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.)