Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Win a free dinner with a couple of my favorite DC dining divas!

You know I love my Scoutmob dinner deals and my Scoutmob parties. Now they're combining the best of both worlds and hosting the ultimate Scoutmob Dinner Party hosted by a couple of my fave local gals, Lisa Shapiro of Dining in DC and Mary Kong of Girl Meets Food.

Mary, me and Lisa, along with Jenna Huntsberger
& Jason "Foodgeek" at one of our fun dinners.
 All you have to do is answer a fun question of whom YOU would love to dine with (besides me, of course) and you'll be entered to win a Chef's Table Dinner at the legendary Cashion's Eat Place in Adams Morgan, courtesy of Scoutmob. Winners will be selected on sheer creativity, although you can, of course, pick me. =)

The link again: http://scoutmob.com/dc-dinner-party/?Referrer=gg1128.

Best of luck and hope to see you there!

This delectable black cod dish could be yours!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The cold is coming, so craving some comfort cuisine, Castellano style, at Taberna del Alabardero

I've been fortunate enough to spend Thanksgiving with my sister in Michigan and a taste of some comfort food, Salvadoran style (her hails from El Salvador) and I'm excited to get back home to taste a few different comfort cuisines over the winter. While I got to practice speaking some Spanish this weekend, I figure why not also taste some Spanish? I'm craving some paella and when I get back to DC, I know exactly where to go: Taberna del Alabardero.

They recently launched Spanish Style Sunday lunches which offers a selection of 9 different succulent paellas at $22 per person:

Arroz Negro de Calamar, Mejillón y Gambas
Squid Ink Rice with Mussels and Shrimp

Paella Valenciana
Duck, Chicken, Seafood, Faba Beans and Vegetables

Paella de Carrillera y Queso Manchego
Pork Cheek, Fresh Vegetable and Manchego Cheese

Paella de Pollo y Chorizo
Chicken and Spanish Sausage

Paella de Pulpo Confitada
Grilled Octopus, Potato Confit and Paprika

Paella de Cangrejo de Maryland y Emperador en Adobo
Marinated Swordfish and Maryland Crabs

Paella de Pollo Moruno y Pimientos de Gernika con Alli Olli de Ajetes
Marinated Chicken and “Gernika” peppers with and Scallions Ali Olli

Arroz Abanda
Mussels, Scallops, Shrimp and Langoustines Paella

Mushrooms, Faba Beans & Seasonal Vegetables

I am honored to have been invited to a tasting of several of these paellas and there was definitely not disappointed. Not that it sould be any surprise, but my favorite was the Paella de Carrillera y Queso Manchego with a most flavorful marinated pork cheek perfectly accented with the saltiness of manchego cheese.

The paella specials are available on Sundays, 11:30am-2:30pm. As you can see from the above video, they're made to order and take a little while to ensure diners the freshest and crispiest pans, so I highly recommend getting some of their delectable appetizers, like the Tortilla Espanola.

Anyone hungry yet? Who wants to come?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Conquering the West

Not even 48 hours on the West Coast and I feel like I've conquered kitchens and and more everywhere almost every waking hour. A brief summary of what I've hit up . . . so far.
  • Breakfast at the Jet Rock Bar at National Airport - "Breakfast at a bar?" you ask? That's right. Sure, I could have gone the mimosa or bloody Mary route, but a bacon, mushroom & tomato omelet with well-done homefries and a side of $6 fruit salad really did the trick for my 25-minute flight to Philadelphia, especially considering we sat at the tarmack for about 20 minutes. Apologies to the passengers sitting by me, but I was starving.
  • Running into an old friend at the Philadelphia Airport - I never wanted a longer layover than Saturday morning. Tons of shops, tons of restos and tons to see were almost dizzying. I decided I was in the mood for a smoothie of some kind and on my way, I ended up seeing this guy coming out of a shop who looked quite familiar and apparently he thought so, too. It was Grant, the not-so-little brother of one of my dear friends from college. We'd befriended on Facebook a couple of years ago, so I at least got a semblance of what he looked like now, but he's hardly changed even from his teenage years and it was so great to see him, although briefly. Even though we were both ultimately going back to Northern California, unfortunately we weren't on the same flight. Such a bummer, but was nice to catch up, even for a little bit. Was worth missing out on a smoothie, especially for my next stop at . . .
  • Peet's Coffee at SFO - Insomnia the past week and intermittent yet uncomfortable napping on the flight made this pitstop a fortunate necessity. I don't know what it is about the ultra-caffeinated nectar from Peet's, but an iced non-fat mocha made me smile, especially while I waited for my brothers to pick me up.
  • Homemade Salvadoran sauteed beef w/ onions, beans and rice at Tia Sonia's - A pleasant surprise picking up one of my cousins at my step-mother's sister's house. They're Salvadoran and we walked in to a table full of food already laid out. Granted, Sonia wasn't expecting all of us to come by, but it didn't stop a couple of us from helping ourselves to the homemade goodness.
  • Burma Superstar - After picking up the entire crew and watching the Blue Angels at China Beach in Sea Cliff, we went to dinner at this San Francisco legend. We got there early, and thank goodness because we were a party of 6 and already 15 minutes before the place opened, the line hit the end of the block. We were second and they easily accommodated our large party. Service was great and of course the food was phenomenal. My brothers and cousins never had Burmese food before. And the best way for me to describe it was that it made Chinese food seem black & white. After the famous Tea Leaf Salad, Salt & Pepper Chicken, Crispy & Spicy Chicken, Curry Beef and Dried Fried String Beans, all with their Coconut Rice, they understood why. I'm proud of the kids trying the food with an open palatte, although I feel bad for my cousin, Melissa, who had a little trouble handling the spiciness.
  • But that's okay, we made up for it at our next stop, Genki Crepes, right across the street. Their strawberry, whipped cream and chocolate crepes were refreshing and filling enough for her. And there was plenty to share.
  • But ugh, I was so full the rest of the day and into the next morning. However, it didn't stop me from enjoying some of my dad's chicken adobo and my brother's pancakes and eggs. What is it about homemade food?
  • Arriving into Seattle that evening, I was still pretty full, but I ventured on straight to dinner with my favorite chef at a new place called Ba Bar. I had no idea what to expect, but the gourmet Vietnamese "street food" got my appetite going. It also didn't hurt to run into one of my favorite Seattle culinary socialites, Chris Nishiwaki. I couldn't help but eye the Spicy Pork Belly and I wished I had a better appetite to order the fried egg on top. Alas, it was perfectly crispy with some interesting flavors, and not spicy at all had Melissa been there. The show-stoppers of the table were the refreshing Cabbage Salad and Duck Confit Soup. Perfect for the cool fall Seattle weather. I wish I had more time (and appetite) to sample more.
  • Bacon Waffle Sundae from Skillet Diner
    (Photo by Robin Leventhal)
  • Alas, we had one more pilgrimage to make at Skillet Diner. I've been a fan of Chef Josh Henderson and his amazing Air Stream for years and I was so happy to hear some great buzz about his diner. I was bummed I missed a trek the last time I was in town, so I wasn't going to miss it this time around. It didn't hurt getting to see him at the Fancy Food Show this summer and learning that the diner serves this heavenly dessert that I still dream about almost 5 years later of a tribute to his mother's chocolate pudding pie, deconstructed w/ chocolate nibs and sea salt. Darn right I ordered it. However, every time I even glance at this picture of the Bacon Waffle Sundae, my eyes state an OMFG and my tastebuds go on high alert. Don't even ask what my arteries do. Holy mother of goodness. And the concocted cocktails, one including Allspice Dram & Bourbon, were just brilliant pairings.
And now, it's time to digest before tackling on even more yummy goodness.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I Love New York, but Damn!

Waking up from a 10-hour slumber on my own bed, with the familiar view of downtown DC and the familiar sounds of sirens and kittens' paws thumping rapidly across the hardwood floors. It's good to be home.

Somehow, it's hard to believe the different worlds I was just experiencing a few hundred miles north of here, from the transcendental, to the fashionable, to the ideological, to the powerful, to the impecunious -- all of which offered its sense of inspiration and part of the diversity that makes New York the great City that it is. There really is a New York state of mind, and regardless whether it's the upper crust of the Upper West Side, the chic in Chelsea or the broke in the buroughs, New Yorkers have to have a particular resolve to deal with the every day. The traffic and subways alone could test the patience of Saint Jude.

Getting over there was treacherous enough. Even though I was staying in Brooklyn, I had to go into the City to pick up the keys. Knowing that the soonest I could get there would coincide with rush hour, I figured it'd better for me to take the Bolt Bus versus driving in on my own and luckily their stop was close to where I had to pick up the keys. For those who don't know it, Bolt Bus a great way to travel up and down the Acela corridor without having to pay Acela prices ($16-25 on Bolt Bus versus $178 for the Acela). Unluckily, the bus started having smoke emanate from the engine area (probably from the 45 minutes of traffic we had to wait when approaching the tunnel) and had to evacuate. But, back to the lucky part, we were just a few blocks from the stop anyway. If I were more strategic, I would have used my bigger suitcase and had a smaller carry-on.

While I really wanted to meet up with friends that night, I got last-minute notice about a film premiere for two of my mentors, so I had to hustle up about 25 blocks to the Directors Guild. It would have been a bit awkward to arrive with all my luggage and Brooklyn was too far away, so I stopped in at the Eventi Hotel which was gracious enough to allow me to store my luggage -- even though I wasn't staying there. I stayed at the hotel last year, and have friends and colleagues who stay there on the regular. There's a reason -- the fabulous rooms, ideal location (just a couple of blocks from Penn Station) and superb service, all at a reasonable rate. Same goes for just about all Kimpton Hotels, I can't recommend them enough. The only reason I wasn't staying at this hotel was because I had a free place to stay and for those who know me, that is my favorite 4-letter word.

So I made it to the premiere, albeit a bit late. Hay House is launching a new series of short films called Tales Of Everyday Magic. Friday night premiered films based on the lives and teachings of Wayne Dyer and Gregg Braden who also spoke afterwards. This was a great intro to the weekend to come at the Hay House conference where I got to see Cheryl Richardson, Doreen Virtue, Wayne Dyer, Gregg Braden, Robert Holden and the treasured Louise Hay, herself. The whole weekend was really inspiring given my own work and I got new knowledge and tools that I look forward to sharing in my own work.

Speaking of inspiring, I got proof of the power of leading by example. While walking down 6th to return to the Eventi and pick up my bags, I started getting kind of hungry for some of New York's finest food (shock!). There was a block or two of random people interspersed including cab drivers and pedicab riders sitting around and grubbing down on something in these circular aluminum containers, some wrapped by bright yellow plastic bags, that they were obviously enjoying. Tourists are one thing, they'll grab whatever they see on TV, but one thing I've learned from all my travels is cab drivers the world over know the true meaning of cheap and good food. It seemed a lot of them were choosing someplace nearby, and I had to find out what.

And then it appeared, the corner of 53rd and 6th, the magical cart of a few men working furiously over a small stove to assemble hearty Halal Food for an extraordinarily long line of people from what seemed like all walks of life. Now, there were a few carts across the street and down the block that looked similar, but perhaps it's the mob mentality, I figured I'd follow those that seemed to be in the know. This was the first I knew of anything like this and I didn't want to take any chances.

While the line was long, the wait surprisingly was not. Or perhaps I was just too occupied by watching all the people-watching and food-watching to have noticed. Either way, I had no idea what to get, so I ordered the combination chicken and lamb over rice and what I got was a circular tin full of Paradise. The meat was tender and flavorful (and I just love how prayer is incorporated into Halal practices) and the white sauce, whatever that stuff was, was magic. While I was already in bliss, the hot sauce also added an amazing touch, and I knew I couldn't get a better "Welcome to New York" experience.

Dinner from the Halal Cart on 53rd & 6th. One of the best New York finds. Ever.
How could one possibly follow up such an introduction with justice? As I resumed my stroll back to the bags, I found Wafels & Dinges, a Belgian waffle cart that brought me back to my childhood memories of going stopping by the "Scandinavian" town of Solvang when driving along 101 coming back home from LA. Ya, I know that Belgium is not in Scandinavia (at least I do now), but for some reason, my mother thought Belgian waffles were the appropriate treat for me whenever we'd stop there. And while the cart made me so glad to be a grown up, the very exuberant young man behind the counter made me feel feel like a kid again, excited about the wonders of what dinges combinations I could come up with. I settled on chocolate sauce and whipped cream.

OK, bags picked up and subway-bound, I forgot user-friendly the New York subway sytem is not. Stairs, tight-fitting ticket entrances, crowded spaces, especially on a Friday night, and even more stairs. Figuring out where my friend's place was as soon as I got off the subway was a big challenge in and of itself. I hadn't been there in a year and I had forgotten my way around. It didn't exactly feel like the kind of neighborhood you'd want to wander around late at night, especially with luggage and I was so grateful for my Windows phone w/ GPS. I had only veered off track for a couple of blocks but after all the Manhattan walking and stair-climbing with my luggage, I was ready to sit on a sofa or something. I finally found the place and climbed, guess what, more stairs. While I appreciate the quiet of a top floor apartment, having to climb up a four-story walk-up makes me rethink that. Talk about work out.

Speaking of work, I was so excited to see some clients that I usually only get to "see" via Skype or by telephone. A lot of events tend to happen during UN Week (usually around mid- to late-September) and it draws some of the world's best and brightest, including my clients. I love the coaching work I do and given the nature of some of the meetings that happen, I've found it (as have they) really beneficial to be able to meet in person. And I was so happy to get to see a former client from Seattle who has since planted roots in New York. I'm really proud to see the way she has prioritized her Self and is moving forward in the direction of her success. She is living proof that once you make a decision about your life, things really fall into place. This can go for success and happiness, like in the case of this client, or can go in another direction. It really is your choice.

There are other side meetings and conferences that occur, like the Social Good Summit, where I got to watch the CEO of Skype speak more about education technology of the future, hear more about the One Day on Earth project and learn about Jose Andres' new work on clean cooking stoves. I'll write a story on Andres' project for another publication, but I have to say, I am so relieved that there'll be another One Day on Earth project this year. I was so bummed things didn't work out last year, but I fully intend to participate this year, especially since on 11/11/11, I'll be in Sedona for The Gathering.

It was a quick afternoon before having to haul ass to the Clinton Global Initiative. I got to represent the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for one of the events, and then after-party at the MOMA. I wish more of the exhibit were open to look at, but all we could see were a few installations on the second floor. So instead, I had to check out the guests like Bill Clinton (of course), John Podesta, Heather Graham, Barbara Bush (former first daughter and granddaughter), and I'm sure many others that I just didn't get to see (mainly because I wasn't wearing my glasses). I did run into the guy who first introduced me to General Wesley Clark and he said the Crush List member was there, but sadly I didn't get to see him. At the very least, I got to cross off another item from my bucket list.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A few words, when I feel like I have no words

Today I write from my hotel room in Somerset, Pennsylvania. I'm feeling emotional enough without having to struggle through thousands of others to get to the 9/11 Anniversary at the newly unveiled Flight 93 Memorial just a few miles away. I'm incredibly grateful to have made it to the Dedication Ceremony yesterday and witness a miniscule sliver of the best of humanity.

My friend and I drove about 3 hours from DC to Pennsylvania. It was a gorgeous morning and we felt disbelief about the severe thunderstorms predicted for the day. As we drove past Bedford and along the Lincoln Highway, the dark clouds appeared above the scenic foothills.

We exited into several miles of rolling foothills and traffic and when we finally parked and entered the Memorial, the sun was out and the temperature wonderfully pleasant. Sarah McLaughlin was singing I Will Remember You in her soothing and meditative melody. Amongst some of the moving speakers were George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and especially inspiring, Joe Biden. The Memorial consists of 40 white panels, angled like wings outlining the flight path. Several feet away lies a 17-ton boulder above the spot where the plane crashed. OK, I probably consider the Vice President's speech a bit more because I could actually hear him. Accoustics weren't exactly the best for those of us in the crowd and while I try to fenagle VIP status as much as possible, this was one event I was happy not to have been included.

I happened to be up front for the portion of the memorial where the names of all the passengers and crew were engraved and witnessed its unveiling by the dignitaries listed above, along with Jill Biden, Laura Bush and Tom Ridge. Shortly after, the families walked over and took time to see their loved one's names. Some walked to the boulder and others walked through the crowd in order to exit. People graciously parted a path to let them through and spontaneously clapped as each person walked through. I wasn't sure if it would be embarrassing for them, it wasn't exactly a celebratory moment, but it felt right for us. We were celebrating. Celebrating the thoughtfulness and courage of their loved ones, expressing gratitude for their inspiration to us on how to be brave and reminding us on the priority to love. Those final moments were not only spent on thwarting the hijackers but expressing love and gratitude to their families. You have a few minutes left to live, how else would you want to spend it.

Next to me was one of the Shanksville volunteer firemen who was a first responder. Family members who recognized him expressed their own gratitude to him. Others were too lost in their grief and faced the crowd with tears in their eyes. One son couldn't even look up as he entered and one mother stopped before us and said, "Thank you all!"

The families were promised 30 minutes of private time at the Memorial, but we waited at least an hour. Vice President Biden, who was previously Pennsylvania's senator, hung out with the families for an extensive amount of time. Some in the crowd grew impatient, but quite frankly, he was doing the right thing. This was their moment, their day.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Personal Philosophy

I happened to find this little gem during one of my random time-suck internet rabbit-hole sessions, and figured I have to share because it speaks so well about my philosophy on life:
“I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever
situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of
our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by
our disposition.”
– Martha Washington

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Delicious Dedication

He's gone. [And] my heart is shattered in a million pieces.

Above is a tweet I happened to see during my usual Sunday evening routine of working on the computer while watching 60 Minutes. I didn't know Jennifer Perillo very well; we had only met briefly at the Eat Write Retreat Conference early this summer so I didn't understand what she was writing about. It's weird how social media lets you track innumerable people, whether they be old friends, strangers or acquaintances and I knew she and some other members I knew from the food writing community had just attended another great conference called the Big Summer Potluck. Guess I wasn't the only one who didn't know what was going on because other tweeps inquired what that meant until Shauna Ahern (aka @GlutenFreeGirl) broke the news that Jennifer's husband passed away suddenly from a heart attack. Soon after, the outpouring of sympathy on the internet over the next few days was unavoidable even from my own little sliver of the community that I know. I can't imagine how saturated all her message-media must have become with notes expressing support and offers to help in some way, any way.

Even during such a devastating time, Jennifer responded with absolute brilliance. Late Tuesday night, she posted on her blog about something she'd been wanting to do for some time, make his favorite pie. For those who were asking what we could do, she aked us in return to make Peanut Butter Pie on Friday (today) and share it with someone you love.

While I couldn't think of a more perfect dedication from a food writer/editor/maven, I hummmed and hahhhed about the idea for a while. Speaking of love and loss, my love of cooking was lost during my own marriage, and since it ended, I've spent the past few years coping with a slight form of stage-fright whenever I start cooking anything beyond bacon and eggs. But this is about healing, right? Even though I, too, had been flung off the flying carpet of love into what felt like a never-ending free-fall, I've had to force myself to figure out how to walk on solid ground again. While I still can barely crawl in the kitchen, I decided, whatever I can do to help someone in her healing process, is simply what I must do.

Folding in whipped cream to lighten up the PB mixture
as my laughs with Veronica lightened me up.
(Photo credit: Veronica Silva)
Last night, my friend, Veronica, in town from Chile, was coming to stay with me and I thought she'd be a perfect person to share the pie with, and even better, to share the pie-making duties with. Interspersed through our laughter, were memories of those dishes I'd been holding off on making that eventually became too late: pastitsio for Tomi, who went back to Croatia to care for his sister during the Yugoslavian Wars and never came back; sloppy Joes for Eric before I stopped cooking; the final version of my "Everything Tastes Better with Bacon" Apple Pie for the patient neighbors and colleagues that helped me recipe-test for the Queen Anne Farmers Market Blue Ribbon Pie Contest before I moved out of Seattle; or that dinner I was thinking about cooking for a friend after returning from the Middle East, but now won't.

Cooking for others is notoriously one of the two most unselfish acts one undertakes. (You'll have to read Anthony Bourdain's books or use your imagination to figure out the other.) Seeing others enjoying my cooking, that I admit is a completely selfish joy. Cooking together, on another hand, can be one of the most joyous experiences -- as long as it's with the right person. Veronica was heaven-sent, no pressure, just full of fun and light.
Needless to say, it was a slight roller-coaster for me last night, and even today as I write this and taste the pie. While I may think of love and loss, I feel only love. Today, while I may not be sharing my pie with that "special someone," I am sharing it with many special someones, that bless my (almost) every day. For my roommate, my neighbors, my colleagues and friends, I love you.

I modified Jennifer's recipe a bit by subtracting half the sugar,
but adding Reese's Peanut Butter Cups on top.

If anyone ever wonders what makes me happy,
it looks something like this.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Commemorating the Civil War After 150 Years in 100+ Degrees

This weekend marks the 150th anniversary of the first major battle of the Civil War, the Battle of First Bull Run or to Confederate sympathizers, the Battle of First Manassas. Union and Confederate reenactors, Civil War enthusiasts, historians and the curious from around the country are braving the record-breaking heatwave to commemorate the occasion.

Since my brother and cousin happen to be in town, we couldn't resist braving the heat and checking it out, either. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's surreal to be in such close proximity to the actual locations we've read about in our history classes, let alone to witness the time period, itself, in such a three-dimensional way.

To say it was "hot" is an understatement. At 9:15am, the temperatures were already at 87 degrees Fahrenheit. Thankfully, there were air-conditioned shuttles to take us around the sites. Sharon, a very kind volunteer, gave us a wonderful orientation of the area as we rode to downtown to watch the beginning of the parade. Her family had lived in the area for five generations and her perspective on the "War of the Northern Aggression" was pretty eye-opening to those us who've grown up with a more Yankee education. One of the docents on board, emphasized the importance of the "truth" in our education system, and had we had more time and known a bit more Civil War facts, we might have pressed on his definition of the truth.  

Union Soldiers battling the heat for the Reenactors Parade
(Photo credit: Ben Domingo)
About 1200 marchers (soldiers and civilians) were expected in the parade, but we saw maybe 120 from our perspective in downtown Manassas. I suspect many just had to avoid the heat, and given the oppressive uniforms and costumes, I don't blame them. My family and I were barely coping in our own light clothing, umbrellas and free-flowing bottles of water.

Interviewing a Civil War private about
how he got involved in reenacting
(Photo credit: Ben Domingo)

We also walked around Camp Manassas where vendors and reenactors set up authentic-looking tents to sell their wares or expound their knowledge. One camp acted -- er, served as the Undertaker and educated anyone who would listen about the history of embalming and burials of soldiers back in the day.

Wish I could say, "been there, done that," but I'm really curious about the reenactment of the actual battle taking place at 9:30am this Saturday and Sunday. If there's one thing inspiring about these soldiers, if they can battle the heat now and 150 years ago, so can I.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Mobile Deals That You Don't Have to Pre-Pay with ScoutMob

ScoutMob, the newest iteration in the Online Coupon craze,  launches in DC today and where better to try it than an old DC stand-by like Georgia Brown's downtown, just a couple of blocks from the White House. This place was a treat to me when I first came to DC, and I cannot rave enough about their biscuit-battered French toast during their weekend jazz brunch.

The cool thing about it is you don't have to pre-purchase the deal. You just show up and show the coupon from your mobile phone either with their iPhone or Droid app, or your email.

Later this week, they'll be featuring Ben's Chili Bowl. Explore DC's tasty history like a tourist, but pay like a local.

Don't live in DC? ScoutMob is also in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, and other major cities across the country, so you can even use it while you travel.

And it's more than just savings. Each day of the week, they'll feature stories about things to do wherever you are. Worth checking out.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Does bacon really make everything better? My not-so-fashionably late entrance to Gluten-Free Girl's Pie Party

Those who know me shouldn't be surprised about my tardiness. Try as I might, "prompt" is not a characteristic I'm often called. So, is it any shock that I show up late to a party, even if it's a virtual one?

Virtual party? Yes. Shauna Ahern, notably known as the Gluten-Free Girl "hosted" a virtual Pie Party so she and some of her friends could share tales of their pie-making adventures and invited everyone and anyone. I'd been looking for an excuse to practice making this special pie and this seemed to be as good as any. Unfortunately it required a particular ingredient that I didn't get until last week when Josh and Greg from my favorite Seattle food truck, Skillet Street Food, came to DC to showcase their yummy Bacon Jam -- er, Bacon Spread (thanks USDA) for the Fancy Food Show. Timing couldn't be more perfect (well, unless it were BEFORE the pie party), but at least the bake sale to benefit the DC State Fair was coming shortly.

I first came up with this recipe a couple of years ago in Seattle when my friend, Jenise, who was the Chef Event Manager for the Queen Anne Farmers Market asked me to enter their inaugural Blue Ribbon Pie Contest. The rules were simple, it had to be a fruit pie and it had to be entirely from scratch, including the crust. Eeek!

I'd never participated in such a competition before. I'd never even baked a pie. Hell, I don't even like fruit pies! Yet, I felt compelled to challenge myself -- that, and Jenise is a very persuasive friend, so I decided to make mine with bacon out of spite.

After several trials and errors, and very patient colleagues and neighbors who tasted and offered input, this is a rough guide (not a recipe) to my current iteration. If you're interested in tasting future attempts, please let me know.

Falling for Food Trucks - El Floridiano

El Floridiano - Delicious pressed sandwiches based on Cuban tradition, although sandwiches go beyond the Cuban and Leche con Pan, but a couple of Asian inspired sandwiches that I look forward to trying in the future. Quality ingredients, especially the pork loin which is marvelously marinated, but the bread is toasted at such a low temperature that it dries out the bread more than it toasts it, causing a huge crumby mess all over your clothes and in your wake as you bite. Best if you're eating outside and don't have to vacuum, and the birds appreciate it, too. Prices are $7 for sandwiches, which I think is fair for that pork loin marinade alone, despite the extra cleaning you or your office janitor have to do. 

TIP: Don't eat at your desk or you'll be vacuuming crumbs from your keyboard for days.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Comfort & Convenience at Local Sheratons

Thanks to Travel Onion, a site that features some of the "world's best travel blogs," I was invited to tour a couple of the Sheraton Hotels in Tyson's Corner and the Dulles Airport area. As much as I love to travel and as much as I consider the DC Metropolitan area, I was grateful for the opportunity to get to know these properties as they wouldn't have been on my list otherwise. I'm a fan of staycations, and in fact that same evening I was checking into a hotel in Dupont Circle.

Previewing the Sheraton Premiere as Tysons Corner Transforms

The first and last time I was at Tysons Corner, Virginia was about four years ago when I first started coming to DC for work. I had no orientation of my way around the city, let alone any of the suburbs, but I scored a ticket to the YouthAIDS Gala which happened to be in Tysons Corner. As we drove through the town's shopping center, I noticed that there wasn't just one but TWO Macy's, and not far apart from each other. I mean, I guess I understand about Starbucks having locations, some on the same block (to alleviate lengthy lines, they say), but what would justify two Macy's in the same mall? My friends informed me one was newer and catered to a more upper-scale crowd.

The indoor and seasonal outdoor pool help make the
Sheraton Premiere a great staycation location
Perhaps this is a similar goal for the city as a whole and the Sheraton Premiere. Tysons Corner will soon have not just one, but four stops along Metro's upcoming "Silver Line," which is no wonder since it is already home to the largest shopping center in the state of Virginia and the DC Metropolitan area. Pooped out super-shoppers can find a comfortable base that features not only deluxe rooms with gorgeous views, but two pools (indoor and outdoor), a racquetball court, whirlpool and sauna. And, while the Metro won't be stopping there for a couple more years, there is free parking and shuttle service ready to take you anywhere within the surrounding area.

Sherton staffmember welcomes guests
into the Club Level Lounge
The restaurant offers decent appetizers and a special concoction called the "Sheratini." The hotel also offers a Club Level with a gorgeous lounge serving breakfast or hors d'oeurves, beverages, newspapers and what seems to be very attentive service.

The $20 million renovations will begin in November and are projected to end February 2012. A few of the updates will include a more open check-in area, a larger Link@Sheraton (internet/business center) space, a swankier lobby bar/reception space and most exciting, a state-of-the-art gym and spa available for hotel guests. Unfortunately, there aren't plans to open the gym and spa to the public since there will be a 24-Hour Fitness opening nearby.

Quaint Convenience at the Sheraton Herndon Dulles Airport Hotel

Travelers to Dulles Airport generally have to add an extra 30+ minutes to their commute time in order to accommodate the long distance from DC, the expansive walking, extra-long security lines and those dreaded people-movers to get to the gates, which is even more extraordinarily painful for those crack-of-dawn flights. Luckily there's the Sheraton Herndon Dulles Airport Hotel with its convenient location and very special Park & Stay Hotel Package where guests can sleep in a bit longer in one of the comfy Sweet Sleeper Beds, hitch a ride on a complimentary shuttle and leave your car safely parked at the hotel for up to 14 days. Weekend rates begin at a mere $79 per night, which is a steal considering a taxi from DC runs about $75 each way and airport parking would cost about $20/day, it pays for itself in 4 days, let alone having the convenient location and luxurious night's sleep. When making your reservation, use Rate Plan code LPARK. Even if you don't have such an early morning flight, Starwood Preferred Guest members can enjoy a late checkout of 4pm, so you can begin your vacation before leaving for your vacation.

Sheraton's comfy Sweet Sleeper Bed
Both hotels offer the well-known Sheraton comfort, from the beds to linens to service. They're conveniently located for Tysons Corner shopping, long days or nights at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Virginia wine country touring, or early morning flights out of Dulles Airport.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Look Out Weekend Cuz Here I Come -- to a pool near you

After such an eventful couple of weeks, I am so grateful for a weekend to chillax – and a 3-day weekend at that. The highlight of which, amongst outdoor movies at my friends’ backyard and the Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride along the Mall, is the commencement of pool season.

Pool season is a whole new concept for me, in which swimming pools in the area (perhaps the East Coast in general) open between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. Growing up on the West Coast, this was never a big deal. We always had the beach and which was a destination year-round. In Southern California, pools are open year-round and Northern California upward, pools are a rare luxury as are days warm enough to use them.

In DC, pools are a necessity. It’s May and friendly reminders that I live in a converted swamp are already starting to creep. The air-conditioning has been turned on (and it’s working this year!), I think I’ve found a good hair cream to control the way my hair apparently frizzes in the humidity, and I’ve been granted access to a pool in one of those gated communities in the suburbs. Opening day is today, and I cannot wait!

Before I take a dive, below are some highlights from the past couple of weeks, as a preview of a few more thoughtful posts I hope to write out over the weekend if my fingers don’t get too wrinkly:
  • Winning a blind wine-tasting party with my friends’ garagiste wine. OK, it’s a pretty exceptional and award-winning garage wine called Northwest Totem Cellars, but more heartfelt because I helped crush and bottle the wine. As the winner, I received a bottle of all the other contenders, and the honor to host the next party. Feel free to drop me a line if you'd like an invitation.
  • National Archivist David Ferriero & Chef
    Jose Andres discuss the new What's
    Cooking, Uncle Sam?
  • Attending a reception announcing the upcoming, What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? exhibit at the National Archives, which will look at the history of the influence food has had on the country, and the influence the country has had on food.
  • Strolling and munching throughout the Smithsonian National Zoo at their annual Zoofari event, possibly one of the most exceptional and dizzying fundraisers I’ve ever been to, where it seemed a couple of hundred of DC’s restaurants and drink purveyors offered tastes of some of their finest bites and sips.
  • And if I didn’t get enough to eat at Zoofari, the very next day I got to work behind the scenes for the inaugural Eat, Write, Retreat, a conference for food writers/photographers/bloggers. I was lucky enough to get to work behind the scenes and get an interesting perspective on this unique type of conference that offered lots of hands-on workshops, tours, and lots and lots of eats. Oh, and received an extraodinary abundance of culinary schwag! I still have yet to pore over everything.
    My most favorite dip ever,
    taramasolata (aka Greek caviar)
  • If only it could have stopped there. After a day of “rest” at the office, I got to celebrate the first anniversary of Agora Restaurant with a truly phenomenal Greek/Turkish dinner. They even had my favorite dip, taramosolata, aka Greek caviar, which rivaled Kokkari’s in San Francisco. (This reminds me, I may have to plan a lunch while I’m there next month.) They also offered Turkish coffee after dinner and those that were willing to stay got to see me relive an old childhood talent.
  • The next evening, I got to join a hundred or so of Washington’s LGBT community’s most influential at the exclusive Cosmos Club where a party was held to welcome The Advocate’s new DC Bureau Chief, Andrew Harmon. Names and faces were a virtual who’s who of DC’s power-gays and supporters, including Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, but the highlight for me was meeting NPR’s White House Correspondent (and sometimes Pink Martini guest singer), Ari Shapiro. I now understand the big crush Oprah feels for her designer Nate Berkus. I just couldn’t stop gushing over the guy. As for dining, the appetizers and wine were certainly plentiful, but I just couldn’t focus on them.
    With one of my celebrity crushes, Ari Shapiro.
    In case you're wondering, he's married -- to another man.
  • As if this weren’t enough, the following evening was spent at Medium Rare, a new kind of steakhouse with a new kind of prix fixe menu of salad and steak for $19.95. There is no choice, with the exception of how your steak is to be cooked, and despite the restaurant’s name, you don’t have to order it medium rare (although, optimally, you may want to). There is one kind of salad, with a subtle Dijon vinaigrette, and the steak comes with fries (no, I didn’t ask for them to be well done) and there is one kind of sauce – and you want it. You once you taste it, you will want to bathe in that sauce. It is that good and I am salivating from just the memory of it.
Is it no wonder why I am feeling quite intimidated to put on my bathing suit for the first time since Christmas? However, after spending a long hot and humid day visiting the expansive Mount Vernon Estate (yes, the one from the history books), there’s not much else I’d like to do than splash in a pool.

Tutoring technology over time at Mount Vernon.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Ardeo+Bardeo = One doubly-good reason to visit Cleveland Park

I have to admit that my heart sunk a bit when I found out some good friends were moving out of their conviently located (to me) U Street Corridor home to Cleveland Park. They may as well be moving all the way to Cleveland, Ohio, I feared, perhaps the same way Manhattanites feel when friends move to Brooklyn. I guess with their expanding family and having to steer the kids away from broken beer bottles from the night before, it makes sense.

I didn't know much about the neighborhood except, the Metro stop, Two Amy's Pizza and a mysterious place I kept hearing about called Ardeo+Bardeo. I'd probably heard about the Ardeo, the American bistro years before or even Bardeo, the wine bar, but I don't hear too many equations as restaurant names, so I was intrigued. Turns out this past fall, owner and well-known restaurateur, Ashok Bajaj, decided to not only renovate the two enterprises, but conjoin them into one.

The result is two doors leading into a spacious establishment with an extensive zinc bar replacing the wall that originally separated Ardeo and Bardeo. The Ardeo/restaurant side on the left first greets diners with a long 14-seat community table with a mirrored wall and then expands into a more traditional dining area decorated with a mural of black & white 1950s-style diner photos accented by cocoa-colored walls and seating. The combination exudes an almost schizophrenic reaction between the elegant decor and the nostalgically casual art. The slightly smaller Bardeo/bar side on the right is decorated with those same cocoa-colored walls, but accented with smaller black & white photos along the same theme. My favorite decoration of that side is the stone pizza oven where Chef Nate Garyantes (formerly executive sous chef at Minibar) and his team toast up some divine pizzas and flatbreads that even Two Amys regulars would salivate for. Upstairs also has a nice-sized dining room and small bar that could be used for private parties. And just in time for spring, is the new patio to enjoy our wonderful spring weather.

Their savory snacks can turn a happy hour into an elated one. In particular, I enjoyed the sweet, salty, tangy and textured combination of the pork belly, pineapple and ham skewers, while the sundried cherry and garlic flatbread intrigued me to the wonders of that clay oven. The involtini of burrata with spring vegetables wasn't very steady, so a bit messy to eat, but realized later it was because the burrata is house-made and super-fresh (forgiven!). The steak on top of fingerling "crostini" was topped with a horseradish creme fraiche, that even a typical steak & potatoes Idahoan would salivate for, although anyone who dines with me would know I would have preferred my potatoes a bit more crostini-like (crispy). And while the menu offers a nice selection of charcuterie, the horseradish potato salad that accompanies the house-cured bresaola (air-dried beef) may steal the show. However, the one dish not to be missed, regardless of how warm it may be outside, is the new potato and parmesan soup. Perfectly balanced, seasoned, textured and tasty, all my taste-buds sang with happiness at every sip. I almost want winter to come back just so I could have some more to warm me up.

So, now on to that clay oven and those pizzas I've been hinting about. It's not surprising a Jose Andres alumnus would come up with some innovatively tasty takes on typical topping combinations. After the pork bell/ham/pineapple skewer, I was more than excited to try the duck ham, pineapple, fontina, foie gras pizza. The Shakey's Hawaiian pizza that I grew up with, it was not. While it was certainly as lush as it sounded, seeing the foie gras melted everywhere made me question if it was the best use of such a premium product. Perhaps next time I should do a comparison of bites with the foie and without. The wild mushrooms, black garlic, sottocenere, fontina pizza is an excellent choice for mushroom lovers and offers a similar full-palette sensation that the potato soup did. Devout meat-lovers pizza fans can rejoice with the soppresatta, pancetta, house bacon, bresaola pizza, a bouquet of the wonders of meat. New England pizza fans would think we flew north for the dinner with the rock shrimp, lemon, garlic, creme fraiche pizza. Of course, traditionalists will love their fresh and flavorful mozzarella, tomato, basil pizza.

If you want pizza and don't want to deal with the Two Amys crowd, Ardeo+Bardeo is a very worthy alternative. I, for one, now look forward to visiting my friends after their move, and can't wait to introduce them to this place.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sentimental for Seattle -- One Year Later

A year ago today, I was scrambling around my apartment packing up the last of my belongings, while giving away as much as I could, prepping for my going away/birthday party and slipping in a lunch date at the Ballard Urban Picnic (BURP!) with an old friend.

Getting giddy w/ some gal pals
Having two weeks (not together, mind you), wasn't very much time to get it all together, especially considering I was still working full time. I couldn't really get organized to advertise, post and sell everything in the timing I wanted to and I ended up just giving most everything away. When I say most everything, I mean everything except books, kitchen supplies and clothes. It was time to let go and start a new life.
Toasting w/ my dear friend, Ross
Of course, I needed to celebrate
and offer gratitude to my old life, too, so I invited a few friends over. Since I was going rogue from Seattle, it was only appropriate that the man called "Seattle's Rogue Chef," Gabriel Claycamp, show off some of his culinary skill for a Filipino feast. It was nice not to have to cook, especially since most of my stuff was gone, and I'm grateful to him and his team for taking care of that for me . . . and that pineapple cake.

The party was so cool, we had to tweet about it
 It was so great to see people who've meant a lot to me over the years, like former colleagues, fellow entrepreneurs, walking buddies, classmates, students, and even an old friend I knew in college. New friends, came, too, who even took the time to brag about how cool the party was, on Twitter.

One last goodbye kiss from Sebastian
Words can't express all the love I still feel for my friends back in Seattle. (I almost want to say "back home," but it's not -- and it feels weird that it isn't.) For those that were able to make it and those that made it in Spirit, thank you. To Alyson, Phillip and David, thank you guys for helping me finish setting up. To Alyson, Inti and Rebecca, thanks for bringing the boys and young fun to the party. To Ross for representing one of my dearest families. And an extra special shout out to John, Patricia, Jenise, Mike, Keren and the lovely Miss Traca for sticking around until the wee hours of the evening (and morning) to help me finish up the clean-up and pack-up. T-Grrr and I would probably not have made the flight (or my deposit back) without you.

The next morning was surprisingly easy and even got captured in the New York Times.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

KFC's Double-Down's Got Nothin on Duffy's Monster Burger

Holy moly, I thought I'd heard it all, but Duffy's Irish Pub in the U Street Corridor serves the Monster Burger which is a 1/2 pound burger that uses grilled cheese sandwiches (with tomatoes, I might add) as its buns is something else. I already consider a grilled cheese sandwich indulgent, but two? And then for them to embrace a whole 1/2 pound of beef?

Of course we didn't stop there. What better to accompany such a monstrosity? Cheesy tater tots and peppery buffalo wings.

Worth it? Definitely, especially when washing it all down with a pitcher of beer. Maybe not the wings so much, not because they were bad, just a bit too peppery for us. (Yes, there was an "us." Think I could have eaten all that by myself? -- OK, ya you're right, I probably could have.) I'll have to try the Sweet & Spicy or the Chesapeake Wings next time.

Duffy's Irish Pub
2106 Vermont Ave, NW
Washington, DC

Dukem = Awesem!

As open-minded as I claim my palate to be, Ethiopian is one cuisine that usually escapes my repertoire. I tried it once in college as part of a dinner for the Phelan Multicultural Community (PMC) Program that I was a student of at the University of San Francisco. For some reason, I didn't care for it at the time. I mean, I loved the process of tearing off pieces of the injera, a spongy type of flatbread, to pick up morsels of savory dishes lying on top of a layer of more injera. What wasn't to like, especially given back then, when I would have had munchies for all sorts of culinary delights. One of life's mysteries, I guess.

My friend, Wine Diva Deb, came to town this weekend from Seattle and we were trying to figure out where to go for dinner. I wanted to take her someplace that was "very DC" and she was craving either Ethiopian or Thai. Now, while I may not have experienced much of the cuisine, I at least know this. DC is THE town for Ethiopian food here in the US and I happen to live in THE neighborhood to enjoy the best it has to offer.

The best of the best I hear from native Ethiopians and food fans alike is Dukem on U Street, NW & 12th. Aside from it's authentic cuisine, it's simply delicious. We had no idea what to order (Deb was only a little more seasoned than I), and she came up with a great idea, just ask the waitress the most popular dishes. I was a bit apprehensive, only for fear of ending up with the Kitfo (beef tartare). I did try it before back in Seattle with my friend Traca, and thought it was delicious, but could only go as far as a couple of bites versus a whole dish. Luckily, the lovely waitress recommended one of the combination samplers(!).

Behold #27
Six dishes of yumminess (clockwise from the top): cabbage, minchet abesh (chopped lean ground beef braised in milled ginger and garlic sauce), tibs (cubed lamb with onion, rosemary, jalapeno pepper and spicy awaze sauce), tomato salad, lamb wot (stew), spicy splint lentils & greens; (center): doro wot (chicken stew simmered in berbere/red pepper sauce with garlic & onion).

Served with a glass of Ethiopian honey wine and/or Ethiopian beer and you have an excellent meal.

1114 - 1118 U St., NW @ 12th
Washington D.C. 20009
Tel: 202-667-8735

Did I Miss Something (A Poem for Easter)

Jesus of Nazareth spoke last week
On a hillside out in the country,
I was there and had a pretty good seat
But I kept thinking...

He should dress better,
And speak louder and more formally
(Did he say blessed or blest?)
On such an important occasion.

And the audience should dress better;
And some of them are noisy,
And some of them are the kind of people
Who don't really belong here at all.

And it's hot,
And it's dusty,
And the sun's in my eyes.
(Should I move to a better spot?)

It's funny though...
Many people didn't notice any of this
And seemed quite inspired-
And some were actually healed.

I'm starting to think I missed something.

-- Gary F. Mills (Christian Science Sentinel)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Burger Power

Some days, I just crave a really good burger. OK, I didn't exactly today, but after two long hauls between DC and the Dulles Airport area in one day and an extended hunt for good food on the way home, I ended up at Silver Diner in Clarendon.

I've heard good things about the place, so was grateful for the opportunity to finally try it. Problem was I had no idea what to try. Thankfully, I followed the waiter's suggestion and got the Top Hat Burger. Onion rings, honey mustard, cheddar cheese, and bacon over an "all natural, hormone-free" beef patty. Fries were crispy, too.

I like that this place prioritizes fresh, local and natural ingredients. Service was excellent, too.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

NOW in Print!

That's right. I have a story out in the new NOW Washington DC Guide, available at hotels in the DC metropolitan area and online.

Read about DC's very own Top Chef All Stars (Carla Hall, Mike Isabella, and Spike Mendelsohn), on page 71 of their Winter Guide.