Saturday, October 3, 2015


My dad loves to recount our days of living in Saudi Arabia, when he would come pick me up from preschool during drizzly lunch breaks, swerving the car all over the road to hit maximum puddles on our ride home, smiling as I squealed with joy when we drove through a particularly splashy one.

(I don't want you to get the wrong idea about my dad: he's actually a very good driver. It's just that 4-year-old-daughter delighting trumped road rules sometimes. And who are we kidding here, there were not "rules" so much as "guidelines" where automobiles are involved in that part of the world. In Kuwait, just a few years later, I saw my first sedan in a tree near a highway exit ramp. Kinda puts drivers in our nation's capital into perspective.)

I remember dashing outside with my mom in our bathing suits while traveling through Spain during fall break my junior year of college to take outdoor showers, giggling maniacally as we passed the soap and shampoo bottles back and forth as the pounding summer rain nearly blinded us. Even now, in my late 30s, I love splashing around in puddles during afternoon thunderstorms that often characterize our DC summer months -- umbrellas be damned. And so long as I'm not tent camping, I love falling asleep to the sound of rain.

Really, I like rain. I just don't enjoy *cold* rain, especially when biking is involved. I mean, seriously, I have decent waterproof gear, but how am I supposed to show up at the salsa clubs looking remotely cute when I look like a drowned cat shivering in rainpants and boots? Ollie's been squeaking her discontent all week as well. I'm ready for a break from this Seattle-lije weather.

At least the celery and brassicas are enjoying it. So there's that....

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Our food rocks the palate

How do I keep getting talked into things that begin early on a Saturday, across town? (Because I'm a sucker? It's possible.) Yet once again I was glad I hauled myself out of bed at the crack of 7:30am yesterday to get myself to the WIC Get Fresh Festival, where I was competing on a team with my friend and fellow food educator, Vera, in a farmers' market cook-off.

(I see you looking at the computer screen, eyebrow raised. Fine, I didn't actually get myself to RFK Stadium until closer to 10am. But I did get up before 8. I just move more slowly on the weekends.)

As Ollie and I rolled up, my team was in the midst of shopping for our three dishes. I locked her up and we jumped right in. We had to come up with an appetizer, main dish, and dessert heavily sourced from the RFK Open Air Farmers' Market. We'd have 90 minutes to cook, then present our dishes to the 5 judges, a mix of local chefs and Dept of Health folks. Oh, and part of the challenge was that our only heat source was a grill. I love a challenge.

Laden with bowls and bags of fresh produce, we headed to our cooking station. First, we began chopping the ingredients for a spicy tomato and watermelon salad with jalapenos and fresh mint, inspired by my teammate Levita. Beautiful presentation, no?

The juice at the bottom, after we'd served the salad itself to judges and market shoppers, might have been my favorite part. (I think the spicy, minty watermelon juice would've been even better with a splash of tequila, but that was not entirely appropriate for a family-friendly, Department of Health-sponsored event, so I tucked away that little bit of knowledge for later.) Next, I joined the main course team, skewering our veggie and paneer kabobs. The Indian cheese chunks were marinated in a delectable marinade of yogurt, garlic, ginger, and garam masala, and the aromatic, grilled kabobs attracted eager tasters like nobody's business. Props to Niraj for the ingenious recipe.

I was actually fairly removed from our dessert offering -- a fresh fruit salad with yogurt and cinnamon -- though I did chop some market peaches for it at one point. To be honest, I was busy near the end, scarfing grilled paneer that had fallen off some of the skewers. (You know, quality control.) As 12:30 rolled around, we presented our offerings to the panel and waited...and waited... It turned out there was a tie between my team -- Our Food Rocks the Palate -- and a lovely group from a vegetarian catering company. The judges decided we'd have to answer a food trivia question to determine the winner of the competition. Apparently having two teams in first place was not an option.

The million dollar question was: In one minute, list as many foods as you can that came from the New World. (Turns out that what WE did not know previously was that the emcee was a food history buff. But what SHE did not know was that I teach a series of lessons on food origins to 5th graders. Heh.) We won.

In case you're wondering, no, there was no million dollar prize. In fact, the prize was a small box with plastic vegetables in it and a plaque mounted on the side proclaiming, "Get Fresh Festival -- Grill Chef Competition -- First Place," that will live at nearby J. O. Wilson High School, where a few of my teammates work. And a sense of pride, of course. Go team!!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Setting boundaries

It is quite something to get me out of bed at 7:30am on a Saturday, but the 60-mile fundraising ride for Phoenix Bikes (, sponsored by my favorite bar in the city, on one of the nicest days of the year decidedly fit the bill.

Yesterday I went on my first long haul in a long time, joining my fellow cyclists in the 3rd annual Boundary Stone bike ride: an all-day, hill-laden tour of the District's original boundary stones. From the southernmost stone to the west, north, and east, the ride took me to parts of DC, MD, and VA that I'd never explored during my many years of living -- and a handful of years biking -- here. There were hills, parks, and bike paths I never knew were there, and many dozens of fun cyclists I'd never met before but hope to encounter again. We even had ride mascots: Chrissi's two chihuahuas, Chili and Queso, who lazed in her bike basket, adorably, the whole time. It was awesome.

Even though my knees were aching by mile 20, I made it about 50 miles, to all four corners of the original DC boundary, ending up at Bloomingdale's great Boundary Stone public house for my complimentary pint around 7pm. Boy did that beer taste amazing. And boy did my bed feel like the best place ever last night: I slept like a Viking.

For next year's ride, my new friends Melissa and Chrissi are talking about configuring a beer cooler and solar pizza warming bike rack contraption so we can have readily available snacks on hand. I'd better start working on brewing a batch of bike tour appropriate beer....

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Rotten Tomatoes

Okay, Mr. Irate SUV Driver, I think I understand why you're so angry.

  1. You spend a lot at the pump to keep your gas guzzler rolling. 
  2. It's hard to find parking for that big honkin' thing in the city. 
  3. There's always traffic in DC, and you're stuck in it. 
  4. Pedestrians don't cross the street quickly enough for your taste. They pay no attention to whether the light says they should be walking or not. And it's worse on Sundays. (I have to deal with them, too, by the way.)
  5. There's a good chance you were not loved as a child... or frankly, with that mouth, as an adult.
It must suck to be you. But do you really need to lean out the window and yell at a cyclist for being on the road? (Legally, we cyclists actually are supposed to be on the road, rather than the sidewalk. but somehow I doubt you are up on modern urban transportation policy.) Let me ask you: is it appropriate to yell and curse at a total stranger across the street because you didn't make it through a barely yellow light, where you'd have to wait at the imminent red light on the next block? No.

Did you bother to notice that it was not the cyclist but the dawdling automobile driver in front of you on his cell phone who was probably the reason the line of cars didn't move quickly? It was not the cyclist who even held you up, sir. (Okay, let's be real, sir is a stretch.) No, again.

Is the world a better place, are you happier, feeling more fulfilled having made a young woman feel anxious and frustrated on her way to the farmers' market this morning? She tried to explain that it was the car in front of her as she was trying to make a left turn, but did you listen, or even care? Once again, no.

Why do so many drivers seem to actively hate bikers? Though I do have a "Cars Are Coffins" bike water bottle, I actually am not a universal hater of cars or their drivers. I have friends who drive. (Ha ha.) But seriously, I've been trying to cultivate better driver-biker relations in my own small way since becoming a cyclist back in 2009 -- moving out of the way so cars can make right turns on red lights, taking my allotted turn at stop signs, signaling when I'm going to change lanes or turn, not going the wrong way down one way streets. Even so, some people like you, mister, really make me want to throw a rotten tomato at your windshield. Except I wouldn't want to waste the tomato: it would do more good in the compost.

(Incidentally, that's the same reason cars double-parked in a bike lane RIGHT NEXT TO AN OPEN PARKING SPOT don't get tomatoed. That, and the fact that I don't usually bike around with a satchel of rotten tomatoes.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

On the Lamb

(Yeah, it's a pun, folks.... I'm not actually on the lam.)

So there are three things my dad asks me practically every time we speak:

  1. Are you okay financially? Yes, dad. (Did you just slip a $20 in my handbag??)
  2. Are you seeing anyone? *Sigh* No, dad.
  3. Are you eating meat? You're looking too thin! Actually...
While traveling through Ireland and Scotland for a month this summer, I must say that I ate probably an Ibti-year's worth of meat. How can you resist ordering a steak or a lamb shank after seeing field upon lush, open field of Scottish Highland steers and fluffy sheep cavorting around? I couldn't. I came home exactly 7 pounds heavier -- which, admittedly, may just as well be attributed to the omnipresence of Guinness and potatoes as to the lack of vegetables -- and with a craving for Irish food. Maybe with a bit more wine and veggies mixed in.

Conveniently, I had some Irish friends who were in need of a thank-you dinner from me: the perfect chance to test out an Irish stew recipe in the gorgeous My Irish Table cookbook. The result was roundly lauded by my dinner guests, who all demanded seconds on both the stew and its corresponding homemade piccalilli. (No, that's not a typo, it's a condiment.)

One day, if I either win the lottery or date a sugar daddy, I want to get myself to Restaurant Eve to try out the real thing, but for now I can definitely recommend the cookbook's version of this simple country dish...with a few minor modifications I made: wine and stock in place of water, double the carrots and potatoes and garlic, and a different cut of meat.

Irish Stew (serves 6)


  • 3 meaty lamb necks, split in half length-wise (recommended by my friend Bev of Eco-Friendly Foods for it's flavorful meat, thickening marrow, and low price point -- hey, free-range stuff gets expensive, and Cathal was calling for shoulder chops...for stew!)
  • olive oil
  • 3 onions, peeled and diced
  • 4-5 carrots, cut into 1" chunks
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups potatoes, cut into 1" chunks
  • 3 cups veggie stock
  • 1 cup red wine (I think a small bottle of Guinness would also work well here. I'm just sayin'.)
  • 1 small handful fresh thyme sprigs
  • salt and pepper


Pour a few glugs of oil into a large, cast-iron pot and heat to medium.

Sprinkle salt and pepper on all sides of the lamb necks, then brown in the pot. Move the browned lamb to a plate.

Add onions, carrots, garlic, and bay leaf to the pot. Top this with the lamb, and then layer on the potatoes. Pour in the stock and wine, and bring the pot to a boil.

Turn down the heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours.

Stir in the thyme and serve immediately or, if you have a full day of work before a Monday night dinner party, say, make the stew the night before, keep it in the fridge overnight, and then rewarm it with the fresh thyme stirred in (in the oven for 30 minutes at 300F).

Serve alongside homemade piccallili. (Oh, you want that recipe, too? Drop me an email.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lemon lover

So my family, and frankly anyone who has ever been to a restaurant with me and/or dated me, knows that I love fresh lemon in my water. But recently my love of lemons has expanded...

On my last day kicking around Edinburgh this summer, I stopped for lunch at The Scran and Scallie -- a fabulous gastropub suggested by my local hostess. I got a little carried away with the ordering, and after filling my belly with a sizable Sunday roast, mound of seasonal veggies, and hunks of bread to mop everything up, I waddled to the bar with the remainder of my flight of Scottish beers. As I chatted with the friendly barkeeper, he began to wax lyrical about some of the homemade cocktail concoctions he'd been experimenting with lately, mainly featuring local ingredients. Among them, limoncello.

"Er, that's not really Scottish, sir," I volunteered.

"No. But it is mighty good, miss, and we make it right here," he responded. And then poured me a glass of it. Then he raved about how simple it was to make. It only took four days, some vodka, and a few lemons. Easy peasy.

Well, after a couple of weeks of being home and missing the nightly cocktails of my traveling month, I decided to make a batch. I looked up a number of recipes, finally settling on one from Imbibe magazine. Admittedly, this recipe took more than 3 weeks from start to finish, with daily shaking of the vodka-zest solution, but based on the reviews from my friends at a recent dinner party, who each requested a second digestif, I'd say it's worth it. In fact, I am starting another batch right now....

Homemade Limoncello


  • 2 (750ml) bottles vodka
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 12-15 lemons


Rinse and then plunge lemons into boiling water for a couple of seconds. (This removes the wax on most store-bought lemons.)

Gently rinse the lemons in cool water and pat dry.

Zest the lemons,* taking care to avoid the bitter white pith. (I use a microplane. Mostly because I love any excuse to use a microplane.)

Place the zest in the glass jar and add one bottle of vodka.

Seal tightly and let the mixture steep. Shake it daily, until the liquid turns bright yellow. I'd say shaking daily for two weeks should do it. This is best accomplished by leaving the jar on your countertop, near the coffee maker, for instance, so you see and shake it each morning. (You can taste it now and again. Just for quality testing. No, not in the morning with your coffee. Geez', some of us have jobs....)

Strain the infused vodka through a double layer of moistened cheesecloth into a clean jar or bottle, being sure to squeeze the last drops of intensely flavored liquid from the peel. (Use spoonfuls of the vodka-spiked zest in a few vodka tonics -- delish!)

Add the second bottle of vodka.

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved and the syrup just comes to a boil. This should only take a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Add the syrup to the infused vodka.

Pour your limoncello back into your two empty vodka bottles.

Seal bottles and let rest at least one week. Additional aging will result in a smoother limoncello. (Seriously, it's worth it to wait at least another week.)

*I know, you will find yourself with at least a dozen zested lemons here. Might I recommend making a batch of lemon sorbet? It's tasty on its own, or stirred into a vodka tonic. I'm just sayin'....

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Melon mania

Thanks to the Crossroads team for having me at their market yesterday and letting me play with such delicious, fresh ingredients during the Farmers Market Week celebration! In case folks would like the recipe for the mixed melon salad I was handing out....

Best of Summer Mixed Melon Salad


  • 1/2 red watermelon, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 yellow watermelon, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cantaloupe, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1-2 peaches or a pint of berries, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 handful fresh basil and mint leaves, chopped into thin ribbons
  • 1 block feta cheese, crumbled or chopped
  • 1 tsp honey
  • zest and juice from 1 lime
  • 2-3 tsp olive oil
  • fresh pepper, to taste

Whisk dressing ingredients together, then toss with salad. Enjoy!

Now, this recipe is just meant to offer some basic guidelines. I should confess that a few peaches made their way into the salad as well. Berries would have been a nice addition, too, if they were around. Same with honeydew.

What's that? Why, yes, this marked my third farmers market visit in five days. I can't help myself in this time of bounty, and I had some catching up to do with farmers, and eating to do after the general lack of fresh fruits and veggies represented in the otherwise amazing food I devoured during my month-long trip around Ireland and Scotland. I'd better have lots of friends over for dinners soon: my fridge and countertops are exploding with fresh produce....