any one plot can hold – but I am assured by friends who garden that this is a common affliction. I have tried planting my own piece, but predatory deer and too much shade have combined to crush my hopes to grow vegetables. Herbs in pots on my patio are all I can aspire to!

But for anyone reading this who can grow their own, go look at Botanical Interests’ website. They stand out from other seed purveyors by the amount of information furnished both on their website and on each individual seed packet. They have a 100% satisfaction guarantee, and each packet has a beautiful illustration by an artist.

I will spend January dreaming of Cauliflower, Early Snowball, illustrated by Susan Strok. How bad can that be?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Double Down Downton Abbey

It’s time, once again, for us on the far side of the pond to see the new season of Downton Abbey (or will be, starting in January 2015). WETA-TV sponsored a preview at the Marriott Wardman Park ballroom, as they did last year). They filled the thousand-seat ballroom twice, at 3 and 7 p.m., with avid Downton fans. There were tea and scones, cutouts and backdrops to pose in front of, a drawing to enter, and period costumes to admire.

Tea and Cookies and Scones and Jam

Tea and Cookies and Scones and Jam

Posing and Snapping

Posing and Snapping

More Posing, More Snapping

More Posing, More Snapping

The live chamber music included an arrangement of the Downton theme song, among other light classical offerings.

Strings Under the Big Screen

Strings Under the Big Screen

One could vote (just for fun) for the possible next victim (oops, I meant groom) for Mary. I cast a sentimental if unlikely vote for the dark horse, Tom, the former chauffeur. Charles was the crowd’s favorite. We’ll see!

Whom Indeed?

Whom Indeed?

The first episode of Season 5 was full of all the couture, kitchen scenes, dining, and intrigue a fan could want. The overall theme for this season is change – not odd considering it’s set in 1924. Forces unleashed by the war are starting to penetrate even into the countryside, and disturb the social order.

Back in the real world, the fans were delighted by the announcement that there will be a Season 6 of Downton, and that Call The Midwife has been renewed. Moreover, for all you ancient PBS fans (your faithful correspondent among them) who remember the series Poldark, there will be a remake as well as a rebroadcast of the original ’70s episodes. Just so much exciting news!

And now, for lagniappe, a treat I cannot recommend highly enough. Follow this link  to the funniest Downton parody ever, produced in aid of a British charity. I really did Laugh Out Loud – thanks to Slate for the link!

Happy (Downton watching in the) New Year!

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

Sounds Good AND Tastes Great – Appetite at Strathmore Part 2: Everything Else: Saturday

Saturday at Appetite at Strathmore was packed with events, so many simultaneously that missing something good seemed unavoidable – however, we soldiered on into the fray, thankful for what we could experience. Which turned out to be very satisfying.

We arrived at noon (missing the earliest events, which started at 11), but on time for a Talk and Taste hosted by the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, pairing wine with charcuterie. The food sampling was very nice, and Wine Director Brent Kroll was free with his advice and opinions.

Wine Tasting

Wine Tasting

Charcuterie Went With The Wine

Charcuterie Went With The Wine

Some of them: don’t rely on the D.O.C.G. (Italian controlled origin) label for assurance of a quality wine; orange wine is ‘flawed’ on purpose – in his opinion, “not a wine to go back to;” for value, look for wine from places where the cost of living is low: Chile and Argentina, for instance.

Then, on to see the Grays (Chef Todd and Ellen Kassoff Gray, one of Washington’s premier culinary power couples) cook from their book, The New Jewish Table. While Chef Todd produced a mouthwatering dish of Fig and Port Wine Blintzes, Ellen recounted that Todd had never eaten blintzes or gefilte fish before their marriage, yet they have developed a cuisine and produced a book of lasting value.

Ellen, Chef Todd, Sous Chef Darnell

Ellen, Chef Todd, Sous Chef Darnell

The Grays' Audience

The Grays’ Audience

Camera Envy (On My Part)

Camera Envy (On My Part)

And A Bride-To-Be

And A Bride-To-Be

I enjoyed the session so much I went back for their second set, in which Chef Todd made a fried green tomato sandwich as an example of Farm to Table cuisine; local, seasonal and delicious. My only criticism of these sessions is that they were held in a room too small for the overflow crowd!

During a break in sessions, we strolled the grounds and rooms inside the Mansion, which held an array of food exhibitors. Ranging from Swing’s Coffee (local since 1916), Iceland Vodka, and the ladies representing the afternoon tea program at Strathmore, there was something to sample at every turn.

Tea Ladies - Cucumber and Salmon Sandwiches, Anyone?

Tea Ladies – Cucumber and Salmon Sandwiches, Anyone?

Would You Like an Iceberg With Your Vodka? Or a Cardboard Sheep?

Would You Like an Iceberg With Your Vodka? Or a Cardboard Sheep?

And we found an old friend parked amidst the food truck roundup.

Jon Rossler, The Corned Beef King

Jon Rossler, The Corned Beef King

Then we ankled over to the Music Center, where one of the big, echoing rehearsal halls was set up with a demo kitchen. Robert Wiedmaier, another of Washington’s top chefs, had two demos back-to-back. We stayed for both.

There was a lot of space between the audience seating and the kitchen. This did not sit well with Chef Robert. “Come, stand close!” he implored. Many folks did.

Chef Robert, Huge Space, Audience

Chef Robert, Huge Space, Audience

Getting Close

Getting Close

Scallops were on the menu for the first demo. With roe, the best kind. Hard to find around here, he gets them wholesale from Maine. “Find a good fishmonger, make friends with him,” he advised.

Scallop!

Scallop!

There was much banter and interaction with Chef Robert. When the dish, Diver Scallops and Sardines with Summer Caponata, was finished, generous tastes were distributed. It was indeed delicious!

Sampling

Sampling

Even A Group Pic

Even A Group Pic

After a short break, Chef Robert and his sous-chef Matt reappeared to cook up Mussels Provencal. It was a repeat of the first session, entertaining and delicious.

Cooking Mussels

Cooking Mussels

Mussels Cooking

Mussels Cooking

And then, it was time for a Party on the Patio. Earlier in the day, we had looked down from the Music Center atrium to spot a mysterious box being lovingly tended by a couple of muchachos down behind the pavement. Guess what? There was a whole pig in there, cooking away! Scott Drewno, yet another celebrity chef, had brought a crew to roast and serve that pig with steamed dumplings at the party.

Kickin' Back With the Pig

Kickin’ Back With the Pig

That's Chef Scott On The Right

That’s Chef Scott At The Upper Right

Pig: What's Left

Pig: What’s Left

While we ate and drank, we were entertained by Victoria Vox on her ukulele and mouth trumpet. A fitting end to a delicious and entertaining event! I hope it will become an annual one.

Victoria and Her Uke

Victoria and Her Uke

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

Sounds Good AND Tastes Great – Appetite at Strathmore, Part 1: Giada!

Previously known as one of the outstanding venues for music and performance in Montgomery County, Strathmore has taken a leap into the world of the taste buds with “Appetite – A Gastronomic Experience,” two days of talking, cooking and sampling in August. I had a good time at the inaugural event, and hope it becomes another annual date on our local culinary calendar.

Two headline acts occupied the stage at the Music Center on Friday and Saturday evenings. I had a conflict on Saturday, so I did not catch Andrew Zimmern, but on Friday I joined a hoard of fans to hear Giada de Laurentiis speak and cook.

Giada On Stage

Giada On Stage

Giada Close Up

Giada Close Up

Now, I don’t usually watch daytime television, but Giada’s show is on while I use the treadmill at the gym. (What kind of person watches the Food Channel while working out? Let us set that question aside for now.) She whips up delicious-looking meals while inspiring lifestyle envy over her California-casual house and garden. She uses olive oil, sugar and cream with abandon while never gaining an ounce. She’s cute as a button. I hate her.

But she’s also disarmingly endearing and knows how to please a crowd at a live event. She started out asking for audience participation with a twist – three men (a sparse demographic in that audience) to build muffalettas.

The Guys Build a Muffaletta

The Guys Build a Muffaletta

There were questions about her daughter and her aunt, her go-to family meal (Turkey Meatloaf with Feta and Sun-dried Tomatoes), and her favorite cake (her fellow Food Network star Ina Garten’s Seven-Layer Fudge Cake).

Then it was time for the second recipe, also with audience participation. This time it involved actual cooking and the other gender: Tortellini with Pea Pesto and Pancetta.

Cooking Tortellini

Cooking Tortellini

The Big Screen

The Big Screen

And a final question: What would Giada be if not a chef? A Formula 1 race car driver.

That was Friday. Saturday proved to be so full of scheduled demos, talks and music that one person could attend only a fraction of them. Still, I gave it my best shot. (That’s another post.)

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

The Next Best Thing To Eating

The “Feast Your Eyes” Exhibit at Annmarie Garden, and a Related Book Talk
Books That Cook edited by Jennifer Cognard-Black and Melissa A. Goldthwaite, New York University Press, 2014.

Jennifer Cognard-Black could have filled the hour by lecturing on the subject of her book, or reading excerpts from it, both of which would be the sort of things one would expect from an author asked to give a book talk. Instead, Dr. Cognard-Black presented a visual and physical manifestation of her thesis, and asked the audience to prove it to their own satisfaction in a sort of culinary show-and-tell.

The Box Is To The Left Of The Podium

The Box Is To The Left Of The Podium

Some Of The Recipes

Some Of The Recipes

She brought a box full of her Grandma Peg’s recipe cards – all 1,400 of them – collected over a lifetime of cooking in the mid-20th century, and asked us to read them as if they were works of literature. Treating “recipes as manuscripts” allows one to bring a set of critical tools to an overlooked genre. We saw the recipes with new eyes, as stories with the elements of title, exposition (list of ingredients), resolution (set of instructions, beginning with a verb, inviting the reader into the “story”), and – always! a happy ending (eat)!

Grandma Pegs Recipe

One Of Grandma Peg’s Recipes

Reading From The Book

She Did Read From The Book, Afterward

 

Almost every one of Grandma Peg’s recipes includes an attribution to her source – usually one of the women in her circle of friends and relations. One can derive from this a picture of a collaborative community of sharing; a mutual respect inherent in the act of swapping “trade secrets” with trusted peers.

What a great exercise in deductive anthropology! Not what I expected from an excursion to Deepest Southern Maryland. Down Route 4, just before you fall into the Bay at Solomons, Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center covers 30 acres of Calvert County with art and nature. I had known about its existence but never had a good reason to visit until last week, when the exhibit and book talk coincided with several of my keenest interests.

The exhibit is housed in a large shed-like building with no internal supports other than a staircase to an open loft, conducive to flexibility of display space. The talk occupied a corner of the exhibit area.

The Exhibit Sign

The Exhibit Sign

Book Talk Corner and Wooden Books (Burger Night by Mark E. Elfman)

Book Talk Corner and Wooden Books (Burger Night by Mark E. Elfman)

Exhibit Hall Overview

Exhibit Hall Overview

The exhibit contained a congeries of artworks of varying media and styles, some more inventive and surprising than others, but most on the conservative, representational end of the art spectrum. Only a few were willing to be provocatively ugly; most would be welcome in any living room. Here are some of my favorites.

That Over Which We Have No Control, by Carolyn Tillie

That Over Which We Have No Control, by Carolyn Tillie

A Menu Dilemma: Seafood In Red Sauce vs Green Salad, by Julia Musengo

A Menu Dilemma: Seafood In Red Sauce vs Green Salad, by Julia Musengo

Cake, by Laura Shull

Cake, by Laura Shull

Brief History Of The Tomato, by Melanie Kehoss

Brief History Of The Tomato, by Melanie Kehoss

And on the way down, Route 4 offered up a surreal vision – a giant inflatable turkey, the size of a pickup truck. It was easy to make the comparison, since there were several of the latter parked directly beneath the huge fowl.

The Turkey That Ate Solomons

The Turkey That Ate Solomons

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

Fun Guys and Fungi

You, too can be a mushroom farmer – at least for 10 days at a clip. I met Nikhil Arora, one of the founders of Back to the Roots, at the Fancy Food Show. This company was founded by Nikhil and Alejandro Velez fresh out of college, when they realized how easy it is to grow mushrooms on used coffee grounds (for them, maybe – more on that later). They abandoned their plans to become investment bankers in favor of promoting food awareness and recycling while making a living with a cool, Millennial-style business.

Nikhil generously offered to send me a trial Mushroom Kit. Now, this was not the first time I had tried to raise a crop of oyster mushrooms with this product; he had previously sent one which, due probably to my incompetence, failed to produce a crop. This just served to reconfirm my black thumb regarding raising mushrooms.

Many years ago I acquired a shiitake log which required a complicated regimen of soaking and sun exposure to get the inoculated spore to sprout. I nursed that log for months and produced exactly one mushroom. I wasn’t convinced the second Mushroom Kit would work either, but was ever hopeful.

The design of the Kit is a great big improvement on my log. It arrives as a self-contained box with a brick of inoculated growing medium (certified organic!) in a heavy plastic bag, a spray bottle, and easy instructions. The box is covered with attractive graphics, bad puns, and easy recipes designed to appeal to the whole family.

What You Get

What You Get

Box-top, With Riddles

Box-top, With Riddles

Making The Cut

Making The Cut

Soaking the Bag

Soaking the Bag

I followed the instructions, and guess what? It worked! I got a nice crop of oysters in just under two weeks.

The box sat there for more than a week, doing nothing, and then, suddenly, there they were. After they sprouted, they got big fast. Three days later, I harvested my crop.

It's Alive!

It’s Alive!

Bigger Overnight - With Ruler

Bigger Overnight – With Ruler

Ready To Harvest

Almost Ready To Harvest

Yes! Now!

Yes! Now!

The recipes printed on the box included one for tacos. I made it, adding a few ingredients I had on hand, and making burritos because I had larger flour tortillas instead of smaller, corn-based ones. They were tasty and gratifying, since I grew the mushrooms myself!

The Harvest - Cut Off

The Harvest – Cut Off

Cut Up

Cut Up

Cooked

Cooked

I imagine that watching those suckers grow is terrific for kids. Once they appear, they grow at an almost terrifying rate for a few days, then they can be cooked and eaten immediately. I’m now soaking the farm again in the hopes of raising a second crop. Fingers crossed, black thumb and all!

Posted in Cooking, Eating, Product Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

I’ll Have a Basket of Maguey Worms and a Dog, Ready to Cook, Please.

You, too, can stand in the great marketplace at Tenochtitlan, capital city of the ancient Aztec empire, and absorb the sights and sounds of commerce. Acres of foodstuffs are spread out around you, all the bounty of the New World as it was just before the Spanish arrived, as a realistic hubbub of trade and conversation reaches your ears.

Just get yourself on down to the National Geographic to see their new exhibit, Food: Our Global Kitchen. In the grand old museum tradition, one of the showstoppers is a panorama with a painted background and very real-looking fake food just beyond the low Plexiglas barrier. (How did they know I would be tempted to walk around inside the exhibit?)

You Are There!

You Are There!

And There, Too

And There, Too

Aztec Produce Closeup

Aztec Produce Closeup

Of course, there were explanatory placards to break the illusion of time travel. Helpful factoids explain that the Mesoamerican Indians ate a lot of insects and raised very few animals for consumption. The turkeys, dogs and iguanas on view are lone examples of domestication for food.

The panel describing the cacao-turquoise trade between Tenochtitlan and Chaco Canyon resonated with the program at last year’s FUZE Conference. And, as a bow to a sense beyond sight and sound, you can push a button and smell the chocolate.

Smell The Chocolate

Smell The Chocolate

I had to tear myself away from the marketplace to take in the rest of the exhibit. Pitched to both children and adults, it contained some geeky exhibits on varied ways of farming, as well as eye-catching hydroponics, a taxidermied chicken, and extreme examples of humans changing plants and animals to suit our purposes.

Wall Art

Wall Art

Hydroponics and Chicken

Hydroponics and Chicken

There were square watermelons and a display of the many kinds of potatoes of the Andes, together with translations of their Quechua names: Siren, Sparrowhawk Nail, Dazzling Like The Sun, Cougar Paw, Sleep In Your Eyes.

Ancient Potatoes

Ancient Potatoes

There were surprising facts, such as that, although India produces nearly 30% of the world’s bananas, more than 99% of those are consumed there; almost none are exported. And, while Holstein cattle comprise 90% of the U.S. dairy herd (an example of lack of genetic diversity), there are forty thousand known varieties of beans (an example of the opposite).

And so from the Farming section of the exhibit to the Cooking. I was again transfixed by the Great Wall O’Gadgets (and again, tucked away behind Plexiglas, so no touching). I indulged in a game of How Many Do You Own? with myself. Answer: many.

How Many Do YOU Have?

How Many Do YOU Have?

There were reproductions of ancient cooking implements from Chinese tombs and South American sources. And there, plopped in the middle of a photo-mural of copper pots, was Julia. Of course.

Julia!

Julia!

There were some more smell machines (herbs and spices), and an interactive table of virtual cooking. This worked by you pressing buttons, and the table sprouting arms and cooking. There were the appropriate sounds of chopping and sizzling as the food was prepared. It was mesmerizing, and only a little bit creepy.

Smell This! And This!

Smell This! And This!

You Watch, It Cooks

You Watch, It Cooks

And then, just as I was asking myself, “This is all very well, but what about that other sense – you know – taste?” I looked up, and there was the demo kitchen. Every hour on the hour, Meghan or another cook prepares a dish and provides samples. They are pretty basic during the week: today it was pumpkin smoothies (dump everything in the blender; blend), but Meghan assured me that it got more elaborate on weekends, when the exhibit draws its biggest crowds.

Meghan Blending

Meghan Blending

Fortified by a smoothie sample, I took in the remainder of the displays. There were historical tableaux and displays of meals to show how our consumption varied over time and space. An ancient Roman hostess’ parlor, tea with Jane Austin, and a meal in Kublai Khan’s tent; and then celebration food from around the world closed out an afternoon both educational and amusing.

Livia's Parlor

Livia’s Parlor

Close-Up On Livia's Food

Close-Up On Livia’s Food

Sugar Skulls

Sugar Skulls

The exhibit was a mostly-successful mix of old and new museum design. I would have appreciated more things to handle – pushing buttons doesn’t really satisfy that fifth sense. And, there could have been at least one docent to answer questions (Meghan assured me that they appeared on weekends, but I was there on a Wednesday). I’d really like to know if that was a basket of magnolias in the Aztec marketplace, or some other white flower!

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

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