Thursday, April 29, 2010

Postcards Lost in the Mail

Summer 2009 was some time ago, and as my regular readers know, I was in the midst of my maternity blogging hiatus. We did, however, fit some travel in, some for weddings (Sedona and Connecticut) and a babymoon (Bermuda).

Our first stop on the 2009 wedding tour (it was supposed to be Louisville, but Delta stranded us at ATL, so those plans were forcibly scrapped) was in Sedona, Arizona last May (thankfully May, it was hot enough already). Having had tasty Mexican in Phoenix (even in the chain joints), I suspected that Sedona might have tasty Sonoran goodness. Alas, I was mistaken. We also tried the higher class fare - again, not the greatest. In fact, the best meal I had during the entire stay was the huevos rancheros at this silly little place. For meals after 5:30 AM (seriously, the locals were up just as early as my Eastern-time-zone-ridiculously-early-rising pregnant butt), the Italian at the wedding reception was about the only satisfactory dining experience. Our conclusion was that Sedona is not a foodie destination, but instead, a place to spa and hike. The hiking was spectacular (Red Rocks, anyone?). And whilst out on the trails and in desperate need of agua, we happened upon Enchantment (quite literally) - I cannot wait until we have the money, babysitting services, and time to pay a proper visit.

Also part of wedding season; Mystic, Connecticut (and surrounding areas). Not a ton of free time for foodie exploration on this particular journey, but we did enjoy some seafood, New Haven style pizza, and of course the local Dunkin outpost (when in Rome, or not, for that matter). These were what I deemed to be the local dining experiences. Did not, however, have a chance to stop in at the eponymous pizza shop for which dame Julia will be forever grateful.

And finally, in October, we took a babymoon to Bermuda. Two words - Fairmont Southampton. Our hotel rocked; in fact, we barely left. Not only did the property include one of the oldest restaurants in Bermuda (great steaks, but crappy service), we also enjoyed a breathtaking seaside view and Asian seafood, and the poolside grill fare was rather tasty for a resort as well. Perhaps not surprising that all of the resort dining destinations were packed every night; no one wanted to leave. Frankly, in preparing to stay at a resort, I kind of prepare for the inevitable crappy culinary experience. This vacation was just the opposite, remarkably pleasant. In fact, we only ventured off the property briefly, to the historic town of Hamilton, and where did we end up having lunch while in town? But the Fairmont Hamilton Princess of course.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Adventures in Gardening, Round 2

So, first, things go much better when you bring a cheerleader...
 
Especially if you have a lot of work cut out for yourself...You see the pretty Azalea, yeah, that's about all that remains.  I pulled all of those little white flowers (see the last remnants) to make room for grass (dreaming of picnics in the front yard), and moved all of that mulch to the hedges. What is with the overmulching anyway? Then, I pulled the remaining weeds (whew, this round was sooooo much more exhausting) and spread grass seed as well. I'm thinking it maybe was not enough because after all the rain, I cannot really see the seed anymore. A pound was supposed to be enough for 100 square feet (about the size of our yard), but it just seems scarce.
 

And finally, I spread annual flowers in the sidewalk beds, and planted the lemon thyme seeds which I seem to have missed a couple of weeks back. A few more mistakes: (1) I must have read packages at the garden center that were not those that ultimately matriculated because I reread the packages and I was totally off on the growth estimates. It seems I should not expect veggies for between 60-80 days (8-10 weeks), not 3-4. Oops. (2) Also, it appears that it is the zucchini (not tomatoes) that should not be planted until May, but I know from my dad's experience that zucchini is the least fickle of all garden vegetables, so I am going to hold out hope for my squash. Also, something was flowering this week, and yup, double-checked, low and behold, it's the zucchini. Nay-sayers... (3) And my final mistake last time - footwear (Rainbows - still trying to get the dirt out of my pedicure). This time, I dressed to impress...






Sunday, April 25, 2010

Getting it Off my Chest

Frankly, I'm just as sick of listening to the now-finally-dwindling coverage of health care reform as you all are, but I received two pieces of mail that made me cringe - one, a solicitation from the hospital where I recently gave birth to my son, asking for a 'donation' for the hard-working doctors and nurses on staff (which they are, mind you); and two, an invoice from an internist I saw all of once, two years ago, to pay an office administrative fee, because of the costs associated with being a primary care physician. Seriously, is this the future of health care - additional bills and 'donations' (I truly do not believe for a second that any donated funds are going to the nurses' vacation fund) in addition to the ridiculous amounts we are paying for premiums and co-pays - or is this an overreaction to the legislation? Either way, I'm dismayed.

Gregg Easterbrook (yes, the random ESPN dude, but his brother is the 7th Circuit judge) pretty well elaborates on my feelings regarding health care. To summarize, we should treat our health insurance like our car insurance. Granted, our human bodies are little more complex than vehicles, but is 'insurance' not intended for the unlikely? Why can we not let the market drive the prices of routine procedures and save health insurance for those catastrophic events that we hope to avoid? Doctor visits = oil changes; massive coronary = massive collision (i.e., the type of event insurance is intended for); lower premiums for gym memberships, healthy eating habits, staying within weight goals = lower premiums for lack of accidents, speeding tickets, and use of 'the club'; and finally (and this one is for anyone who has also faced the problem that is the major shortage of internists in DC), local family doctor = local mechanic (i.e., it's hard to find a good one, but at least there are plenty of choices in the market).

Before we enact provisions to supplant an industry that controls the quality of care we receive, how about we throw out the cause of these systemic problems? Before we enact "Robin Hood" clauses (see footnote below because this is a whole separate rant), let's make sure that the 'care' being administered is worth subsidizing. We need to start treating our bodies like our cars, act with personal responsibility, and as a wise woman recently posted on facebook, have a little more charity in our hearts, because if we did, we wouldn't be forced to pay for the government's crap version of it (paraphrased). Stop yelling at one another, get over it, and get on with it. That's about it folks. I promise, I'm done.

footnote - For those Joe Bidens (granted, he's talking about taxes generally in this interview, not specifically the increased withholding tax assessed per the health care reform bill) amongst us who want to term the provisions of the health care reform bill 'only fair', in whatever form those provisions may be at this stage, I'm inclined to remind them of just how the "Robin Hood" tale went down. I mean folks, at least watch the Kevin Costner version for reference (or the new Russell Crowe movie that looks rather fun). You see, in the original tale, the King was robbing the lower class hard-working folks of their earnings to pay his 'taxes', and the character of Robin Hood responded by stealing these amounts back to refund to the people who had actually earned the money. Does this sound familiar? Maybe, just maybe, we kind of are off track with the 'Robin Hood' labels here...just a thought. Throwing it out there.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Use Your Words: Charlie Palmer Steak

The following was my original post after our latest lunch liaison at Charlie Palmer Steak. It did not go well:

These are the times when I appreciate having a blog. Because even though the folks at Charlie Palmer Steak decided we were not worth their efforts, my opinion is nevertheless out there for public consumption, to be regarded or to be ignored, your choice. The latest lunch liaison was a complete and utter failure (I've tried to start using FAIL, but I just like proper grammar too much). In case any of you were wondering, Charlie Palmer Steak is still a Hill see and be seen establishment, but not a dining destination.

The meal spiraled downhill quickly when old white guys in suits were seated whilst we waited at the hostess stand to be seated - what appeared to me as a snub as the manager circled around us to seat more important folks. The bread selection and appetizers were good (tuna tartare and seven veggie salad), but less than 10 minutes after they arrived, our entrees appeared hovering over us. My request to wait until I'd finished my salad to serve the entrees resulted in everything going under the warmer for another 10 minutes, including the limp frissee and arugula of my filet mignon salad. Not that my cut of meat masquerading as filet could have been saved. I don't profess to be an expert in butchery, but I know that a clear ripple of fat is not part of a filet. The aforementioned warm, limp greens were also heavily salted. The small saving grace on the plate was the palatable 4-minute fried egg. C's hangar steak was better (though hardly worth $24), but doused in sauce to make up for its dried condition.  I don't think other options would have been better - the crabcake looked like something served at an outdoor festival, accompanied by what appeared to be cole slaw from the Costco party bucket. The quality of the food was disappointing enough, but our service was also horrendous. Ask my friends, I ain't got no got no got no poker face, so there could have been no question that I was disappointed in the condition of our entrees. However, the service captain's inquiry as to our meals was not even regarded with an attempt to listen to the answer (for clarification, I actually said "it's just ok", but his back was already turned).  The server also looked displeased when I requested that another $8 bottle of water not be served (yeah, we're not padding tips on miserable experiences here). At $105 before tip (with my side of the table consisting of basically two plates of salad greens; one of which was served warm), there was no chance we were ordering dessert. We won't be back, and hope others will take my warning to heart. And before I get ahead of myself, let me clarify that I filled out the comment card (with no mention of the blog, in case you were curious), though I will not hold my breath for a response. 


Well, as it turns out, I did not have to hold my breath. Less than an hour after I'd posted my comment card, I received a phone call from manager Dave Lavery (which took some research - presumably through my Open Table account - because I only provided my email address for contact). I was not in the mood to rehash the specifics, but he soldiered on to make sure that he had done everything he could to try to make amends. That much I appreciate. He noted that he had spoken with the chef, and that it was not acceptable. I would have appreciated an explanation as to how the food was served in that state, but perhaps Mr. Lavery sensed that I did not want to go round and round reliving the experience. In the end, he was rather insistent that we should not have to pay for our meal. I was not and still am not entirely comfortable with accepting that offer, but I relented in order to return to my workday.

So what do you think? Does it repair an otherwise unpleasant experience to not have to pay for the disaster? Would you return if you were in our shoes? Should we have accepted the restaurant comping the meal, or should we have continued to refuse?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cart-Tastic

Spring is most decidedly here, and as Tim Carman tells us, food cart season is warming up. Sadly, for my favorite little red cart that could, that evidently means soon moving indoors. I'm thrilled for the friendly folks (they are seriously just the sweetest people) at the Pupatella cart for their opportunity to officially open a restaurant. It's a tad bittersweet, however, that I will no longer be I'm glad that I will still be able to walk over to the cart and have Enzo, Anastasiya, and crew coo over my baby boy while my pizza bakes. I'm left to ponder a few things: (1) Will the lovely nutella-stuffed donuts still be served up to the morning faithful at the bricks and mortar location?, (2) Will the restaurant hours be expanded beyond those of the cart?, and (3) How hard is it to park at the new locale at Wilson and George Mason Drive? The appeal of Pupatella goodness baked in a wood-fired oven appeals to me to find answers to those questions.

Thankfully, Rebel Heroes is up to the task of carting around Arlington with lunch fare. Have not yet had a chance to try their variations on Banh Mi, but I'm so happy to not have to drive through the chaos that is Eden Center to enjoy Vietnamese sandwiches. Yippy - tweeted locations and ordering forms - just my style. Nevertheless, attention all entrepreneurs, we still need more food carts in Arlington - many, many more.


In the meantime, I'll have to let the DC selections satisfy my cravings for food served from trucks. No offense to the ever-popular Fojol Bros. or Vinny & Pedro's, but the Saucamobile and Food Chain DC are my personal faves. My selections have more to do with proximity to my office than anything, but I'll take a Sauca or jerk chicken wrap over a Union Station food court sandwich any day.

The busy tweeters from the Saucamobile are again some of the nicest guys you will find. That, and they serve up tasty internationally-themed sandwiches - the only problem is that they often run out before everyone in the One Mass Ave. area (Wednesday lunches) can get in on the action.  Thus far, I've had their lighter version of a croque monsieur with lemon mayo (one of the various sauce offerings), as well as the schawarma with tahini sauce and picked vegetables.  I've not yet tried the breakfast saucas or the toffles (topped waffles), which may be a good thing as they both look heavy enough to be the death of the post-pregnancy weight progress I've made. One more plus, the Saucamobile takes credit cards.

Next, I come to the nicest (sensing a theme here? - perhaps there is a certain joy derived from working out of a truck - hmm, a thought) cart person of all, who has recently returned to her post at North Capitol and E to serve us Food Chain DC fare. For just $5, with either fire or smoke sauce (or both, as I prefer), the jerk chicken wrap with coconut rice and black beans is tasty enough to demand a local following. My office mates previously flocked to this particular cart because the soda was cheaper than anywhere else; ever since the jerk chicken wraps were introduced (some time last fall), they can't seem to stay away.

And, just last night I heard that there are truck-delivered lobster rolls on the way....

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday (supposed to be) Morning Post

Greatest quote from C last week: "You know for a place full of kids, Dairy Godmother isn't very kid friendly." After abandoning the stroller outside (as per DG's request), and then being chastised for setting down the car seat on the counter in order to pay, we're thinking that it might be best to hold off until the little one can walk before we attempt a return. Which, by the by, makes me think we need a good old-fashioned Dairy Queen (the kind with a walk-up window) somewhere near the city.

Read Modern Domestic's rhubarb polenta cake recipe and got inspired (because I have admitted issues with following recipes) to empty the fridge and cupboards of all items near the expiration date (5 day bananas, ricotta cheese, cornmeal, as well as braeburn apples and bosc pears, the respective textures of which lended towards baking). My ricotta-polenta cake with apple/pear compote was pretty, but the Red Mill course-grind cornmeal did not mix well with the other ingredients. Nice flavor though.

What better place than my blog to share the news that my dad bowled a 300?! Hey, this doesn't happen everyday (ok, maybe it does) but just ask the folks in my hometown - where evidently news traveled so fast that dad was getting pats on the back the next day at the bank, the church, the bar, the gas station (how cute?!) - how big of a deal it is. In addition to this thoroughly awesome bauble for his milestone, here's one more opportunity to revel in the spotlight. Congrats Dad!

I spent part of last week determining that I did not, as previously suspected, poison my family with beef stew. Yay!! - well, except for the friends and family that were taken down in the process of ruling out food poisoning - sincerely sorry everyone. It turns out my little guy was passing out a rather nasty stomach bug (it was a rough one). Luckily, little man did not get sick, but I did throw out the fennel beef stew leftovers out of caution. Too bad, the stew was really good.

Also, I observed an interesting phenomenon with the push to put calories on menus at chain restaurants. At Panera last week, as C prepared to order his regular, the whopping 520 calorie (for the half portion!!!) Italian Combo, he paused and went with a lower calorie chicken sandwich instead. Wow - it was remarkable. While yes, this little empirical evidence set is limited, if you regularly observed just how much meat my hubby takes in, you would be astounded by the power of caloric suggestion as well. Hmmm - food for thought - the choices we make when armed with information.

Stopped in for a delicious cafe au lait and chunky monkey scone at Northside Social. Only after ordering did I notice the sandwich menu, and read the various tweets concerning such - this warrants a return.

This week, look forward to Cart-O-Rama, my health care rant (it's been simmering for a while now, it was bound to boil over - feel free to ignore), and our lunch liaison at Charlie Palmer Steak.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Taste of the Nation 2010

A brief synopsis of a great night for a great cause (kudos to the hard-working folks of the planning committee):

Favorite bites:

West End Bistro's Scallop Ceviche (C's favorite of the night; he had three)

Ris' Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes (my favorite of the night)

Chantel Tseng's (Tabard Inn) Cocktail (I did not read what was in it, but it was tasty)

General Store Fish Tacos (sans shells)

Citronelle's Cocoa-Dusted Grape Lollies

Both of VOLT's bites: Beet Macaron wtih Foie Gras Mousse; Tuna Tartare

Trends (coming soon to your cocktail party):

 LOTS of booze - cocktails galore

Stewed meat and starch bites

Slaws

Cupcakes, cupcakes, and more cupcakes

Chilled green soups


Missed (too bad - what did they have?):

Source

Dino

CommonWealth




Is there anything more beautiful than 
rows and rows of G'Town Cupcakes?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Adventures in Gardening



 Our "yard" - our little 20x20 plot of land to call our own. It needs a lot of TLC...As a gardening virgin (zero experience with a capital Z), I'll do my best, and I'm sure learn a few lessons along the way. If someone sees something I'm doing horribly wrong here, please comment. This is all new to me and I'm open to any and all insight. As you will see below, I even forgot to purchase the most fundamental of tools to start my burgeoning at-home produce department, so I'm stressing this point - please help a girl out.




 The tools (see anything quite obviously missing, like say, a spade?!):



We are going with zucchini, tomatoes, peas, basil, and green beans for the first plant. As I am pretty horrible at following recipes to a T, I'm applying the same concept to the plant. Four out of the five seed packages said plant in April, but the instructions on the tomatoes suggested waiting until May. Not to be deterred (hey, Michelle already planted), I went ahead and got all of my goodies in the ground. I don't have copious amounts of time on my hands, and this was planting day. Could be fatal; we'll see.




After the plant....Figuring out the various depths (ranging from 1/8 inch to 2 1/2 inches) was tricky, so I varied my potting soil coverage from a light sprinkle to a deep bury. My seed packages tell me I should start to see the first of the veggies in three to four weeks. I'll let you know what pops up. I still have more work to do. After the spade purchase, I'm hoping to get down some grass seed and flowers. Probably biting off more than I can chew, but that seems like part of the fun.

Friday, April 9, 2010

In a Techy State of Mind

It's official folks: @dclovesfood is up and running. Thanks to lots of folks for ideas, advice, and examples in getting things going. For the longest time, I avoided Twitter, convinced that it was the degradation of society. Alas, however, it's time to give up my moral superiority and accept reality - Twitter is the way of the world.

I also added some upgrades to the blog; with a new template, twitter feed, and subscription links. I am hoping be legit, and customize my template at some point in time, but this html coding stuff is a bit beyond my blogger pay grade. Oh, and you can contact me via email now too.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Things were going on other than Top Chef?

I discovered kombucha tea, and it's not bad. Dying of thirst one day, I ducked into our Whole Foods and found Honest Tea's version. It's something along the lines of a less sweet, more refreshing Strongbow (oh, lovely Strongbow, how I adore that you are sold in plastic jugs at Sainsbury's). I definitely would indulge again for refreshing alternative to beer on hot summer days.
Please, please, please Dremo's, find your way back home. Speaking of happy hours - now that I'm a madre, I have been considering just what is appropriate territory to bring baby in tow. Though I don't think I'd go quite as far as this amusing little segment (especially if Wonderland Ballroom is even slightly like Clarendon Ballroom; never been, so I'm not sure), I did consider taking my little guy to Carpool during the middle of the day to watch a few tourney games and enjoy a beer. We are very slowly starting to embrace the idea of dining out with children rather than the restrictive dining mantra I embraced for such a long period. I would love to hear everyone's thoughts on this (obviously hipster v. parent contentious) one; clearly worth debate.
Whilst atop the soapbox, let's talk about dining destination locations. People seem to really love eating their chicken wings while sitting in parked cars, including the Wachovia drive-thru across the street from our house. I know that a drive-thru is not the ideal space to walk a dog, but our puppy likes to pee there; what can I say? I'm just confused as to the allure of eating chicken wings while sitting a car, and then throwing the residue out the window. It's evidently not just a problem in our neighborhood (see the comments section of the above link). WTF? Please stop killing innocent little doggies.
Unfortunately, the weather has turned to down-right-scorching this week. I may have to wait until the fall to make Tahini soup - sounds good though.
It looks like my soon-to-be-new office building is finally welcoming its long-advertised tenant (seriously, those signs have been up for years). Between Buddha Bar, the Busboys and Poets outpost, and this sushi place, NoMa may just work out.
Finally, in response to the only food-related news that garners more tweets than Sarcozy at Ben's (did anyone else see the John OIiver "Here's a Hint - They're Coming from Belgium" rant? - funny stuff), and the need to share all things Top Chef, I think it's high time I create a twitter account. Look for it to be "officially" up and running before week's end.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Our normal takeout rotation...while I would like to limit our intake to one dinner and one weekend lunch a week, with limited dining out opportunities, we tend to average a little more than that. For reference, here's our usual rotation:

Big Buns (Ballston) - Grilled mahi on wheat for me, with pineapple, avocado, and black bean salsa...sometimes I add sweet potato fries...Mmmm....C usually goes for the burger, topped with a fried egg, and the chipotle aioli, And he never skips the fries.

Domino's (various locations) - Usually, we do the two mediums for $5.99 each deal. I like the thin crust, with spinach, mushrooms, and light cheese. C likes the garlicky hand-tossed (which is pretty good, if I can handle the caloric intake) with a combination of meats.

Cafe Tirolo (Ballston) - I like either the mushroom ravioli or goulash with spetzle. Both are on the heavy side, but are great for a filling meal. We also usually split the spinach and mushroom salad, served with a zesty Italian vinaigrette. C loves the spaghetti and meatballs, but also enjoys the smaller-sized linguine with clams. A couple of times we have also tried the killer blueberry torte.

Sushi Zen (North Arlington) - The Rainbow Roll here is consistently full of the good stuff - tuna, flounder, salmon, snapper. We also like the Ruby Red Roll (shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, red roe) and Pacific Roll (fresh and smoked salmon, tuna, eel, and avocado)

Homemade Pizza Company (Cherrydale) - Never had a bad pizza, salad, or cookie from here. The sausage and caramelized onion is

Cheesecake Factory (Clarendon) - Ok, you all clearly know that the Cheesecake Factory menu is longer than the Bible. C, however, manages to always order the same thing - sliders as an appetizer and the jambalaya pasta (I've told you how he's a big eater before). I tend to try to find a lighter dish (the French country salad is good) so that I can afford a piece, or half, given the sizes here, of the blueberry white chocolate cheesecake.

Delhi Dhaba (Courthouse) - Nothing too extravagant; they deliver and we like it. Chicken Tikka Masala is always reliable, and the Chicken Biriyani is a yummy rice dish.

TNR Cafe (Courthouse) - Simple Chinese takeout. They make all the favorites, and will deliver bubble tea. I particularly like the apple green tea version.

Crystal Thai (Seven Corners) - The only Thai place we've found that will deliver (funny, since it is nowhere near our place). The Pad Thai kind of sucks, but the Pad Woon Sen (C with beef, and me with chicken or tofu) is really good. Most of the Thai restaurants do not offer this dish, so we really like Crystal Thai for including it on the menu. The Spicy Catfish is really tasty, but has some serious spice - your mouth will burn.

Earl's Sandwiches (Courthouse/Clarendon) - Anything with the house-roasted turkey (including the Clarendon, with cranberry sauce and french toast) is fabulous.

Now, I'm getting hungry again. Any suggestions for additions to the rotation would be appreciated.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The House With the Big Orange T: Toscana Cafe

I title my post this because despite several visits to Toscana Cafe (just East of Union Station on Cap Hill, near my favorite coffee shop - Ebenezer's), I did not know the name. What I did know was that their sandwiches are crazy good. Reliable standards include the Caprese (your basic tomato and mozzarella, with a, pardon my language, kick-ass balsamic), Genovese (smoked pulled chicken), and I think it's called the Palermo (pork shoulder with rapini pesto) all served on yummy homemade ciabatta. This time, inducting C into the club with our latest lunch liaison (still have not found a satisfactory title), I made sure to note the name on the door. Salads are also good, but not made to order. The Italian entrees and pizza also look to be mouth-watering, but a bit heavy for lunch. C highly recommends the previously-referenced Palermo.

Bye for now - is it acceptable to wish you all a "happy" Good Friday....perhaps we'll go with happy Easter to all.