The Northern (Mexican) Way: Pati Jinich’s Culinary Program at the Mexican Cultural Institute

2015 marks the 25th year since the Mexican Cultural Institute’s establishment.   To honor that silver anniversary, the first program of Pati Jinich’s culinary series this year focused on the Silver Route of Northern Mexico.

Aguascalientes, Guanajuato , Queretaro, San Luis Potosí: evocative but obscure names along the colonial-era mining road connecting Zacatecas to Mexico City.  Pati’s demonstrations of recipes from these areas, combined with an engaging slide show, captured the audience with a history lesson and her own personal stories from visiting that area.  And, of course, the food was delicious.

Her story about the signature cocktail of the dinner, Trompo Zacatecano (Spinning Top), for instance: on vacation in Zacatecas, she saw so many people kissing in public, she was sure it could be blamed on the mezcal in the Spinning Top – or maybe it was because they were all so dizzily in love!

On the way to the dining room, I noticed the door to the kitchen was open.  There was Pati, organizing the first course.

Pati In The Kitchen

Pati In The Kitchen

The dining room has an elegant chandelier, gilded ceiling detail, and a trompe-l’oeil cupboard on the far wall.

No, It's Not A Cupboard

No, It’s Not A Cupboard

I found myself seated at a beautifully-set table along with Pati’s oldest son, Alan, and his girlfriend, Paula.  I met her middle son, Juju, at the Gaithersburg Book Festival  a year or two ago, so maybe eventually I’ll meet the whole family!

Alan and Paula

Alan and Paula

There were four courses, with formal service.  The San Luis Potosi-style enchiladas of the first course cannot be found in Mexico City.  Pati recounted how her father brought them back from his trips to the north when she was growing up.

Starters: Enchiladas

Starters: Enchiladas

The second course, Enjococadas (creamy turnovers), use allspice along with poblano peppers – “it’s magic!”

Seconds: Enjococadas

Seconds: Enjococadas

Pati introduced a guest chef: a cook from northern Mexico to demonstrate the proper way to make tortillas, with an admonition: “Never make enchiladas with flour tortillas!” and a lesson about masa flour and  nixtamalization, which unlocks niacin for use by the body and “is one of those miracles, like vanilla.”  So true.

Pati Talking

Pati Talking

The Tortilla Expert

The Tortilla Expert

Wedding stew, Asado de Bodas, was accompanied by nopalitos, cactus paddles, for a fragrant and succulent main course.

Thirds: Wedding Stew over Rice With Nopalitos

Thirds: Wedding Stew Over Rice With Nopalitos

And then, a sort of dessert parade of waiters with Pastel de Mango - Mango Cake, which had been assembled in the room behind the demo table.

Dessert Parade

Dessert Parade

Coffee and tea were self-service, in the next room, affording a chance to admire the impressive built-in pipe organ.  Alas, as I learned from Gustavo Morales, the MCI Deputy Director, the organ is no longer played.

Coffee And The Organ

Coffee And The Organ

But the wonderful murals covering the hallways of the MCI are as colorful as ever, full of movement and life.

Murals In The Hall

Murals In The Hall

Pati greeted her fans after the meal.  I took a picture of my friend Amy from CHoW with her.

Amy and Pati

Amy and Pati

The MCI has many excellent events, programs and exhibits year-round.  The culinary ones are my favorites (no surprise!)

 

 

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Another Tea-Towel Tale

And a palindromic one, at that.  I got this framed tea-towel at the Medstar Montgomery Hospital Picnic and Bazaar.  It makes a great companion to my previous find.  I have many tea-towels, but only one other is framed and mounted.

 

Two Tonsures, One Rumpot

Two Tonsures, One Rumpot

 

And that palindrome – if you don’t know it –  goes like this: “Stop!  Murder us not, tonsured rumpots!”  It’s apparently the correct appeal to rampaging, crazed monks.  An improbable scenario, but an impressive example of the genre.

Not that this monk would ever act like that if he overindulged; he’s more likely to wind those flowers around his tonsure.  If his monastery had a bazaar, he’d be the fish friar, or maybe the chip monk.

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Pisco, Pachamanca, and Alligator Pears: Peruvian Food at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

This year’s Folklife Festival was constrained in both space and scope.  Squeezed onto the Mall between 3rd and 4th Streets, it focused on only one subject: Peru.  But, just as a magnifying glass may concentrate attention on a small but significant  area, Peru generated enough energy to reward an excursion down there.

Since I, too, was constrained this year by the calendar, I only managed to visit for one afternoon (and the last day’s afternoon at that), but found that there was still plenty of enthusiasm to educate a curious reporter in the food ways of Peru.

The entrance to the Festival featured the completed rope bridge which had been constructed during the event.  To the right of it, a corridor fenced off from the main grounds housed a row of food vendors and a seating area.

 

Enter Under The Bridge

Enter Under The Bridge

 

Pisco! At fairly reasonable prices, to boot.  Also, gelato, and sandwiches by the Peruvian Brothers food truck, among other food stalls.

 

Pisco, Anyone?

Pisco, Anyone?

Capitol, Gelato

Capitol, Gelato

 

But I decided to wait for later to indulge – I wanted to visit the El Fogon Kitchen, where the food program was being presented.  On the way, I passed visitors advertising their connection to Peru with Western fashion, and dancers in colorful costumes.

 

Tee Shirts and Doggies

Tee Shirts and Doggies

Dancer and Musician

Dancer and Musician

 

A colorful sunburst arch led to the main program area.

Welcome to Peru!

Welcome to Peru!

And speaking of constraints, there were no presenters imported this year as chefs.  All those cooking from Peru had come as dancers, musicians, or other artists.  There were also some chefs from the Washington area doing demos.  The first chef at El Fogon I saw was one of the latter:  Jose Victorio Alarcon, executive chef at Puerto 511 Cocina Peruana in Baltimore.

 

Chef Jose and Interpreter

Chef Jose and Interpreter

 

As he prepared Ceviche, he explained that this dish has evolved over time in Peru, with the influence of Japanese preparation techniques and ingredients.  Now, the fish is barely “cooked” by the lime juice –  marinated only for a brief time, and served nearly raw, in contrast to the longer soak time in other South American countries.

Just before serving, he added a little coconut milk.  It helps to smooth out the balance of salty and sour flavors in the liquid, called “leche del tigre” (tiger’s milk).  The dish was garnished with quick-fried potato bundles.

 

Potatoes are Fried

Potatoes are Fried

 

After the demo, many in the audience got closer to the chef and the dish.  Some even took selfies.

 

Let's See That Ceviche!

Let’s See That Ceviche!

Let's See Me and That Ceviche!

Let’s See Me and That Ceviche!

 

The next demo was handled by the three Catacora sisters from Tradiciones Carumeñas, a singing and dancing troupe from Carumas.  They cooked Chupe de Chochoca, a thick cornmeal soup made with mutton and both fresh and dehydrated potatoes.

They were dressed in their dancing costumes, providing a wonderful visual lagniappe to the demo.

 

The Catacora Sisters with Interpreter

The Catacora Sisters with Interpreter

 

Dried potatoes (chuño) are made by being frozen overnight, soaked, having the water squeezed out by foot, and then dried.  They will last for years.

 

Sister and Chupe

Sister and Chupe

 

While they cooked, the sisters told us about food-related folklore.  In Carumas, one must never hand another person a bunch of scallions, because those two people will then become enemies.  Their interpreter volunteered that she has seen them picking weeds along the Mall.  Yes, they use plantains to treat injuries, and another common plant for “swelling in the kidneys and cleaning the liver.”

I was given a tour of the prep kitchen by Rosa Maria La Madrid, the Peru Program Presenter.  She is from Lima, and worked to contact participants for the Festival, collect the recipes, and prepare them for presentation.  Were there problems finding the right ingredients this year?  No, she found many of them fresh or frozen at Todos, a Latin supermarket in Virginia.

Dancer/Cooks and Rosa Maria

Dancer/Cooks and Rosa Maria

 

Also, she worked out substitutions for native fish and vegetables.  Acorn squash worked well for another squash; trout filled in for a more authentic fish.

 

Spices in the Kitchen

Spices in the Kitchen

 

But some things they were able to bring in – the wide bamboo tube Rosa is holding in the picture above, for instance.  These are used to steam fish in the pachamanca, the fire pit filled with hot stones just outside the tent.

 

Fire Pit, No Cuy

Fire Pit, No Cuy

 

Another thing they cooked in that pachamanca was cuy, but the demo was earlier in the day and I missed it, so sampling guinea pig remains on my bucket list!  Maybe I can find some at Todos?

For consolation, I repaired to the Peruvian Brothers to eat a pork sandwich.  While I was enjoying it, the rumor of avocados wafted through the crowd.  Sure enough, there were many leftover fruits donated by AvocadosfromPeru, and, as a prize for being there at the end of the Festival, we got to take home one each.  Lucky us!

 

Adrienne With Our Avocados

Adrienne With Our Avocados

 

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Right In My Own Backyard: Sherwood’s High On Horticulture

Last summer, some students from Sherwood High School showed up at the Olney Farmers Market selling herbs and vegetables.  I had been vaguely aware that Sherwood had greenhouses tucked behind the main building, but I had no idea of the extent of its commitment to growing things.  I went over there to talk to Jill Coutts, director of the Certified Professional Horticulturist Program.

 

Classroom Building and Greenhouse

Classroom Building and Greenhouse

Inside The Greenhouse

Inside The Greenhouse

 

She was delighted to show me around.  The school year was just about over, so the greenhouse and attached classroom looked a little bit desolate without students, but I could see the skeletons of bygone hydroponics and aeroponics projects.  Outside, though, the evidence of improvements to the school were evident, and the 1/3 acre garden was still thriving.

The garden used to be an overgrown, abandoned tree farm.  It’s now a place where students learn about tree care and experiment with growing vegetables.

 

The Tree Farm

The Tree Farm

A Raised Bed

A Raised Bed

Jill Makes Her Bed

Jill Makes Her Bed

 

In addition to the usual raised beds, Jill showed me a traditional African keyhole kitchen garden in process of construction.  When it’s finished, the center shaft will be filled with compost, then soil will be mounded towards the center.  It’s designed to be low-maintenance, and support up to 80 (!) tomato plants.

 

The Unfinished Keyhole

The Unfinished Keyhole

 

Outside the greenhouse, students have constructed a rain garden and planted a slope for erosion control.  These plantings are designed to look their best in the fall.

 

Erosion Control Plantings

Erosion Control Plantings

Rain Garden

Rain Garden

 

The Horticulturist Program is composed of three elective courses and an internship.  Upon graduation, students are well qualified to get jobs within the multimillion-dollar Montgomery County arboriculture business, or go on to college.

And their course of study is not just digging, planting and watering.  Their first project is to design and construct a “living wall” of plants to clean the indoor air.  The aeroponics projects result in crops of basil snapped up by Ricciuti’s Restaurant.  Then there is the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), which will grow 180 heads of lettuce in six weeks.  Micro greens. Hydroponics.  And plans for a future koi pond.

There are several outdoor courtyards within the school walls.  Jill showed me a place in one of them which always flooded after a hard rain.  After modifications designed and constructed by the students, that problem has been solved.

But my favorite bit of synergy is the kitchen garden planted in terraces, in the courtyard just outside the teaching kitchen for the Hospitality Management Program – to teach culinary and food service skills.  A no-brainer!

 

Kitchen Garden

Kitchen Garden

 

Future plans for the Horticulturist Program include taking over the striped bass aquaculture system from the environmental science program.  Meanwhile, I’ll be looking for more of those Sherwood garden products at the farmers market!

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But You Can See It From Here: The Almost Heaven Benefit

We called our Olney Farmers and Artists Market benefit brunch “Almost Heaven” because it takes a long time to get there, but it’s totally worth it!  The climate was certainly agreeable, and the society was, too.

MacBride and Gill’s Falcon Ridge Farm was in full Spring flower at the end of May.

Peonies In Bloom

The chickens were enjoying the weather

They Have Their Own House

and so were the partygoers. Cocktails were served with a side of view.

You Can See Pennsylvania From Here

Our chef, Mark Mills, arrived at 5 a.m. to start the pig roasting, assisted by Russ Testa, who also cooked the coconut chicken. They prepared several vegetable side dishes, and Debbie Amster contributed the green salad.

Chef Russ and Chef Mark

Chef Mark and Pig

The copious buffet featured products provided by the vendors at the Market.  The seating area, in the barn, was brightened by the flower arrangements provided by Kelly Shore, of Petals by the Shore.

Buffet

Dining Area

The band was installed in the balcony, where their interpretations of Celtic music provided a perfect background for the meal.

The Mighty Kelltones

After the meal (with wines from Jackson Family Wines, provided by Elyse Kudo), there were tours of the farm, a wine tasting of wines produced at the University of Maryland by  Joe Fiola, and a beer tasting of local microbrew by Mathew Ruhlman of Ruhlman Brewery.

Vino and Velociraptor

Beer Tasting

The farm tour included a hops garden, with an elaborate trellis for the hops vines to grow up. They were just beginning to do that.

Baby Hops

It was a great event, if I say so myself – and I do!

Here are the Market vendors and the products that contributed so much to the day’s success:

Turkey Sausage by Orchard Breeze

Strawberries by Penn Farm

Sheep Cheese by Shepherds Manor Creamery

Scones by Rare Opportunity Farms

Bread by Atwater’s

Coffee by Zeke’s

Dessert:

Cakes by Nancy Macbride, Cupcakes by Cupcake Lounge, Pastries by Canela Bakery

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Chefs But No Demos At The Gaithersburg Book Festival

Quiz: which local book festival is held outside (in the lovely-weather, low-humidity Spring); attracts nationally-known authors; and has free parking? That event that used to be down on the Mall only has the author thing in common with the Gaithersburg Book Festival, which fulfills all three criteria.

It’s a homey but not home-made vibe on the grounds of City Hall one Saturday in May. Ten pavilions full of author talks run non-stop from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. A new-book sales tent, a massive used-book sale, exhibitors, author signings, a kid’s activities area, and a row of food trucks complete the venue.

View of the Grounds, With Nora Pouillon on Her Way to the Signing Tent

View of the Grounds, With Nora Pouillon on Her Way to the Signing Tent

View of Grounds, With Dancing Rabbit

View of Grounds, With Dancing Rabbit

Kids With Kids, at the County Fair Exhibit

Kids With Kids, at the County Fair Exhibit

Those Kids Were Really Popular!

Those Kids Were Really Popular!

And in lieu of the First Lady, there is Gaithersburg Council Member Mike Sesma, introducing speakers. I asked him why the chefs were just talking, not cooking, as they had done at previous GBFs. He couldn’t give me a satisfactory answer, but encouraged me to volunteer to work on next year’s festival, and put my energy where my mouth is. I’m thinking about it.

Councilmember Mike

Council Member Mike

The Rachael Carson Pavilion had three chefs scheduled to entertain their fans and talk up their books. Bryan Voltaggio was engaging as he revealed his basic rules for cooking: use a scale to weigh ingredients instead of measuring by volume; check your oven temperature; involve others in prep work and clean-up (easy for him to say!).

When asked which recipe in his book (Home: Recipes to Cook With Family and Friends) was his favorite, he pointed immediately to son Thatcher’s contribution: cola-braised potatoes – not something I would normally be tempted to try. The book also includes instructions for Family Meal’s famous fried chicken.

Would he spill secrets about his home life? His wife wanted him to call the book “Occasionally Home” because he was on the road so much shuttling among his restaurants and raising money for school breakfasts (with the No Kid Hungry organization). But he promised to reform!

Chef Bryan With Book

Chef Bryan With Book

Thatcher's Recipe

Thatcher’s Recipe

Next up was Nora Pouillon, speaking winsomely about her autobiography (My Organic Life), which I just reviewed here, so I will only report that she said, “I thought you had to be nearly dead to write your memoirs, but I thought I could inspire others.” She is a long way from any intimations of mortality.

Nora Speaking

Nora Speaking

And then Cathal Armstrong (My Irish Table) spoke amusingly about how he fell accidentally into cooking. He spent two months trying to learn computer programming but found he was a really good restaurant dishwasher – and worked his way up from there. At nineteen, he opened his first restaurant. It only lasted for ten months, but he learned a lot! He came to the U.S. for a summer job in 1990. “It’s been a long summer!”

Now, in addition to running his three restaurants, he represents the U.S. with the State Department’s Culinary Diplomacy program.

Chef Cathal

Chef Cathal

Although he did not cook for us, he did bring samples. His recipe for lemon cake came from his Aunt Joan. Delicious.

Samples?  Yes, Please!

Samples? Yes, Please!

Delicious!

Delicious!

A rose was a rose over at the Gertrude Stein Pavilion. Although Mary Norris’ book had nothing to do with cooking, it (Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen) had me at the title. She is a long-time copy editor at the New Yorker, and obviously shares a dislike of a certain grammatical error I find very annoying. Her talk was both amusing and educational – did you know that there is a pencil-sharpener museum in Logan, Ohio? She showed us a crown made for her by a friend, composed of a collection of commas of many typefaces, all different. At the urging of the audience, she modeled it for us.

Mary Norris With Carlos Lozada

Mary Norris With Carlos Lozada

The Comma Queen

The Comma Queen

And so ended a thoroughly enjoyable day. I’m looking forward to next year. Maybe there will even be chef demos.

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An Austrian’s Adventures in Midcentury America: My Organic Life by Nora Pouillon, with Laura Fraser

If you could sum up Nora Pouillon in one word, would it be “stubborn?” She is known for her single-minded determination to run her professional and personal life the way she sees fit. How about “obsessed?” everything in her restaurant, down to the seasonings, must be as organic as she can make them.

No. It’s unequivocally “European.” From her reaction to the wretched state of available ingredients when she first moved to America in 1965, to her candid description of her florid personal life, her book reveals a psyche foreign to the good citizens of mid-century America (and possibly to those living here still today).

She did open the first completely organic restaurant in the US, in Washington, DC. In fact, she was instrumental in the establishment of certification standards for organic restaurants. But it was a gradual process, from her earliest awareness of how good simple food, cooked well, can be, to her education as a chef and restaurateur.

She describes herself as a “war child,” born 18 months before VE day. Her Viennese family spend much of the war on a working farm. The bounty of those fields impressed her even at an early age. Later, she attended a French school which served three-course lunches to all the students. These meals, not the coursework, are her clearest memories of school!

A meeting with a dashing but married Frenchman, Pierre Pouillon, lead to a romantic courtship and marriage – before Pierre was divorced from his first wife. But his papers came through just before they left for Washington, and Pierre’s new job at a radio station.

Despite the appalling lack of fresh vegetables in Washington, Nora started cooking for small dinner parties as a way of reciprocating the invitations from their friends. She relied on books like Elizabeth David’s excellent series for the most part, along with one short course on Asian food. When it became clear that they couldn’t make ends meet on Pierre’s salary, Nora decided to try offering classes herself – and so her career in food began.

It was about this time she discovered that Pierre was having an affair with their au pair. Although Nora was aware that he had been sleeping around during the course of their marriage, she had tolerated his behavior (how European!) for the sake of stability and their two sons. The au pair, however, was too much. In retaliation, she deliberately set out to seduce her contractor. From then on, she and Pierre led separate but conjoined lives. Even when Nora eventually moved out of the house, they never actually divorced.

Her first professional job, running the restaurant in the Tabard Inn, led to her second long-term relationship and business partner for Restaurant Nora. Together with Steven Damato, Nora formed the “additive-free” philosophy she was to evolve into organic cuisine, and carry on through many dreams, enterprises (remember City Cafe and Asia Nora?) and years. But, after many years and two children together, Steven fell in love with their daughter’s piano teacher, and he and Nora split.

Now, as Nora writes, “I am a mature European woman…I have my mission, my passion, my friends, and my children, who are following in my footsteps in their own ways.” And acknowledgment as one of the doyennes of the organic movement in the United States. Not a bad place to find oneself.

My Organic Life
My Organic Life by Nora Pouillon, with Laura Fraser, Knopf, New York, 2015

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Jose and Carla and Joan and Alice: Saturday Night Sips 2015

I don’t usually start an article by dropping names, but I couldn’t help myself. So many shining lights of the local and national firmament in one place! They almost outshone the food. Almost.

The View From Above

The View From Above

And That Helicopter Is Still There!

And That Helicopter Is Still There!

New this year at Sips: alcoholic elevators. If you’ve ever been to the Newseum, you know that there are huge elevators to convey museum-goers to the top floor, from whence they process downward to street level. The Sips planners decided to take advantage of the space by installing bars in each of them.

Did The Room Just Move Or Have I Had Enough?

Did The Room Just Move Or Have I Had Enough?

On the third floor, a reception with book signings was held where one could schmooze with and take very good pictures of the aforementioned lights,

Alice Waters

Alice Waters

Carla Hall

Carla Hall

and partake of games such as corn hole, and strange-looking food.

Dipped Fruit On Sticks

Dipped Fruit On Sticks

Unfortunately for me, the bar elevators went directly from the third floor to the Concourse level, where dispensers of sweets were grouped. I am a strict believer in “life is short, eat dessert first,” so I was easily distracted from one of my main objectives for this event, which was to arrive at Rappahannock Oysters’ table, on the first floor, before they ran out.

There was way too much to pass up. The Great Pyramid of Macarons at the Sweet Lobby’s display, for instance.

Well, Maybe Just One

Well, Maybe Just One

And Shake Shack, which offered one of my favorite things in the world: affogato! They made theirs with Stumptown coffee, their own frozen custard, and shortbread cookie crumbs from Baked and Wired. I had more than one. They didn’t mind.

Espresso Over Frozen Custard: Dynamite!

Espresso Over Frozen Custard: Dynamite!

And They Brought Their Sign With Them

And They Brought Their Sign With Them

Then there was Sonoma, offering uni panna cotta with preserved lemon. Admittedly a savory take on custard, similar to Japanese chawanmushi, it still pulled me away from my briny objective.

Savory Panna Cotta

Savory Panna Cotta

Then, just as I was about to board the escalator up to the first floor, there was Chef Tee (Terrell Danley) with his students from DC Central Kitchen.

Chef Tee's The Tall One

Chef Tee’s The Tall One

He’s one of our favorite demo chefs at the Olney Farmers and Artists Market. He assured me he’d be out again with us this summer season, and bring some of his students with him.

Finally, I was borne upward towards those oysters. But as I made my approach, there was yet another display of panna cotta! Ghibellina had the classic sweet vanilla custard flavored with almond cookies. I just had to see how it compared with Sonoma’s.

Panna Cotta 2.0

Panna Cotta 2.0

And then I was finally there – but the oysters were not! All that was left was a cruelly mocking empty bed of ice. Skunked again!

No Oysters For Me

No Oysters For Me

I consoled myself with some more food and drink. I said hello to the Catoctin Creek crew,

Catoctin Creek Distillery

Catoctin Creek Distillery

admired Tico’s display at their table,

Tico's Table

Tico’s Table

and joined in the accolades for the three Honorary Chairs of the event: Jose Andes, Joan Nathan, and Alice Waters.

Joan, Jose, Alice

Joan, Jose, Alice

Afterward, Chef Jose had a great time with his fans and friends.

Smile!

Smile!

Hug!

Hug!

Schmooze!

Schmooze!

Another great event this year, and for a terrific cause: ending food insecurity and providing job training towards eradicating poverty.

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Can There Be Too Much of a Good Thing? NMAI: The Power of Chocolate

The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and Mars Chocolate North America sponsored an evening program and reception in advance of the Power of Chocolate Festival in March. In the interest of testing the theory that there can never be enough chocolate (only a week after the chocolate tasting event at the Italian Embassy), we were in attendance.

The Evolution of Chocolate: A Special Chocolate Lecture and Tasting, featured Rodney Snyder, Chocolate History Research Director at Mars Chocolate North America. The big open space at NMAI was filled with tables and exhibit stations, giving a little preview of the weekend’s activities.

NMAI Gathering Place

NMAI Gathering Place

Exotic Chocolate-Making Equipment

Exotic Chocolate-Making Equipment

First, we were introduced to Chef Will of the Mitsitam Cafe, who described the dishes we would sample after the lecture. Among them: pork marinated with chocolate and chili, grilled with a chocolate rub, and chocolate and cherry mousse (in honor of Cherry Blossom season).

Chef Will Describes the Dishes

Chef Will Describes the Dishes

Then Mr. Snyder treated us to an amusing treatise on the evolution and uses of chocolate in the New World. For instance, did you know chocolate can be found in the periodic table of the elements?

Elemental Chocolate

Elemental Chocolate

(But seriously, folks,) the cultivation of cacao trees began 3,000 years ago and spread to an area 20° north and south of the equator. Native Americans fermented the pulp surrounding the beans and drank the liquid, in addition to harvesting the beans.

Rodney Snyder, Our Guide

Rodney Snyder, Our Guide

They had a bouquet of ingredients to flavor their chocolate drinks, including agave nectar and bee honey, annatto, allspice, and red pepper. One of the samples was mixed to be very close to what the Aztecs would have drunk. It was so rich, just a little was quite enough!

Chocolate Tasting

 

It was almost as thick as the chocolate at the Spanish Crafts event. Another “flavor expression” of chocolate, this time as a solid, contained the same ingredients as the drink, but provided a completely different experience in the mouth.

Chocolate for Tasting

Chocolate for Tasting

The last taste, providing a contrast to the historic style, was a Dove dark chocolate miniature. We were asked to notice how the Dove provided a “silky smooth melt.” It did indeed!

Then we were welcome to try the dishes prepared by Chef Will and his team. In addition to the pork and mousse, there was some mole and chili made with chocolate, fruit and cheese (nice complements), and sparkling wine. A truly sweet event!

Blue Cheese Goes Very Well With Chocolate

Blue Cheese Goes Very Well With Chocolate

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The 2014 Governor’s Buy Local Cookout: Silver and the Watermelon Queens

Silver Queen. How evocative is that phrase? For your faithful correspondent, it conjures the corner farm market, whose produce came from the fields down the road. Every day at 6 p.m. in corn season (stretched out by serial plantings), a flat of Silver Queen arrived behind a tractor. The second picking of the day, timed to catch the home-bound traffic.

You walked down to the end of the driveway when the line of cars backed up past your house because the tractor was making its slow progress down the two-lane road. Put a dollar in your pocket and came back with six ears, which you husked and placed in the pot of water that you had put on the stove to boil just before you left the house. Ate some off the cob, stripped the rest for next day’s lunch.

It wasn’t anything special; Silver Queen was what was planted for eating corn in Maryland forty years ago. It was everywhere, in every farm stand on New Hampshire Avenue from the Silver Spring line to Damascus.

It had great corn flavor, but its sweetness was ephemeral. It had to be cooked as soon as picked, or it would turn starchy. Nobody grows it anymore. It’s been supplanted by a thing that looks like corn, but tastes of nothing but sugar.

Now, this was meant to be a report on the state of agriculture in Maryland, as represented by the 2014 Governor’s Buy Local Cookout, but I see it has turned into an exercise in nostalgia. Bear with me. There was Silver Queen at the cookout, because at least one farmer in Maryland is still growing it.

Silver Queen and Heirloom Tomatoes

Silver Queen and Heirloom Tomatoes

Goat Cheese and Silver Queen Corn Cake with Smoky Tomato Ginger Jam, it said on the sign, and indeed, it was a fine goat cheese and corn cake, and the jam was nice too, but I would have been just as happy (happier!) with a just-picked ear, freshly shucked and plainly boiled, with a little butter and salt.

Chef Bryan Davis, of The Classic Catering People in Owings Mills, told me that the retro-farmer responsible for the corn was Nick Bailey of Grand View Farm in Forest Hill. I’m planning a field trip for the 2015 corn season.

Meanwhile, on another part of the Governor’s lawn, the crowd of folks involved in food production and distribution in Maryland were milling around the tables trying samples of our state’s bounty. There were patriotic shorts,

O Maryland, My Maryland!

O Maryland, My Maryland!

local and state-wide personalities,

Sandy Heiler of Brookeville With Gov. O'Malley

Sandy Heiler of Brookeville With Gov. O’Malley

State Senator Karen and Harry Montgomery With Sandy

State Senator Karen and Harry Montgomery With Sandy

and, of course, the Watermelon Queen.

Watermelon Queen Shelby Hurley

Watermelon Queen Shelby Hurley

The tables offered delicious food prepared by local chefs

Have A Taste!

Have A Taste!

Crabby Garnish

Crabby Garnish

and tipples by local distilleries and wineries.

Lyon Distilling

Lyon Distilling

including the Olney Farmers Market’s own Mark Mills of Chocolates and Tomatoes Farm.

Governor O’Malley entertained not only by reading a Proclamation, as one would expect from a governor, but by singing and playing, as well.

Gov. O'Malley Proclaims

Gov. O’Malley Proclaims

And Then He Entertains

And Then He Entertains!

As the sun set over Annapolis, another successful Buy Local Cookout concluded. And I left with the taste of Silver Queen on my palate.

Sunset

Sunset

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