Sunday, April 12, 2009


It's a long story and there's really no excuse for letting my blog lay fallow all this time without explanation. Olive was diagnosed with a milk allergy and so her diet and mine (because I was breastfeeding) was restricted to no milk of any kind, no nuts and no fish. This milk thing really meant we could not eat out and even food prepared at home was complicated and often bland. The situation left me uninspired where food was concerned.

But now I am free of the diet and feeling more inspired and ready to blog again.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Summer time

I'm back to cooking now that Olive is getting bigger and by turns more independent, then more clingy and back. Still, in late summer there are so many ingredients around for a quick meal that I just can't help but get in the kitchen. I've been cooking mostly from How to Eat Supper, which is a nearly perfect cookbook as evidenced by the food splatters on the cover and various pages of our copy. The Summer Tomato Tart is a fabulous dish to have in the repatoire. A puffed pastry base with cream, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, goat cheese and herbs scattered on top. It looks beautiful and lets the perfectly ripe, sweet and juicy tomato be the star, especially with good heirloom varieties. The authors suggest variations for each season all of which sound tempting. In fact, many of the recipes in this cookbook offer variations. I love variations because it offers several different meals after mastering just one recipe. I appreciate a book that knows how lazy I am and is willing to cater to that inclination.

The other book we've been cooking from a bit is Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day. It sounds like a goofy infomercial hook, but it's more or less true. You have to make dough for the week and that takes more than 5 minutes, though it is far from labor intensive, and then each day you will need to let the dough rise before cooking. So it's more like "Artisan Bread in 5 minutes of hands-on time a day" for those quibbling Amazon reviewers out there. The dough is wet, and a bit harder to work than traditional bread dough because of it (but since you leave out the kneading, you still come out ahead), but it does make wonderful bread. And it really is best made with all-purpose flour which means it is economical to boot.

Between the two books we've been putting together consistently tasty meals that are simple, relatively fast and save a lot of cash that eating out can drain from a budget rather quickly.

We now have a CSA share that we are starting to use which sends me to the index first looking for another way to cook eggplant, which Sage loves. I don't love it, but I continue to search for a preparation I do like that doesn't resort to drenching it in cheese. I would do that in a second, but I'm off dairy while Olive works through some intolerance. I still can't wrap my mind around the idea that she drinks milk all day long but can't take the tiny bit of cows milk she gets in my milk. Cruel world.

Anyway, it's off to work with me as of tomorrow, so my goal of making some Spanish dishes may be delayed while I continue to focus on food that all but throws itself into a pan.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

off my game

I haven't been blogging or cooking much lately, the summertime is drawing to a close for me (I work for the schools) and there hasn't been much to inspire me.

I had hoped that I'd find something to write about while we were taking vacation at home - the much ballyhooed "staycation" that is so popular this year. We did cook out a lot, and ate out a lot, but nothing worth remarking on particularly. Then there were the 4 days in Ocean City. Maybe I'd find a gem... well, no. Downtown DC could use some funky, fun places for people with offspring to eat. Sure, they are there, but they never seem to be close-by when you need them.

Maybe I'm missing something, but once you've had Thrashers fries I think you have reached the apex of Ocean City dining. There is nothing. We tried, which I'm enjoying using right now and found a few places but left underwhelmed. Does this place have the worst vacation food of all time or is it just me? And don't talk to me about crab, I live in Maryland so I don't need to be at the beach to get that.

Now I'm doing more cooking at home after my fair share of restaurant disappointments.
One fun and flexible summer side dish I've enjoyed dressing up, down and all around is coconut rice. Cook 1 cup rice in 1 and quarter cups coconut milk, 1/4 cup water and a dash of salt. It will be sticky and delicious and you can, of course, adjust the ratio to get it to the level of stickiness you most enjoy. I got it from Rachel Ray's Everyday magazine which I didn't expect to enjoy as much as I do.

Usually my complaint at Rachel's recipes are that they involve a long list of (sometimes expensive) ingredients. If you live over a gourmet grocery store this will take you 30 minutes. Otherwise expect to spend all day tracking down Panzu and candied ginger for a dish that will probably be just ok. The magazine has been useful, though, as I said. And I like the Take 5 idea - a meal created from just 5 ingredients. That's where the coconut rice idea came from.

Cooking at home or eating out are both a bit challenging right now because I can't eat dairy. I'm nursing and my daughter becomes a howling mess when I eat anything that is primarily from milk. So the coconut rice has a nice smooth texture I can't often get without the sweet, sweet creaminess of milk.

In avoiding dairy I find it helpful to avoid dairy-rich regions of the world and focus on areas that don't use as much cheese and yogurt in their cooking. Spain is a good region example. While Spain has a lot of wonderful cheeses, they don't often appear in food so much as on their own. I have also found that the flavorful, but not-at-all spicy character of Spanish food is a huge hit with Sage.

My MIL's gave me The New Spanish Table which has been very well reviewed and I'm looking for a good starter entree that isn't too complicated. Spanish food is so much more than tapas,

I must confess that I love Spain, have lived there, and still have close friends there. So I'm not impartial. I want everyone's next ridiculous kitchen expenditure to be a tortilla pan. Not the flat wheat and corn kind, the Tortilla Espanola kind - egg, potato, olive oil and salt at its most basic. If I can find some recipes that mimic the tastes I love there, I will share them here.

I will post more, I will post more...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wonderful Wheaton

No, you didn't read that wrong. In 5 years you'll be calling me a genius. You heard it hear first, Wheaton will be a hot place to hang out (with or without kinder in tow) in no time. Yes, there is some gentrification going on, though so far as I can tell that hasn't even spurred the local Safeway to spruce up. It has mainly been confined to nicer rental housing on and around Georgia Avenue. There is new retail space opening up at the corner of University and Georgia with a few new restaurants, but you still have your choice of a number of places to have your check cashed.

Until recently I thought Irene's pupusas was the only good thing to eat in downtown Wheaton. And the Irene's on University although very good, isn't exactly a fun spot to eat out. Great for take-out though. More on pupusas in a later post. The point is, I was wrong. What there is: a lot of great food from around the world. What there isn't: fusion food.

And everywhere you turn you find a community - or a slice of the larger Wheaton community. There is a Latino bakery that serves gluten-free pastries, an African-American barber shop that is always busy, several great Thai restaurants, an Italian grocery... I could go on. The melting pot is here. And they are melting up something tasty every night of the week (plenty of parking too!).

Take for instance our latest discovery. Just a few weeks ago Basil and I were wishing for a real pub. Not a bar that's open at 11:30AM with one dedicated alcoholic posted on a stool, and a Lotto machine blinking away in the corner. A pub like the ones in Britain - good beer, good food and everyone (the whole family) welcome. One day later Basil ran into our neighbor who informed him of just such a paradise - in downtown Wheaton. I was skeptical because, frankly, I haven't found such a place anywhere that we've lived and downtown Wheaton seemed an unlikely place to finally find the illusive public house.

We took off one night with sketchy directions and drove up and down the few streets that make up downtown Wheaton. After returning home and consulting Google maps - we found The Royal Mile. Jovial retired neighbors sat outside sipping a beer and opening the door for us. Could it be? Inside is a comfortably noisy and busy dining area. The menu is much more than pub grub and includes mid-Atlantic regional dishes that most British pub-goers wouldn't recognize.

There is a children's menu with all the usual suspects and, our choice, a delicious kids' size fish and chips. Make sure you explain the "chips" part prior to the arrival of food though. The fish is light and crispy and doesn't leave that veneer of grease bad fried fish does. The fries are boardwalk style. Heaven.

The beer menu is very good though it doesn't go to the absurd lengths some do. Basil was able to find a few beers he'd never had - and that requires a beer list with some depth - including a stout from a Pennsylvania brewery that I quite liked. The Scotch menu is extensive as well, by the way. Good thing the Metro is close by.

Best of all, the price point is very reasonable.

We could use more walkable downtown areas that are outside of downtown DC and I think this one is on it's way up. It isn't as clean as Bethesda, but it also doesn't have that ersatz feeling our wealthier neighbor to the West does. The food is just Thai, just Chinese, just Salvadorian. You can rip the hyphen key right off your computer. You won't need it.

Did I mention there is parking?

Sunday, June 15, 2008


We love crabs. Sage has been known to sit at a table waiting for steamed crabs chanting "crabby, crabby, crabby, meaty, meaty, meaty." She is an animal lover, but is at ease with the food chain.

So we thought that last week we would try Bobby's Crabcakes in Rockville Town Center for lunch and meat up with Daddy/Basil. I like RTC, but I was a little concerned to see it fairly well overrun with high school kids - lines of loud kids spilling out the doors of most of the quick, less expensive lunch places. I despaired that we would end up off the Washingtonian's best budget meals list desperately searching for food, and fast, before Olive woke up.

There were no crowds at Bobby's, though, and I think it might be because a lunch there will run you over $10 just for your basic crabcake sandwich. With fries and some cole slaw you'll pay $13.95 just for the regular (not jumbo size) crabcake sandwich. Lemonade was $3 but didn't taste particularly fresh or squeezed sadly.

It's a small, cozy place with plenty of counter-style seating, which is a little awkward with kids, but it made it easier to find a seat when all the tables were full. It doesn't look like a table service place, but it turns out that it is. Not realizing this, we ordered at the counter and found a spot for the 4 of us at the counter-style seats by the door. The waiter was gracious and accomodating and cleared a better table as soon as it was available. When Olive began to cry he came over and ooo'ed and ahhhed, which was refreshing. We weren't hurried out with a "can I get you the check?" but since we were ready to go, the waiter offered a nice cup of ice water to go since it was over 95 that day.

We ordered a crabcake platter (jumbo - 5 oz rather than 4) for Basil and I share. At around $25 we were a bit disappointed in the size of the plate in general, but you have to admit that they don't cheat you on the crabmeat. There is plenty of it and it is well cooked, tastes fresh, and is pretty well seasoned (some might like a bit more spice). The fries are indeed like boardwalk fries - without the sweat and sunscreen taste you inevitably get on the boardwalk. The coleslaw was nothing inspired but not bad. It suffered the fate of most slaw sides - a few bites then abandoned for the main show.

Our overall impression of the crabcakes was underwhelming. I know the thing to talk about with regard to crabcakes these days is whether they are over-breaded. Some places pass something more like a falafel off as a crabcake to be sure. But I think chefs and restaurants may sometimes err on the side of serving a pile of lump crabmeat. It's hard to find the cake in Bobby's crabcake and, yeah, I'm not afraid to say I'd like a little something to hold it together. A great crabcake is a balance of moistness with crispiness, spiciness that doesn't overpower the delicate crabmeat, and just enough cake without going overboard.

Bobby's is a friendly place and a nice place to get a bite of crab when you have the taste for that, or when you are tired of all the old lunch possibilities. It's a fine place to bring kids and it's easy to carry out if they go nuts, but they won't teach you anything new about crabcakes and you may end up feeling that for the money, at lunchtime anyway, you really could have had a more exciting meal.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

in the beginning

Ok, first of all, I'm not categorically against kids menus. Used properly I think they encourage reasonable portions and can make restaurant eating fun for kids. I've seen some great ones, but it seems all too often we find hamburgers, chicken nuggets and other "kid foods" on the menus of otherwise good restaurants. And only hamburgers, chicken nuggets and kid foods.

Also, I'm not categorically against pizza, hamburgers, and chicken nuggets (although I do hate that name - "nuggets" somehow sounds scatological to me). Like any food there are good versions and very, very bad versions of all of the above. But while these foods make an occasional guest star appearance in my diet, they are just a few amid a cast of hundreds of other foods I enjoy. I pretty sure that the ability to enjoy this wide variety of foods was not one of the revelations of puberty (come to think of it - I'm not sure there were any revelations of puberty). As I kid I ate bell peppers from my grandmother's garden like apples. I think kids can eat and enjoy a wide variety of food. Why can't kids eat Thai? What do Thai kids eat? Are they all wasting away, turning their noses up at delicious noodle dishes and hoping a hotdog comes along?

And to be clear, I'm not only going to discuss good restaurants to bring kids along to, or even talk only about food for kids. I read a number of excellent food blogs but none of them speak to where I am in life. I'd love to try some places where it would not be appropriate to bring my kids along - no matter how well behaved or how developed their little palates are, there are some places we just can't take them. But honestly, we only get a few kid-free meals out a year so there are only so many restaurants like that I need to know about. Wonderful food reviewers will sometimes label establishments as family friendly and we arrive to the same cold stares from staff we'd get if we brought our pet macaque along (we don't have a pet macaque and, honestly, there is no need to resort to hyperbole to describe how distasteful some wait staff find serving children).

Besides, we honestly trend toward the more casual, funky end of things anyway. There is a sublime New York pizza joint in San Diego that I dream about (they have a sign that says "the white cheese is ricotta - not goat cheese. We don't serve goat cheese.") and would choose a thousand times over any given 3 star French continental cuisine restaurant. So even after our kids are more easily babysat this is probably the kind of place we'll go.

My husband, Basil, and I have been thinking a lot about local food lately too and we always try to eat organic as much as possible. There's a lot more to think about on that topic than it seemed when we first started (how much do we want that pint of strawberries? are we sure they don't grow any bananas in Maryland? Ever?)

So I'll be talking about all those things, discussing restaurants, cookbooks, recipes, farmers markets, farms, local food producers... whatever I come across that gets me thinking about food. Gustatory life after kids - strike that - Gustatory life with kids.