In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How to pack your bags.

So over on Apartment Therapy theres a discussion about how to pack for trips and how not to forget everything and do you start a pile of everything you want to bring?

The answer is "read below" (to questions 1 and 2) and no. 

I've traveled. I've had to pack for 9 week stints in war zones with body armor (it gets its own bag and weighs 40 lbs. Hideous. But your arms get super toned and you lose a ton of weight just carrying it around all day). And 10 country tours for work involving weird Saudi princes who wanted to buy me with 3 camels (really. A State Department official told them I was married with 3 kids, which as you have probably gathered is actually opposite reality, and they accepted that. That would be the only acceptable excuse not to marry this revolting 80 year old horrible prince and never get to drive my own car again. It's a 2001 Ford Focus).

So onto packing. I had a boyfriend years ago who was anal beyond all anality, and we once took a trip to a rather remote island off Florida where we had to bring not just all our camping gear but all our food too, as there were no stores or anything on the island (and not for about 2 hours in any direction.) . That's it, above.

This triggered every insane impulse he  ever had, including two bouts of REHEARSE packing to see if everything would fit in the bags we intended to carry. That means taking everything out we wanted to bring with us 2 weeks before the trip, piling it up, then putting it away. Twice.

The trip was a disaster -- the weather was bad, I wanted to kill him because of the insane control issues, and it all culminated with a tropical storm and gale force winds, me naked? practically naked? in the middle of the night  with lightning and thunder and lashing rain trying to secure our tent with the duct tape I had insisted we bring while he stood around and  yelled that I was doing it wrong. I yelled back "YOU ARE NOT THE BOSS OF THIS!" We stayed together more or less for 2 more years but never vacationed together again.

The upside was that in the morning all the shrimp fisherman landed on our island to recover from a rough night at sea and I was able to trade charcoal for a 5 lb bag  of just-caught shrimp which we ate all the rest of the week. The best schwimps I ever tasted.

(This island, Fort Jefferson off Key West, is a totally weird experience. There are no stores, no ATMs. Cash means nothing It's a barter economy. A bottle of tequila or charcoal is the best currency with the fisherman, who have refrigerators and lots of good stuff, but drink up their alcohol first, and don't bother with charcoal because who wants to burn down their fishing boat? But then they are out of luck when they land on the island and want to cook. The experience really drives home the importance and/or lack thereof of cash. It's freeing, really. But grim if you run out of food or tequila.)

In the ensuing years I covered my fair share of wars (that's me just after a patrol in Fallujah with a bunch of Iraqis and one Marine) which is probably the ultimate in packing. You've got to be smart about what you  bring, pack lightly because you're gonna be carrying it (sometimes, really fast...) and you can't get tampons in a war zone (easily, anyway). That's what I learned in the experience captured above.

So what I worked out is lists. This is not revolutionary, I know, but it works.

Make a simple chart that shows every day you will be on the road.
Divide the chart into categories:
clothes (to include accessories and undies)
equipment (computer, power cords,  thumb drives, pens, notebooks whatever)
documents (tickets, passports, directions)
hygiene: bandaids, meds, tampons, shampoo etc.
travel_ shizz for the plane ride. Books, Kindle, chewing gum, magazines, eye cover, socks.

Think through each day: what will you be wearing, when? Will you be exercising? What will you need to do your work (or go to wedding... gift? gift wrap?). Think through each day from the time you wake up to when you go to sleep. (wake up: wearing a t shirt and boxer shorts. Need flip flops for the shower. Need mesh bag to carry things to latrine. Need a towel. Toothbrush, toothpaste. Eye makeup remover. Moisturizer. Shampoo Floss etc).
Then what? On patrol: need body armor, helmet, ballistic eye wear. Pens (multiple), paper, tape recorder, extra batteries.Tampons, Advil (never be without tampons and advil). A few mesh Bandaids. Sun screen Water bottle. Luna Bars. Change of shirt and socks. Computer (never,never get separated from your gear).

Or a weekend beach getaway: wake in negligee, hygiene supplies, bathing suit, cover up, flip flops, hat, sunscreen, lavender spray (I love it), chapstick, towel, book for beach reading. sundress for later, undies that work with sundress. hair brush. Bathrobe if you're at a b&b where you;'ll walk down the hall to the shower.

It will look like this:
                                         Friday                            Sat                          Sunday
                                         yoga pants for drive       bikini
                                         t shirt                              hat
                                         blue dress                      red linen caftan
                                         strapless  bra                 flip flops
                                         blue sandals                   etc
hygiene                             tooth brush and paste
                                        hair brush
equipment                        Ipad
                                       batteries for beach radio

documents                       Reservation confirmation
                                        Directions and phone number of inn 

Write everything on your chart. Do this simply sitting on your couch or at your desk - don't try to gather the stuff. Don't pack a single thing until the list is completely filled out. No piles, no mess, and nothing will be forgotten.

The night before, pack it all up methodically going off the list. Pack the list last. When you come home, you can repack according to the list and you won't leave anything behind.

Follow these directions exactly for a panic-free packing experience. And a low stress trip.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

My new project!

So we Ladies of Flavor sat down  and had a good hard think, and realized that what we really love is all the stuff we are able to do for farmers, vendors, chefs and landowners as a result of the magazine (ie, finding new sources for chefs, land for farmers, hooking up retail vendors with cool local food and wine artisans). So we decided to do it for reals.

May I introduce you to Foodshed? Foodshed is please to meet you. It's a non-profit that will be producing our new magazine (same idea, much more gorgeous) and doing the things officially we always just did anyway, on the side. Please go on and like our Facebook page  

Our website will be up early next week at you can subscribe there, or just donate! It is (or will be) tax deductible.

Monday, September 10, 2012

How to get cat hair off your velvet chesterfield.

I love my two cats beyond all reason. Their legs are too short, they are stupid, and they are irrational. But I love them. No one else could love them like I love them. I am a crazy cat lady, kept in check only by the fact that I have just 2 cats instead of more. I'd take home every kitten if I could. Like these! But I couldn't. So I drove them to a vineyard where they live very happily chasing voles and snuggling sheep.

Anyway. My two cats leave an awful lot of hair on my velvet chesterfield, which you may remember from such posts as "Merry Couchmas."
It's gray, 10 feet long, tufted and big enough for 3 adults to sprawl reasonably comfortably.

It also collects cat hair like a mofo. Cat hair is different from dog hair -- more tenaciously clinging, I think, to upholstery. So I finally worked out this excellent method which is both fast and weirdly satisfying.

You will need:
a set of dishwashing gloves. Mine are purple.
a dustbuster or a vacuum.

1. Don gloves.
2. Approach couch like surgeon who has scrubbed "in."
3. Begin rubbing the velvet back and for5h till the cat hair balls up and sticks to itself in long, yucky lines of cat yarn. bleck.
4. Vacuum up yarn.
5. Sit on hair free couch.
6. Sing my praises.

You're welcome. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Last meal.

We buried my aunt this weekend after a five-year struggle with pancreatic cancer that finally spread to her lymphatic system and brain. It was brutal but she was quite something throughout her illness -- she worked up until five weeks before her death, and traveled all sorts of weird places (Bulgaria, China) between bouts of chemo because she wanted to cram in as much living as possible.

That's her in the photo above, nestled between my grandpa and dad. Her sister is to the right. My aunt and I shared a birthday; she called me every year to wish me a happy one.

A few years ago in the autumn, a little while into her diagnosis, she and my uncle were in D.C. so I invited them by for dinner. It was a weeknight, and I had a rather demanding job at the time, so I did almost everything the day before and my lovely boyfriend Steve set the table and reheated everything while I made my way home from work.

I served an appetizer of sliced beets, feta, Granny  Smith apples and horseradish/sour cream sauce, stacked up in free-form layers -- gorgeous reds, greens, and whites. My aunt wasn't eating much so I made her a mini version, like you'd get at some fancy restaurant.

For dinner I made chipotle/coffee/maple short ribs over mashed sweet potatoes. It sounds a little weirder than it is -- it's actually totally delicious. Sweet, bitter, and smoky-spicy all at once. Again for my aunt, just a daub of orange and brown on a plate, but she pronounced it delicious.

There were candles on the table and linen napkins, and wine. A lovely evening. I don't remember dessert.  

I learned from my uncle a couple of weeks ago that that was the last real meal she ever ate. She couldn't digest solid food after that, a function of the cancer, and was fueled almost entirely by liquid meal supplements.

I can't tell you both how awful and wonderful that was to hear. I have many deficiencies, but if there's one thing I can do, one gift I can give, it is to cook.

Iron your napkins and get out your wine glasses, be it for family, friends or just yourself. Think hard about what to serve, and have it be delicious. Make every meal a celebration. You may, like me, be very humbled and grateful that you did.

For the beets, simply roast them as you would, cool, peel, slice and layer with crisp apple slices and feta cheese. Mix a little horseradish into a few teaspoons of sour cream until you like the taste. If you have fresh dill, you can add that too. Drizzle the beet stacks with horseradish cream and serve with fresh cracked black pepper. 

This is more or less the short rib recipe.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How to write anything, in 12 easy steps.

I'm a magazine editor, reporter, and therefore, a writer. Writing is the last thing I worry about -- for me it's all about gathering information, making sure it is interesting and correct.

I work with a lot of writers, many of them new to the craft, and this is what I tell them when they are "blocked" and when they are struggling, and when they are writing crappily. I like that word, crappily.

This is a method I actually derived in college because of my towering laziness. It's easy and it works. 

1. Read over your notes a couple of times. Make a simple outline or flow chart  of what your piece will say. Don't fill in details -- just write how the thoughts will flow, a vague order that makes sense.

Here's an example from my own notebook:

Intro --> 7800 farmers markets, 2500 take snap
Farmers markets affordable?
New study says yes
Compared 24 common items
Found comparable prioces in season
Except meat, eggs
How to stretch that budget (whoel chicken instead of parts)
How snap works

2. Go to sleep. This lets the notes and details arrange themselves in your brain. The important stuff, the stuff that is actually interesting, will stick and be the most prominent parts of your work. That is as it should be.
3. Wake up, take a shower. That signals to your brain it's time to be serious. Turn on your computer. Don't go on the internet, don't check your email. Do not open Facebook under any circumstances.
4. Do not look at your notes before you start. That's just procrastinating.
5. Get a mental picture in your head of who you are telling this story to: your grandma? your best friend? Your favorite professor? Now tell the story. Write one true sentence after another. That's Hemingway's advice. Worked for Poppa, works for me, works for everyone.
6. Write your piece all the way through. Finish your draft. Don't get up till you do.
7. Now get up, stretch, eat a donut. Don't look at Facebook yet.
8. Sit back down. Get out your notes. Don't look at your screen. Read your notes. If there's anything important you forgot, it will jump out at you.
9. Add true, simple sentences including whatever information you neglected to include the first go round in a place that it makes sense.
10. Fix whatever facts, names, dates, numbers you may have screwed up in your memory by comparing them to your notes.
11. Put it all away.
12. The next day, read it over. Smooth out transitions. Rewrite whatever you think needs it. Don't try to get fancy - short, direct words, true statements -- that's what your readers want. You are not David Foster Wallace. Don't try to be. Be you. Impart what you know.  You're done.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

ok, so D's kitchen! 
You'll recall she is transforming a first floor bedroom/living room combo into a full-blown apartment -- ie, adding a kitchen. She's got a $15k budget, more or less.  I am in charge and am very happy about that.  Here's the plan (you'll also recall the idiot builder she was going to go with wanted to do a corner kitchen in this rectangular room, which made my eyes roll back in my head with fury because hello: corner sinks generally suck, and super suck if you are jamming a dishwasher on one side and an oven on the other. You can't stand in front of the sink to load the dishwasher in that configuration. And there's no where to put anything next to the sink because the stupid range is there. Anyway: here's a better plan:

 Here's what it looks like in Ikea's 3D model (hint: even if you aren't buying ikea stuff, iots a really easy tool to do 3D planning -- better than others I have tried to use).

This first shot shows the room if you were standing at the double doors that open into the room from the street. The appliances aren't actually levitating -- I just didn't add in legs. Here's the genius part: I flipped a base cabinet around backwards so it's accessible from the snack bar side. This lets me block that area on the opposite side with a run of 1-foot deep cabinets. More counter space, more storage. The second genius part is the counter. I will actually be builduing that counter up with a false wall and topping it with a chestnut board I have that has a live edge on it (the bark and natural contours). Very fancy and Nakashima-esque.

here is a view if you are floating above the room. There is a lot of levitating in this kitchen,

This is a weird view from the far wall next to the fridge. If you were, say, a plant on the counter looking out.

I have a great handyman who can do all the cabinets, carpentry, and painting,and will get a professional plumber and electrician in to do the lighting and sewage. Hopefully I can get everything done for under $15K, and she can rent this place for big jack. The most fun part is I am TOTALLY IN CHARGE.

Friday, June 29, 2012

If I've ever meant anything to you... please click on this link and vote! It could mean $250K for my magazine!

Chase and Living Social are giving away 13 awards of $250,000 each to small  businesses. In order for our application to be considered, we need 113 more votes by Saturday Jan 29. Click on the link below, sign in through Facebook (ieasiest. You can also register) and input Flavor Magazine in the search box. We are based in Sperryville Virginia. The money will be put to excellent use -- promoting small sustianble farmers, food artisans and craft winemakers, brewers and distillers. Make the world safe for earthworms! Vote for Flavor! (that's the team below. I am rocking the bib overalls.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

So my dear friends Meg and Ben live in a great albeit new house ion the Chesapeake Bay in North Beach, Md. They used  to live 5 blocks from me, and prior to that, Meg lived WITH me for 5 years. I think we both secretly  think we'll end up old ladies living together again, once those men die and leave us their fortunes. It will be sad for a while, but then it will be fun. (kidding, guys! we'll be sad FOREVER!)
Anyway: Meg and Ben let me run their life last weekend as they headed into the North Beach House and Garden show. they needed a firm hand to make their already lovely and interesting house gorgeous and serene. 
Now above you see my pride and joy. Ben and Meg, like me, have a laundry problem. They hate to do it, hate to fold it, hate to put it away. So several years ago I conceived of this system of baskets. The shelves were built  but for years they were just filled with a  jumble of clothes etc because they refused to just pull the trigger and buy the bins. The house tour, however, changed all that. 

See? Lovely. its a demosntration of a key principal: group like objects for order and beauty. Now all their laundry (dirty in baskets, clean in bins) is gorgeous to look at and easy to get to. Any no one has to put anything away. It comes out of the dryer, gets folded, stacked in a bin, then popped on the shelf. I love it. Here are 2 more views.

They have a great deck off their bedroom that they just painted -- and I tell you, the paint is a miracle. It feels like a place you want to be instead of a splinter fest. Ben made the chaise longue (not lounge! it's French!). The chandelier thingy is a group project (but I'm please to say my innovation). They had this old spool bed piece hanging around for years. I suggested it become a candle chandelier. A yard sale yielded mason jars for $2 and a spool of stiff wire. Ben painted the spool thing, and I twisted the wire. The brilliant design thing here is that by hanging it up it draws attention to the high ceiling, and it creates a foreground, which makes the background look so much more real and 3-dimensional. Gorgeous views without foregrounds can look like painted backdrops.

 Here is their kitchen. It wasn't much to look at before -- builder grade cabinets and crappy Formica counters. A coat of paint and some mail order butcher block, along with some bead board and it's gorgeous. The light is something I unearthed in an antique store for 40 bucks. It weighs about 6,000 pounds. Ben figured out how to rewire and hang it.

 Here is their living room. The colors are basically drawn from the Chesapeake Bay and tidal marshes outside -- that's the green and gray and blue you see. But the room needed color. Now I'm not one for color or pattern but Meggy is. I make fun of her for it -- she loves wee bitty patterns like holly hobby. She even likes her plants holly hobby -- little,  tight, speckled flowers. I like my blooms blowsy and fragrant (peonies, jasmine, clematis). But I "allowed" her to indulge in the living room. She came up with a great mix (I nixed a few) of colors and patterns. it's not something I would ever come up with on my own but I love it.

The rug is from Dash& Albert. That was a requirement: the room is large and needed a huge presence to anchor the living area. The night before the house tour we had pizza and the box collapsed on my leg. I tried to balance the pie but the hot cheese slid right off. This is where oxy clean comes in. You can even see the stain, which was ENORMOUS the night before. It was right at the foot of the green chair on the left.

 Here's another view. There is also a day bed in the corner, backed by a mirror to reflect even more water views. It's a great napping spot. That's not us in the picture. Those are neighbors coming to check out the place at the beginning of the house tour. But the skirt works in the space, so I'm ok with it.

Here's another kitchen shot. Ben built the pot rack out of a salvaged piece of metal -- probably an airplane cargo door, we decided after seeing something VERY similar in the movie Midway, which was playing last weekend.  Again: grouping like things-- steel pans -- is a great way to display otherwise mundane things.

 The cabinet came from Housewerks in Baltimore. Super cool and reconfigurable -- those trays can be moved up or down. I spent a lot of time arranging these pots. All their vitamins and prescriptions -- things they need every day -- are hidden in that tall sided box. Always keep your KitchenAid mixer out and ready to go or you will never use it.

 And finally: the view. I had nothing to do with this. It's why they moved here. Away from me. Booooo.
But the good news is I get to use their house as a weekend getaway whenever I want it. I know the alarm code, suckas!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Making A Kitchen Out of Nothing At All.

My friend D. is in the midst of a divorce (bleh) while overseas (bleh, but also an excellent cure for heartbreak, see earlier post) and has to refinance (bleh) and wants to turn her first floor into a proper one-bedroom apartment that she can rent out. It's got a lot going for it  -- a bathroom already, a bedroom with a fireplace in it, a nice back patio, but no kitchen.

That's where I come in.

It's a one room kitchen/living room that is approximately 19 X 10 -- a pretty narrow rectangle. To make it feel better and function well I am dividing it into approximately two square "zones" -- one about 9 X 10 (the kitchen/eating zone) and the other about 10 X 10.  They will be open to each other so neither will feel small, and the 9 foot kitchen will incorporate an eating surface (a great, live edge wooden bar... ie the bark and natural shape of the wood still evident). Everything design-wise will be cool, a little traditional, and a little sleek: Carrara marble countertops (I found salvaged slabs I can have cheaply cut -- will be a total bill of maybe $400), light grey subway tiles, white Ikea base cabinets, stainless appliances, and a maximum use of inexpensive open shelves. Cabinets are a huge drain on the budget. In a small apartment like this, you just don't need that many. I'll be borrowing space from a hallway closet for a small pantry and microwave oven, and there will be 4 base cabinets with good storage.

See an inspiration board above.

But here's the rub.She has been working with a construction guy whom she used in the past.

And dude is slimeball. Srsly. He quoted her a price - $15K -- but refused to provide a detailed breakdown  of how that $15K would be spent -- which means she can't swap out cheaper fixtures or cabinets or whatever if she wants to bring the price down, because he is hiding all those costs -- and I promise, making a huge profit.

I had this guy's number pretty much from the start -- I've had contractors like that, and they are depending on your ignorance, your desire just to get it done, and their male bluster to get them through. The truth is the guy doesn't really know how much everything costs. He's guessing, building in a huge pad for himself, and he'll just make it up as he goes along. And guess what:  if he goes over budget, she's gonna be coughing up more money, because he's got her in a compromised position.

So today we had a meeting. I told her to ask for the detailed estimate. He claimed to have sent it to her already (he didn't). And then he made up some long heavy sigh explanation about how long it's going to take (what, hitting resend? you big old liar?) and then finally at the end of the meeting -- after I had pointed out everything terribly, dramatically wrong with his crappy design (corner sink, with a dishwasher right next to it. Please explain where you stand to fill  dishwasher? You don't. Corner sinks SUCK.)(Only an idiot man who doens't cook would put a dishwasher next to a corner sink. It imprisons you. don't ever accept this configuration. Not only that, he had the range right next to the corner sink -- no counter space between them) he warned D.: "you're back at square one!"  (to which I simpered inside... "Not square one! Anything but square one!")

Why? He wanted to scare her. Why? Because he wanted to give her a small kitchen that would be easy to install, and require the least amount of work on his part. That's what they do. They are awful, and most don't like Little Ladies coming along and ruining their pay day (MEEEEEEE!). But that's what I love to do.

And: he has terrible design sense. He wanted to minimize the kitchen to maximize the living space -- to the tune of about 5 square feet. To what end? A cramped, ugly, horrible and unusable kitchen that makes you resent every dollar of the 15K you gave him. You'll be cowering at the end of the 19 X 10 foot room, "exalting" in your 12 X 10 foot "living space," instead of truly using and enjoying every inch of the room, kitchen included. Would you really notice a difference between an 11 X 10 room and a 12 X 10 one? Not if I design it.

His design violated every precept of  good design as espoused here: no long, useful runs of counter; a Formica counter, god help me (they peel, burn, and get scratched. another false economy. Get stone or butcher block); wee, cramped  everything. Upper cabinets everywhere, just stuck to the wall like buck teeth -- an eye sore and expensive to boot.

He actually said this to me: "Your design is nice but it's a lot more work for me."

Ummmm, yes. And he thereby showed his hand to my client: he wanted to do this fast and cheap. He's not interested in the finished product.

Here are true facts about kitchens, large or small: the more time you spend upfront sourcing great stuff, thinking hard about the design, planning, mocking it up, the better and cheaper your kitchen will be.

Another true fact: a small cheap kitchen is a false economy. Make it a little bigger if you can, and make it gorgeous and functional, and take your time with it. That doesn't mean it will be more expensive, necessarily, but more thoughtful. Shop for sales, get your stuff delivered to the site before they start construction. comparison shop. Buy good quality salvaged cabinets and design a kitchen that fits and works around them. Spend money on the appliances you want and that will make cooking a pleasure. Do it all in advance, and then build your kitchen.

The most fun part was right at the end when I said, "go ahead and send me your detailed budget, and I'll play around with this, see if I can save some money on sourcing." He said no, he'd just estimate the cost of my design (yeah, right: that's going to be accurate and fair!). I said, "no, I'll just start with your design and estimate and tweak around the edges."

And then he bolted -- he had a lot of work to do to justify the $15K price tag that he made up.
(And: $15K is a fine price for a new kitchen -- low even. But don't ever let them get away without costing out everything. You are going to be the one covering the difference when the bill has to get paid, not them.)

I don't think we'll be working with him He now has an interest in this failing. I want someone who looks at her situation (divorcing, living in an actual war zone, and tight on money) and thinks: I can make her life better. This ain't him. Pictures of the space and detailed drawings to come. Really looking forward to getting to do a kitchen as I wish! I get to be in charge!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How Not To be Hungry When Poor

Here's one way.  At $1.34 a pound for organic sweet potatoes in Park Slope -- probably the most expensive you're gonna find -- you get a belly full and one of nature's super foods. With potatoes in particular, because they sit in the soil and absorb what's there, chemical or otherwise -- organic is important.

Wash your sweet potatoe. Prick it with a fork a few times. Pour a little olive oil in your hand and rub it all over the potato. Put it in an oven at about 375. Bake it till its done  -- maybe  30 minutes? The skin will be crispy. If you don't prick it it's gonna burst it's sugary insides all over, so do as I say.

Split it open while it's warm, put in a nugget of butter, then shake some Penzey's chipotle powder over the opening and a little bit of kosher salt.

Eat it hot. The sweetness of the potato, the spice of the chiptole, the saltiness of the salt and the unctuous butter... this is a good meal, and costs less than $2.

If you have some arugula, make a quick salad out of it. A more satisfying meal you are unlikely to find (and relatively low calorie too -- if you're trying to lose weight, swap this out for one or two dinners a week and see what happens.

You can eat more expensively but not more deliciously. You know I'm poor-ish now, right? That's how I came to understand the power of the sweet potato.

(Roast other sweet potatoes while you are at it in the same oven. A day later scoop out and mash the insides of another roasted sweet potato and heat up a can of drained, rinsed black beans  spiced up with some of that chipotle powder and some smoky cumin and salt. Spread the potato and black beans in a corn tortilla that you've heated in a cast iron skillet or toasted in your  gas flame. Top with a little cheese -- Monterrey Jack, cheddar, queso blanco -- fold it over and turn into an enchilada (scroll back. you'll find "my" enchilada sauce). Cilantro on top and sour cream... yes.

The next day fill the skins with a little cheese and toast them under the broiler for a healthy-ish snack. (Cheese is healthy, if calcium is your goal). (And it should be, ladies).

Anyway, the point is: sweet potatoes. Good with something spicy to cut the extreme sweetness.

(You can also make sweet potato pancakes with leftovers). (and biscuits). (and sweet potato and green apple soup with curry). (and pie)

you're welcome.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How to raise your children

Despite my generous hips, ample breasts, and glossy hair -- traditional indications of fertility -- motherhood has eluded me (or rather, I have eluded motherhood). Never wanted babies, never got 'em. Perfect!

I am, however, weirdly obsessed with child rearing, and I have many friends with children, and I am a keen observer of humanity. Therefore, I will tell you the one universal secret to raising children and remaining sane at the same time.

Among my friends who have both kids and happy marriages, there is almost a unanimous embrace of one single practice: enforcing an early bedtime.  7 pm works for many years, and means parents can have dinner together - a real dinner, with yucky things kids don't like -- watch adult tv, or shake up a cocktail and chat, happily and unbothered, for three or four hours a night. This is necessary to prevent homicidal mania brought on  by children and maintain a happy union.

The problem with this, of course, is the fact that many parents work late and putting their kids to bed at 7 would mean they would never see them. I personally don't see that as a problem, but I can understand the reluctance.

However, among my friends who keep kids to this schedule, their general tranquility from having quiet evenings to handle household chores in peace, have a relationship, and still get a good night's sleep -- along with the fact that the kids are well rested -- seems to compensate. You can see the little moppets on the weekend all you want. And the kids do well on a strict routine and lots of sleep.

If you need help GETTING them on a sleeping routine, watch super nanny. It's a central feature of every show.

I have spoken.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Good lord. These might be the most beautiful wedding cakes I have ever seen.

In the course of doing research (for work! for work!) I came across this Virginia wedding cake... artist? genius? No surprise that she was a ballerina when you see these things... like Balanchine in cake form. Lovely!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

How to Pack a Proper Picnic

This strange picture brought to you courtesy of the Malvern Theater Players

First, read the passage from Wind in the Willows, where Ratty tells Mole what's inside the basket he's brought. It's awesome and will inspire you.

"‘Shove that under your feet,’ he observed to the Mole, as he passed it down into the boat. Then he untied the painter and took the sculls again.

‘What’s inside it?’ asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity.‘There’s cold chicken inside it,’ replied
the Rat briefly;
‘O stop, stop,’ cried Mole in ecstasies: ‘This is too much!’

‘Do you really think so?’ inquired the Rat seriously ‘It’s only what I always take on these little excursions; and the other animals are always telling me that I’m a mean beast and cut in very fine!’"

So the first rule of picnics is dictated by Rat: excess.
The second rule: try to avoid using mayonnaise. That requires all kind of coolers and the like, and warm mayo besides being a vector is also just bleck.

Approach your picnic thusly:
-You don't want to be cutting. So everything either needs to be able to be picked up with the fingers or already in bite-sized pieces.
-You need more of everything than you think you do -- both in amounts and variety.
-Think in terms of courses, but presume everything is going to be laid out at once. Picnics are free-form eating.
-Have more picnic blankets than you think you need. The food takes up a lot of room. Collect real linen table cloths from thrift stores; stains don't matter. It's going to be covered in grass and red wine soon enough. Linen feels great on bare legs, has heft, lasts a long time, and will make you fabulous just by being associated with it.
Have multiple picnic baskets and hampers. This is not the time for you to whip out your plastic tubs or horrible promotional Bud Light coolers. Picnics are rare and should be approached with an attitude of awesomeness. Also, go to Ikea or similar and get yourself 100 percent cotton big napkins. They are good for covering laps, absorbing messes, and are reusable.

Like most things great, picnics take some aforethought. The more time you invest upfront, the more wonderful it will be when, like Ratty, you get to announce the contents of your hampers.

OK: pack some version of this:
-Great olives (with pits included), that you have removed from the brine in which they came, rinsed under cool water, put back in the container and doused with good olive oil, a shower of lemon zest, a few hot red chili flakes and a sprig of whatever fresh herb you can imagine.
-Cheese: I always have soft, pungent Stilton and Carrs wheat crackers, which are sweetish and crumbly. The two together cannot be beat. Throw in some Parana (a mix of parmesan and gouda that people will devour). An aged Gruyere and a cheese planer. Have a small wooden board for cutting and serving.
-Dried apricots and walnut halves. Nice with the cheese.
- Charcuterie: You need something spicy -- a chorizo cantimpalo, a good sliced salami. Prosciutto will melt into itself. Avoid that.
- Bread: Dazzle them with some flavored breads -- a raisin walnut boule, a cheese/sour dough boule. Go beyond the baguette.
- Spreads: No one turns down hummus and baby carrots. If you are in DC and can get your hands on Cava's line of spreads, the crazy feta is wonderful. Bring pre-cut celery stalks (you cut them not the store. those are all dried out) and a knife to spread it in there.
- Grapes: black oblong grapes are best., if you can find them. Then red seedless. In both cases, wash them and cut them into little clusters so people aren;'t tearing off grapes like savages. Everyone gets their own cluster (or 4). These are refreshing and good to nibble on throughout the day.

The main course (choose one)
-Homemade fried chicken. It's a ridiculous mess and amount of work, but worth doing once. You'll be heralded forever. It should involve buttermilk and cayenne pepper, and happy albeit dead chickens.
- Or boneless or bone in chicken breasts cooked the night before. Use a recipe that you like, and plan on serving them cold. Roasted chicken breast on the bone with tarragon is wonderful. Boneless breasts cooked -- not overcooked -- and sauces with a honey/cider vinegar glaze and fresh herbs is good.
-or chicken thighs cooked in a soy/brown sugar sauce of some sort and served brown and caramelized.
-Some wonderful sandwiches (if you do sandwiches, minimize the amount of bread and cheese served above):
-good roast beef, caramelized onions and blue cheese with fresh spinach in a hollowed out crusty loaf (baguette is ok) that you compress a bit, then slice and wrap . Use wax or butcher paper, and if you're feeling super committed and ridiculous, jute twine or string.
-sliced chicken, roasted red peppers, honey mustard, arugula
- My one mayo exception: cubes of good quality smoked turkey, cold cooked wild rice, fresh dill, red seedless grapes cut in half, toasted almond slivers, and a touch of mayo. Totally delicious on bread or eaten out of chinese food containers.

-- Cut the sandwiches into extra pieces so people can sample --

The sides:
Potato salad: make it german or italian style -- no mayo. Boil and slice your potatoes (yukon gold hold their shape well) and toss them while warm with olive oil, a little vinegar, warm, just fried crumbled bacon, fresh herbs, salt , pepper, and lots of sliced scallions. Let them sit. Bring a little bit more lemon juice and olive oil dressing.

or sesame noodles (follow a recipe you like. It should involve slivered raw red pepper, cilantro, cucumber cubes or spears). I'd err on the side of sesame oil over peanut butter in the sauce, but either works. Don't oversauce it, but make sure to bring extra sauce and retoss before serving, because the noodles can absorb a lot. Bring chop sticks for this.

Deviled eggs? Why not. Modernize them with lots of fresh herbs in the yolk mix, no chopped pickles or relish (I hate that) and a drizzle of a fresh herbed olive oil over the top.

A cucumber salad -- with or without tomatoes, but always a little purple onion and loads of fresh dill.

Grilled or roasted asparagus with orange zest over the top.

Homemade refrigerator pickles. Do green beans, carrots with little stems on them, little cucumbers. Make them a little spicy. Serve in a gorgeous mason jar. This takes a little planning but its worth it.

No salad. Gets wilted. The only tomatoes you should have should be in season, ripe and whole, ready to be sliced. Don't put tomatoes on the sandwiches. They will make everything soggy and horrible.

Dessert: At least 3 different ones. One must involve chocolate.
Brownies, of course
Homemade cookies (I like salty oatmeal and cranberry cookies)
Hand pies (individual fruit pies you make like turnovers. Each are good, or cherry or rhubarb).
Good quality dark chocolate.
A whole or half watermelon and a knife to slice it.
Pound cake and clean strawberries with the stems still attached (bring some sour cream and brown sugar if you really want to do the strawberries right. Dip them in sour cream, then sugar, then bite. Yerm)
Don't do cupcakes. Blasphemy! I know. But you want everyone sharing in this meal, so it's much better instead to bust out a giant homemade layer cake covered in coconut and filled with lemon curd or nutella or whatever. This is a community event, and you don't want everyone carefully and selfishly nibbling away. and cupcakes take up MUCH more room.

as you wish. Bring water with cucumber or lemon or lime slices already in it. You can pack it in bottles, then freeze them, and use them to keep everything else chilled.
wine can be tricky because it should be kept pretty well chilled, and then there is the opening etc. If the weather is cool bring a small flask of whiskey or rum and a thermos of strong hot hot hot coffee. Drop a piece of chocolate in the coffee and give it a splash of whiskey.

Pack in the reverse order in which you will serve so when you unpack in front of wondering eyes, they will enjoy it like a great concert. ("please sing If I had a Boat! Please Sing If I Had A Boat!" and then he does. Build anticipation!)

Bring salt and pepper and additional dressings as necessary. To make life REALLY easy and your bags lighter, ask your guests to bring their own cutlery, plates, and cups. Then you just pack up your empty containers and toss the rest. (Someone will forget, so bring a few extra forks).

You're welcome. (Invite me).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How to Make Enchilada Sauce

Rick (above), chipotles, guajillo, and arbole chilis, in that order. *

After tacos (any kind, with a special place in my heart for Jack in the Box tacos. Really), my very favorite thing to eat is enchiladas. I love the nuttiness of the limp corn tortilla, the meaty-cheesy insides, and the tangy, spicy sauce. There are all kinds of sauce, but the one most people refer to as enchilada sauce is red.

Now, if you buy enchilada sauce in the store you're getting about 4 oz, if you are lucky, and you'll need to buy multiple cans. This adds up and becomes a reason NOT to make enchiladas.

But they are so delicious. And such a great way to use your leftovers or to sneak greens into your diet.

So here's how to make red enchilada sauce. It couldn't be easier -- and most everything in it resides (or should reside? or can reside?) in your pantry. I learned this from two sources actually -- first, from a roommate who took a cooking class in Oaxaca, and then fleshed out with info from Rick Bayless, the genius of all things mexican cooking-like.

You'll need a mix of dried whole chili peppers (guajillo, chiptole, arbole, poblana... the list is endless. They usually come in cellophane bags and have lots of spanish printed on them.)

Put those in your pantry. You'll need about 5 large pods and a few small ones (or siz large or whatever. This is a forgiving recipe. Don't stress. You can use all the same kinds of chilis but I think its fun to mix, and probably tastes better.

Then get (or make) some good chicken broth. I like the organic kind, just because.

A couple of whole unpeeled garlic cloves, and a slice of onion about an inch thick. Can be a large or medium onion. Doesn't matter, really.

Now, in a cast iron pan (you don't have cast iron? get one. Best for cooking nearly everything, and I will explain how you care for it in a future post. It's easy and NOT horrible the way people make you think it is. You know who those people are? People trying to sell you Teflon, which will

give you Alzheimers or something.)

Ahem: heat your cast iron pan and throw in the dried chilis, the whole unpeeled cloves, and the onion slice. You're gonna let the garlic and onion char a bit. The chilis need just a minute or so per side to toast and soften a little. Don't let them get too black. Bascially when you can smell them either flip them over or take them off.

Now put them in a Pyrex cup in 2 cups of water, pop it in the microwave and get the whole mess hot -- 2 minutes will do it (or pour boiling water over the chilis into the cup. Your choice.)

Let the chilis sit for at least 20 minutes. Longer is OK.

Meanwhile, your garlic is charring in its skin. When it has scorch marks on all sides, and the onion is browned with some charring, take them out of the pan, turn the pan off, peel the garlic, remove any remaing skin from the onion, and pop them in a blender.

When 20 minutes is up, pull the stems off your chilis and put the whole chilis in the blender. Add about a teaspoon of powdered cumin. Pour in about a cup of chicken broth, and buzz the whole mess together. Taste it. Add salt as needed or more cumin. A teaspoon of lime juice could work or a little cider vinegar. Thin as needed with chicken broth, up to 2 cups. If you want to add a little of the soaking liquid, go ahead.

Et voila. Enchilada sauce. If you want something a little less spicy, you can add a carton (don't use the cans or you'll get Alzheimers or something) of chopped tomatoes... add just 1/2 cup to start, buzz it, taste, add more if you want.

Yesterday I used this (without tomatoes) on enchiladas made with mashed potatoes and sauteed greens and sharp cheddar. I topped it with a little sour cream to ease the spice of the sauce. Dairy is the only thing that will diminish too spicy chilis, FYI. If you ever eat a really hot chili and need to cool your mouth down, DON'T DRINK WATER. it makes it worse. Milk or cream or a spoonful of sour cream is your best bet.

* Pronouciation Guide: I took spanish for 6 years so I can help!

  • Rick (rick. not "Reeeek" like Shanon Doherty called Dean Cain on 90210 when she was pretending to be French and kelly and Dylan were back home knocking boots.)

  • Chipotle (chee-poe' -tlay)

  • Guajillo (gway - hee' - low)

  • Arbole (ar'-bo-lay) (In spanish the accent is usually on the middle syllable, but in the case of arbole for some reason I think it's on the first)

Saturday, March 31, 2012

How to Get Your Shizz Done*

What I mean by this is how to get the stuff done that you need to get done without being overwhelmed by all the things you need to get done. I'm limiting this to day to day work stuff or house stuff -- not curing cancer or becoming a millionaire. (If I could do either, I wouldn't be here and nor would you.)

I've learned a few things and I keep a lot of balls in the air, professionally, and this is how I do it.

1. Get a blank notebook. The notebook is critical. It must be a sketchbook with no lines on the pages, and it must be hardbound -- no spiral. Nothing that will allow pages to be easily ripped out. And it needs to be big -- too big to haul around. It needs to live in one place and serve only one purpose: to handle your shizz. I like this one, size 11x14" -- about $14.
I'm not kidding. No ripped out pages, too big and heavy to carry around.

The blank pages are also critical. Lines box you in, make you feel like you have to follow rules, that things need to be in order. That just heaps one more problem onto your plate. So no lines. This is going to be free form shizz handling, and it is gonig to be organized the way your brain processes information.

2. Get a good pen, one you like to use.

3. These 2 things will never leave your desk or wherever it is you work.

4. Keep a small notebook and another pen by your bedside. That's for writing down those things that wake you up in the middle of the night.

5. In the morning when you sit at your desk and open your email or go through your voice mail or whatever it is that kicks off your day, open yoour notebook to its 2nd pristine page (you want 2 facing pages open to one another. Make sense?) . With your excellent new pen, make a list as you scroll through your work -- a list of things you have to do, or buy, or figure out. If it makes life easier, make 3 loose columns (or however many) on your page -- 1 list of emails or calls to return, 1 list of questions you need to get answered, 1 list of projects you have to complete. Whatever works.

6. Now, start plowing through your list, top to bottom. Do them in the order you wrote them. When you've done something, cross it off. This is the best part. If it needs following up, write down what you need to do at the bottom of the list.

The genius of this is the following: you focus on one thing till it is done or has reached a logical stopping point, but all the other stuff -- the new calls that come in, the new emails, they get written in on the bottom of the list. If something urgent pops up, write it down. Do that project. Then go back to the list.

If your phone rings and you have to take notes, take them right on that facing page. Write down the phone number you need. If you need to buy groceries for dinner, make a little box somewhere on the page and write in what you need to remember to get. Anything from this day goes on those two pages.

7. Remember, there is brilliance in the phrase: do it now. Your boss wants you to write a letter? Generate a list of contacts? Do it now. Then go back to your list.

8. At the end of the workday, and/or where everything requring urgent action is done, turn the page. There will be things left undone on your previous day's list. There will be phone numbers scrawled, maybe some doodles. That's ok for now. Leave the page clean.

9. Tomorrow morning, when you sit at your desk, turn back to the list from the day before. The items that don't have lines through them? Decide if they really need doing. If they do, put them on today's list to start it out. Then continue to populate the list as you go through your day, making sure to cross out the items as you finish them -- that's the fun part.

10. Don't forget to consult your bedside list. Something woke you up? Make sure that gets taken care of the next day, first thing.

Remember: the book never leaves your desk. You'll need a phone number, or some note you jotted, at some point in the future. And it will be there. Any thoughts you have, bits of brilliance, all there.

If you HAVE to go over 2 pages, go over by 2 pages -- start every day with a fresh sheet. This works.

This is a recent one day in my notebook. It looks exactly like my brain.

I should add that I am a lefty and by nature a visual organizer. If something is in a file somewhere, I can't find it and I never remember that it even exists. It also means that my brain makes visual memories. I can remember that a scrap of information that I need or a quote i am looking for is on the left hand side of a page, or written in green ink, or whatever. Then it's just a question of going through the notebook and matching up my visual memory to what's in front of me to find what I need. I suspect other peoples' brains work differently. This free-form shizz handling style will evolve to reflect exactly the way you think, if you let it. I think that is why I resist things like Franklin Covey or those Day Runners or even Microsoft Outlooks attempts to organize my day (or suggestions to have one section of your noteb ook for house, one for work, one for phone numbers etc. I forget that it is there if it is not right in front of me.)

This system doesn't require any discipline at all, really -- because there are no lines to fill, no boxes to check, no categories to adhere to that do not make complete sense to you (and possibly you alone).

You're welcome.

*except laundry. I still won't do my laundry. My friend Truly recently read a book about will power, and the central thought she took away is that we have a set amount of will power to apply to our lives, so if you spread it to o thin you wont get anythign done. ie, if you are trying to lose weight, and do laundry, and get your life organizede, something is gonna fall by the wayside. Laundry is my wayside. If I won the megamillions (if you havent heard, I did not) I'd hire a laundress or launderer straight away. That's the only personal staff I'd need beside a house cleaner every couple of weeks. I'd be a very down to earth megamillionaire.

Monday, March 12, 2012


I just started doing food tours on the weekend ( which is really fun and convenient and puts a nice bit of cash in my pocket (so far people are tipping brilliantly!). It's all in my neighborhood (we are never more than 3 blocks from my house) and I get to talk about the Dinner Table Agreement, the East India Company, The Swamp Fox, Ghosts, The Race Riot of 1835, What Freed Blacks Had to do AND PAY to stay in DC pre Civil War (it SUCKED), The Battle of Bladensburg, DC easement rules, and dog parks. And the Marine Corps. And John Phillips Sousa. Oooh and the Lincoln Assassination, and the death rates in post Civil War alley dwellings (VERY HIGH).

So it's a good time.

Anyway, to shill for even MORE tips I am handing out my own personal guide to DC. I thought I'd share it here. You can tip me on paypal.

Seriously: if you are a reader and are coming to DC, let me know and I will tell you exactly what to do and see and eat.

Jimmy T's -- a 40 year old Capitol Hill institution. Cindy mans the grill; her husband John serves from behind the counter. Don't expect fast service, necessarily, but the food is great, the place is packed to the gills with locals (including Spike from Top Chef, Capitol Hill policemen, the architect of the Capitol, members of Congress, administration officials and journalists.) Tell them Pam sent you and it might mean you get your coffee faster. Fantastic waffles. Closed Mondays. Open really early for breakfast. Cheap

Market Grill: World famous blueberry buckwheat pancakes (saturdays only), homemade bread for ham-egg-and -cheese sandwiches (if you want potatoes on them order The Brick). Awesome fried oysters in season and great crab cakes. The line is long on Saturday mornings so either be there before 8:30 am or come on a Tuesday - Friday. Cheap. Inside Eastern Market. Not open on Mondays.

Oyamel: Would be my last meal on this earth if I could. Gourmet Mexican small plates, tableside guacamole, excellent margaritas from a James Beard award winning chef, Jose Andres (you can see his show, Made in Spain, on PBS). Penn Quarter. Make reservations. Mid-range ($30 a head without drinks)

Little Serow: is hot on the heels of Oyamel for my heart. Spicy, incredible, fresh wonderful northern Thai food made by Johnny Monis, one of the top chefs in the world (he’s the owner of Komi). Dupont Circle. This place is POPULAR. Get there early (5 pm) or late(9 pm) or prepare to wait. No reservations; given them your phone number and they will text you when your table is ready. Go get a drink at the Fox and Hound next door. Prix Fixe -- $45 for 5 courses.

For great relatively cheap tacos on the Senate side, zip over to Taqueria Nacional, next to Johnny’s Half Shell. (right near C-Span’s offices. So you may see politicos and journalists coming in and out. If you see Brian Lamb, tell him Pam (Meg’s friend) said hey. (Really. He knows me.)

For strange but good make a rezzie at Thai Xing. 5th and Florida NW. It's in a townhouse. Prix Fixe. Call a week in advance.

1789: A gorgeous historic restaurant in Georgetown that uses local farmers. Uber romantic.

Tabard Inn: 17th and N -- tucked away behind Dupont Circle. Wonderful food, quaint place. Fireplace in the winter, patio in good weather, cinnamon donuts on Sunday. Make a reservation.

Go to Ris at 23 and L for butterscotch pudding and anything else on the menu, but don’t miss the butterscotch pudding.

Check out where DC’s food trucks are on Subscribe to the Twitter feed and you will know where they are at all times. My favorite is Red Hook lobster rolls. Seoul Food DC is also fabulous.

Cupcakes: My money...Best in the city is at Sweet Lobby, a tiny shop on 8th Street SE near my house (yay), also amazing macarons. Georgetown Cupcake is good but the line goes out the door at all hours... the power of TV *(the liens were there before TV, truthfully, but not alwaysl ike now).

OOH get a homemade Poptart at Ted's Bulletin on 8th Street. And get a happy hour cracked lobster at Senarts on 8th,. About $12. So good.

See a movie at E Street Theater (documentaries, foreign films, indepedent movies) or Uptown (first run movies on a big screen -- the way movies used to be).

Visit 14th above Mass Ave / U Street: hip clothing and antiques and furniture stores. Go to Ben’s Chili Bowl for a Half Smoke (Bill Cosby eats there for free, for life. The president has been there too. It’s an institution). Enoteca for wine and a bite. Cork for dinner. Cork Market for picnic supplies. Don't miss Good Wood on U Street for well curated and not outrageously priced antiques. Lots of wonderful places to eat all over. 9:30 club for a live show. Black Cat, too. The Source theater is also there.

Hire a pedicab to take you around to the monuments at night. Negotiate the price up front. There isn't really a set payment schedule.

Visit the National Building Museum -- incredible interior architecture, and a great museum store.

Visit the National Geographic Museum below Dupont Circle. It costs about $10, really cool exhibits.

Go to the Newseum. If you don’t feel like coughing up the $20 entry fee, at least peruse the newspapers out front. There are about 50, and they change daily. Compare front pages. Then go have mini dumplings at the Source around the corner, Wolfgang Puck’s outpost in DC.

Go to the Renwick -- the small American craft museum across from the White House. Never crowded, always wonderful.

Go to the National Portrait Gallery and visit the folk art exhibit -- truly wonderful.

Rent a canoe or paddleboard in Georgetown and take to the river!

Go the Georgetown Flea Market on Sunday. (across from the Safeway on Wisconsin)

On Thursday eve from April till November go to the farmers market on Vermont Ave near the White House. Mrs Obama sometimes pops out to the market. You never know.

Have a drink on the roof deck of the W at sundown (make a reservation)

Have a drink in the basement of the Hay Adams hotel across from the White House. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie go there whenever they are in town. So does Nelson Mandela, Tony Soprano (I’m sure he loves that I only know his character’s name). So do big time TV journalists. Be sure to complain about media bias! They love that, especially when they are drinking J

If the wind is blowing from the south or east, have a cab drop you off at Buzzard Point with a picnic and watch the planes land... they come in just over your head. It's less exciting when they are taking off to the north.

See an IMAX movie at either Air and Space or Natural History.

Catch a game at National Stadium ($10 seats are great, and you can hang out on the deck with a beer) and go to the Bull Pen (a beer garden during games) right after.

If soccer is more your thing, DC United plays at RFK. Try to sit near the Screaming Eagles.

Go to the Maine Ave seafood market for a weird cross section of both people and fish. Get some steamed crabs with extra old bay seasoning and ask a local how to eat them.

Pick up the free City Paper to see what free events are going on. It comes out on Thursdays.

Go to Mount Vernon in Alexandria. Great tour, cool visitor’s center.

Go to Old Town, Alexandria. Take the food tour there, or just go straight to Jackson 20 and order a Honeysuckle, then go to Restaurant Eve and prepare for the meal of your life. Reservations a must.

Heading into the countryside? Email me!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Let us speak of Kale

( curly kale. it also comes with flat leaves, which are a little easier to deal with.)

Kale, as you probably know, is a superfood. Packed with nutrients, bitter, and often hard to swallow. Don't get me wrong: i LOVE me some kale.

Here's how to deal with it. It makes a great last minute dinner. Kale seems to keep forever in the fridge. It takes a while to get all slimy.
First, gather some cured pork product, like a slice of bacon (if you are only cooking for one).
Now, peel a clove or two of garlic and slice it thinly.
Get out your olive oil and red pepper flakes. And coarse salt. If you have them, good dried tomatoes (they are NEVER sun dried; don't by the hype. they are dehydrated in some big old machine. Don't let them get away with pretending they were dried in the sun! ). Cut the tomatoes into a julienne -- thin strips, about match-sized. Do the same with your bacon.

Wash a bunch of kale, and tear the leaves from the stems, and into smallish pieces. You'll never regret a small piece of kale, but a big one, you just might. The stems can be kind of tough. Toss them or give them to the chickens you surely keep in your backyard after my industrial chicken screed.

You'll also need coarse sea salt. Devotees of How To Run Your Life* know already my love of coarse salt, especially when it comes to bitter veggies. Salt inhibits bitterness and it's crunchy too. So don't get all worked up about it. You are about to load on the antioxidants and can handle a little sodium.

While you're at it, get out the cider vinegar. Kale and cider vinegar: as Jamie Oliver would say, that's a cracker!
(If you want to stretch this dish, or serve it to someone who would blanch at a bowl of plain old kale, put a pot of salted water on to boil when the bacon goes in the pan. Prepare pasta the way you normally would.)

I like a cast iron pan for this. Fry up the bacon in its own fat. When it's crispy, scoop it out of the pan or move it off to the side, turn the heat to medium and toss in your sliced garlic and a 1/2 teaspoon or so of dried red pepper f lakes. Move the garlic around and let it get golden.

When the garlic is done, throw in the kale and drizzle it with a little olive oil and a healthy pinch of salt. Add the dried tomatoes, and add the bacon back to the pan. Stir the kale till it wilts and soaks up all the garlicky-bacony oil. Taste it -- if it's bitter it might need more salt.

When everything is done, remove it from the pan, toss it in a bowl (with or without your hot, cooked and drained pasta and a teaspoon or so of pasta water just to get things moving) and pour a teaspoon of cider vinegar more or less over the top. Toss it in the bowl. You can top with a shaving of parmesan cheese (real please. Go buy a Microplaner. You won't regret it).

This whole business takes no more than 20 minutes if you include the pasta, less if you don't. You'll be surprised at how wonderful it is and how saintly you'll feel eating your vegetables.
The hot peppers and sweet tomatoes and bitter greens and gentle sweet toasted garlic hit pretty much all the notes. This is an every week dish (for me its 2 or 3 nights, in various permutations).

If you really want to put on the dog, while the pasta is cooking and the kale sauteeing, you can cook up a great sausage or a chicken breast (or boneless thigh), slice into bite sized pieces and toss it all together.

You're welcome.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Sometimes Life finds you both alone and sick

That sucks. Especially SINGLE and alone and sick. Stomach sick. You know what I mean.

I have, in fact, given this very advice to another single, alone, and sick person I know and he reported back that it absolutely made his life better.

First: when you feel the flu coming on (I mean the barfing flu, which generally gives me a good 30 - 40 minutes notice. My whole body goes "uh oh!"), gather the following -- the idea is not to have to move unless absolutely necessary once the sickness settles in.

Ginger ale or coke (why not just keep a six-pack on hand? not cold so you won't be tempted to drink it. Just shove it under the sink or something):

A towel. Stomach flu is messy, You'll be glad they are close at hand.

A bucket. Nothing is worse than feeling feverish and hanging over a nasty toilet hoping you'll just vomit fast and get it over with. The bathroom floor is cold, the toilet stinks unless its JUSt been cleaned and then it smells like bleach. And the second next worst thing is running for the bathroom, hand over your mouth... I won't go on.

Add a thermometer, if like me you're kind of a hypochondriac and therefore take great pleasure in confirming you are sick with some triple digits; crackers but those probably aren't necessary; a bottle of water for rinsing your mouth out.

Here's what you do:

1. Put on your big girl pants. No one is going to take care of you but you. Gather your supplies. Keep them all withing less than arms reach. Lay in bed, wanly.
2. Everything in place, you may indulge in a little self-pity.
3. When you start to feel bad, either sit up and put the towel under your chin, or get out of bed and kneel on the rug with the bucket in front of you. Let it rip.
4. Rinse your mouth with water, spit it in the bucket. In a minute you'll feel better -- almost super human by comparison to when you were puking. Sit with your eyes closed, panting. Use the towel as necessary.
5. Gather your strength -- you have a window where you will feel pretty good. Go to the bathroom and dump your bucket in the toilet. Rinse it in the sink, spilling the contents in the toilet. Flush. Brush your teeth. Swish some mouth wash if you've got it -- stomach acid is brutal on your teeth (I grew up next door to an anorexic who lost all her teeth from vomiting so much, so I'm kind of a stickler on the mouth wash).
6. Your bucket should be pretty clean by now, and you exhausted. Get back into bed, drink a few mouthfuls of ginger ale -- it will help your stomach and give you some liquid and calories, which you need to replace at least a little of what you've just dumped out.
7. Repeat as necessary.

Skip the bucket-empyting step, ever. I promise you the bucket will spill, and if it doesn't spill it will at least stink to high heaven, and that won't do. You're sick, not an animal. You need it to be warm and clean and comfortable. It will take a little doing to get out of bed each time, but you're worth it.

By the time you stop throwing up, you won't have a mess to clean up.

So: let's right now ut together a stomach flu kit: Fun!@ Get yourself a pretty bucket and a matching towel or two, a six-pack of soda, a large bottle of water, and a new electronic thermometer. Maybe a small bottle of advil? Roll the towels up inside, put in the sodas, and pop that whole thing in a closet somewhere. When you are prostrate in front of the toilet, naseated as much from the smell and position as the flu, sweating and freezing... you'll wish you did.

You're welcome.