#10 is A-OK

You don’t always have to be #1. In fact, I’m happy to barely hang on to the top 10 in the City Paper’s neighborhood rankings. Two weeks ago, the CP ran the much-touted and talked-about Hoods & Services feature. And this week’s print issue sums up the City Desk blog chatter (think letters to the editor for 20-somethings who think stamps are the things the bouncer puts on your hand when enter the Black Cat).

While some are up on arms about the rankings, and especially known-for-yuppies-and-drunkenness Georgetown’s #3 slot, I’m not concerned. The CP folks lumped in my nabe, Columbia Heights, and nearby Mt. Pleasant, with just-known-for-drunkenness Adams Morgan. They paint AM’s 18th Street as  “the District’s best bet for binge-drinking and one-night stands.”

The essay gives some nice Mt. P and CH history and cultural bits, but mostly the rankings follow the mucky doings of AM (which actually has decent brunches–including local and organic offerings at The Reef and vegan options at Asylum–and other daytime fun).

So really–no hard feelings, City Paper. In fact, I owe you a 24-pack of thanks for keeping my slice of foodie heaven safe from the other white young professionals. Continue reading

Tri Nutrition — It’s All About Sustainable Energy

There’s nothing like squirting a Gu, chewing a chew, or popping a Shot Blok to make you feel like an athlete. It’s not just because it looks cool to tear open little packages with your teeth or deftly swipe a bike’s water bottle from its cage at 25 m.p.h. In addition to all that, slurping or chewing the right things can really make a difference in your training and racing. I’m living proof, having survived my first sprint triathlon and only once commenting that I was going to die.

Somehow, through eating well leading up to the race and then fumbling with a gel and drinking Cytomax, I guess I managed to do what the experts recommend. That is, keep up my carbohydrate reserves and replenish lost calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium.

I was reluctant to look into tri nutrition, because sustained energy and sustainable, healthy athletic nutrition seemed at odds. Continue reading

The good goods

Greater Goods logoZero impact non-consumption is the trend of the day among green folks. But sooner or later you’ll have to buy, and at that moment you should get on over to Greater Goods.* It’s a one-stop shop for greener stuff and a cleaner conscience. I’ve been aware of it since the owner came to Gallaudet’s Focus the Nation Green Fair, and had seen mention of the store here or there.

When I stopped in over the weekend, within a few minutes I was able to solve both my worries about my plastic water bottle leaching polyethylene into my beverages and plastic bags leaching evil into the universe. Continue reading

Coffee houses–curse or curse?

Coffee shop

A couple of weekends ago, a classmate and I decided to meet at Tryst on a Sunday afternoon. We could lay out our books and notes, we thought, sip some lattes, and spend a few hours chipping away at the assignment at hand.

No such luck.

We arrived at Tryst only to see a roiling crowd of bodies squished onto couches and sitting hip to hip at tables (nothing like the above idyllic scene from Wikipedia). It would have taken a few hours just to get a seat.

We watched, hawk-like, for long minutes. “Well, they have a great tea selection…” I heard a guy say, hopefully and weakly and a bit apologetically, to the woman accompanying him.

There was no clear line, and other more skilled hunters swooped in to grab empty seats. They seemed to have a sixth sense that picked up on the slightest thought of leaving–maybe a glance toward a coat or a foot moving in preparation to stand. I tried hard to develop the sense, to scan the room and understand the difference between a motion to adjust the angle of a laptop screen and a move to get up and vacate a precious space. I concentrated until my shoulders got tight and my jaw went slack, and I think I twitched.

Some people came for takeout and I envied their breezy leaving, going to a place of greater entropy with a warm drink in hand. “Take me with you,” I wanted to say, “to the beautiful life where my stressed, twitching personal hell is just a place to stop for chai!” Continue reading

Eating (and reading) to save the world

It’s been a while since my passionate vegan days (around ages 15-20). But as a Google search of my name reminds me, I was once a teenaged vegan idealist who snatched at the first glimmers of the e-networking world as a member of the Vegetarian Youth Network (scroll down to “New Paltz”). On this proto-listserv, we exchanged recipes for egg-and-dairy-free baked goods along with plots for a vegan revolution.

That well-spent youth all came back to me when I picked up the book Veggie Revolution: Smart Choices for a Healthy Body and a Healthy Planet by Sally and Sara Kate Neidel (Sally is a Ph.D. — Sara  Kate I think is her daughter). This book argues that vegetarianism can help alleviate climate change, water pollution, world hunger, and pretty much every other bad thing you can think of. I bought it this weekend at Busboys and Poets and the 16-year-old vegan in me is cheering. Continue reading

Weekly prizes

This is something I did once and haven’t done since. I’m reviving the practice for this week, though. Ready? This week’s prizes are…

1) Closest Brush With Fame: this prize goes to me. For getting my first piece posted in The Jew and the Carrot.

2) Most Disappointing Experiment: Injera-dillas. The theory was they’d be like quesadillas but made with injera instead of tortillas. Not as exciting as I had hoped. Maybe it would be better with some berebere-spiked salsa…

3) Sweetest Nosh: The chocolate mousse cake at the Fourth Annual MLK Commemorative Shabbat. This service at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue brought together all kinds of people to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who worked with Dr. King and said that marching for civil rights felt like praying with his feet.

There were Baptist church-going ladies in their Baptist church-going hats alongside crunchy liberal Jews in their crunchy liberal Jew-wear. And around them was everyone in between. There won’t be many services where I will sing both “L’chah Dodi” and “We Shall Overcome.” This was unique.

When the service was over, the huge throng headed downstairs for a dessert reception. I expected uninspired kosher cake and cookies–institutional tasting, perhaps dry. What more could a synagogue do when it has to buy noshes for hundreds of people who aren’t even paying for the event? But my oh my! I found homemade-quality cookies, chocolate-covered strawberries, and chocolate mousse cake with a hazelnut crust. A delightful end to a delectable meeting of cultures.

The market for your palate

Image:Moneybillscoins3.jpgTyler Cowan, author of Discover Your Inner Economist and a professor of economics at George Mason University, came to DC a little while ago.

The fun thing about Cowan, according to my friend Alok who became riveted by the guy’s speech, is that he applies his normally snored-at field to everyday life, giving an economist’s perspective on falling in love, job searches, and—yes, you knew this was coming!—food.

Cowan’s talk was on part of his book dealing with food and how economics can help you determine the best restaurants. In the Washington environment, where the buzz and the scene at a dining establishment can mean even more than what it serves, I was interested in what Alok had heard. Continue reading

Mikey likes it!

Pad ThaiThrough the tickling grapevines and the smell of oncoming winter, a blonde rushes through the door. Her coconut milk cheeks flush hibiscus as the warmth envelops her. She embraces Taw Vigsittaboot and kisses his handsome, creased cheek. This one, he knows, likes her orders spicy.

Thus begins an essay I wrote for my Johns Hopkins nonfiction class. And my prof actually liked it! Much like a cook who serves with trepidation, unsure how the food will taste on her guests’ palates, I never know how my writing will reflect in others’ eyes. By the time a piece is done, I’ve stirred and tasted and added a pinch of this or that so many times that objectivity is impossible. I may decide it’s flavorless or the most delicious creation in the history of the world, but know full well that anyone outside my brain (or my kitchen) can have a completely different take.

Now at least one critic has had a say in this one. I’m not sure if it was the merry Thanksgiving feelings talking or it really is good for a first draft, but he had good things to say about it. And that gave me the confidence to share the draft with you.

The piece is also a perfect choice for you, dear reader, because it has to do with food and a delightful D.C. culinary find–Thai X-ing.

Give Flare to Gold a read.

And the prize goes to…

This week has been a fun one for food, so I think a few awards are in order.

1) Funnest Food Day for Kids, of course, goes to the inimitable Halloween. There is just no other time when you can go right up to strangers–in their own homes, no less–and instead of getting shooed away or kidnapped, be given sweet treats.

2) Most Mess Made with a Simple Cake Mix goes to me. I baked Halloween cupcakes for my office, topped with Milano halves to look like gravestones, and managed to make an astonishingly prodigious mess. This was a one-bowl operation, a simple mix-and-bake process, so it was already noteworthy when I managed to get chocolate batter smudged on the counter, the stove, and my elbow. Then I discovered a big blotch of it on my shirt, under my apron.

People actually pay me to cook, and I’m able to prepare several dishes from scratch in a single cooking session. Yet somehow I ended up with the simplest recipe possible all over myself and my kitchen. I have to give myself a hand.

Moving on…

3) Biggest and Tastiest Bowl of Soup goes to the curry laksa at Cafe Asia on I St. I think the restaurant keeps sturdy plastic to go containers in stock just for leftover noodle soup. The one I ordered is a sea of coconut milk broth with just the right amount of kick to make you sit up and notice but not keep you from eating. The veggie version (which I think still contains some fish sauce in the broth) is filled with thinly-sliced carrots and napa cabbage and your choice of noodles, then topped with fried tofu. The veggies are put in there raw and cook just a tad in the hot soup, staying crunchy up until the last bite. And I made another whole meal out of the leftovers from my sturdy plastic container. At $9 a pop, you have no excuse to not try one of these two-meal bowls of yumminess.

A word of warning about Cafe Asia, though: Don’t go to the one in Arlington. That will bring you only heartache and boring udon. Even omnivore friends, who had a much larger selection, haven’t been thrilled with the food.

Please congratulate our new winners! Tune in next Friday, when the tradition of prizes at the week’s end may or may not continue!

An innocent delight

Cider

Apple cider is simply delightful. I was reminded of that again this fall. A cup of mulled cider, I’d argue, is better than a glass of red wine at the end of the day or with dinner. And even though it tastes just like biting into an apple, it won’t get bruised or mealy while it’s sitting in your fridge.

I believe that the reasons for cider’s attraction can be broken into the chemical and the psychological.

The chemical part is easy. The beverage contains an ideal balance of concentrated fruit sugars and tart acids, combined with high levels of yumminess. These factors create a pleasing flavor on the tongue.

On the psychological side, cider hits the shelves in earnest right when the weather is turning cold. Personally, as soon as the weather requires sleeves of any length, I start looking for the nearest cozy cave. I think most of us crave something warm and comforting right about now, but the grocery stores haven’t yet stocked–and we don’t want to admit that we need–supplies for scalding tea and hearty stew. And the cool thing about cider is that it can follow the blips and burps of the season. Drink it cold if you have a freakish warm spell in October, then heat it up when you get a chilly night.

Even the process of preparing hot cider is just right. You can pour it into a pot and simmer it on the stove. The smell fills the house, filling the air that’s a little stuffier now since you’ve closed the windows against the cold. Cider is also something to you can offer to anyone–even a large group–and know that you won’t break the bank and everyone will like it. The hotel at Gallaudet offers free hot cider to anyone who comes any time of the day for the entire fall and most of the winter. Apple cider situates itself perfectly at the intersection of flavorful, available, likable, affordable, and heatable.

Although in most other places “cider” means the fermented alcoholic drink, in the U.S. we still make a distinction. I like that. That stuff is hard cider, while the tasty stuff you can give to hotel patrons, 20-somethings, grandparents, and trick-or-treaters alike is just plain apple cider …and it’s delish.

Here’s a quick mulled cider recipe:

Pour a few cups of apple cider into a saucepan and start to heat on medium-low. Throw in a few whole cloves, cardamom pods, sticks of cinnamon, and/or pieces of star anise. Simmer for 10-20 minutes. I like to add a little water partway through to keep it from boiling down and getting too sweet. Now strain and pour into a big mug that requires both hands to hold. Sip and smile.