Thursday, March 31, 2011

This Saturday: Bake Sale for Japan

National Bake Sale for Japan photo

The DC area is participating in the Bake Sale for Japan national campaign.  This wonderful event pairs amateur and professional bakers in a grassroots effort taking place at locations throughout the U.S.  All proceeds will benefit Peace Winds Japan and go towards providing on-the-ground assistance including medical and sanitary supplies, blankets, clothing, and long-term reconstruction. 
DC-area favorites Dangerously Delicious Pies, Red Velvet, Cake Love, Sprinkles, and Cupcake Buggy will be donating sweet treats to the bake sale.  In addition, local bakers will be generously donating cakes, pies, cookies and assorted treats to the collective effort. 

When:   Saturday, April 2, 2010 from 10 am-2 pm
Where:  Busboys & Poets patio, 1025 5th St NW (near K St)
             Metro Stations:  Mount Vernon Square and Chinatown-Gallery Place

For more information, please visit and for questions:

Hopefully the weather will be a little warmer. I'll be there folding origami cranes as part of the 1,000 cranes project.  According to a Japanese legend, the person who folds 1,000 paper cranes pleases the gods and the folder's wish is granted.  This quest became famous when Sadako, a young girl from Hiroshima who survived the dropping of the atomic bomb and was later diagnosed with leukemia, attempted to fold 1,000 origami cranes with the wish to get well. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Eating in Asheville, NC

This weekend we packed our bags and drove down to Asheville, NC.  It's a good thing my boyfriend loves road trips, because my seasonal allergies and allergy medicine left me about as responsive as a sloth on the drive down.  We chose the mountain drive, heading first towards Shenandoah and then south until we crossed through Tennessee before reaching North Carolina.  We saw miles of farmland, cows, horses and mountains.  It was super peaceful and scenic.
Asheville's a beautiful and interesting area.  Nestled in the mountains, there's a strong arts community located in the area. You get the feeling that people interested in getting back to nature would find their niche easily here.  My boyfriend had described it as having an "aging hippie" vibe, which I could see, but it's developing into much more than that, partially due to recognitions from Frommer's, AARP and Self magazine that the area is one of the best places to "reinvent your life" and "Happiest City for Women".  I had done some cursory research on the food scene and discovered the area was known for locally-sourced, vegetarian-friendly New South cooking. 
I love Southern cooking, but have always wished for more delicious meatless options.  Asheville is an amazing food-lover's destination, with a little bit for everyone.  We started off with dinner at Tupelo Honey Cafe on a cold and rainy night.  It's not a large restaurant, but they did have a little waiting area in the back, which I felt was a nice touch.  The menu was a list of so many wonderful options, it was truly difficult to decide what to try.  My boyfriend sagely suggested I order things that would be difficult to find back home.  He's a wise man.
 Biscuits with tupelo honey and house-made blackberry preserves.  Swoon.
My friend V said that tupelo honey was pretty special, and she's right.  It's produced from White Ogeechee Tupelo and has a distinctive flavor.
 Honey-Chipotle wings with bleu cheese dressing $8.50. 
 Fried Green Tomatoes with goat-cheese grits $6.95. 
The crunch of the cornmeal was fantastic.
 Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with chorizo, goat cheese grits, salsa verde pinto beans $19.95.
Smokey flavors, with the pork cooked medium, and intense chorizo sausage. 
 Shrimp and Grits with a spicy red pepper sauce $15.45. 
Luscious grits, the sauce had a nice spice, and the flavors were nicely melded together.
We love breakfast and brunch.  Next up was Early Girl Eatery. The cafe is located close to Tupelo Honey on Wall Street, a narrow road that reminded us of Diagon Alley from Harry Potter books.  The area is super quaint, and ridiculously hard to find parking.  We circled and circled, until we found a spot over on Battery Lane.  There was a 30 minute wait when we arrived, so we went for a walk around the neighborhood.  It's definitely worth the wait.
 Early Girl Benny $7.95.
Grit cakes topped with spinach, poached eggs, tomato gravy and avocado and choice of bread.  A little honey and preserves would have made the biscuit spectacular, but the butter was nice.  The tomato gravy had a lovely smokiness to it, and this was one of the best versions of an eggs benedict I've ever tried.
 Porky Breakfast Bowl $8.25.
Homefries, bbq pork, scrambled eggs, and farmstead cheese with an herb gravy.  This was excellent with layers of flavor.  My boyfriend felt that the addition of the tomato gravy would have made this even better. 
Rounding out our eating adventure, my boyfriend saw the nearby cafe on College Street had beignets.  Mayfel's has a funky vibe to it, and definitely worth a proper stop the next time we visit Asheville.  They were super sweet to let me place a takeout order for beignets and coffee for our roadtrip home.
$5 for 8 powder-covered beignets.

Cooking at Home

March has been a busy month for us.  We've been settling into our new place, and figuring out some of the quirks.  I'm slowly learning that opening a hot oven will set off the two fire alarms without reason.  Fun times. I am enjoying experimenting at home, and try to have something ready for him to eat the nights he has to work late.
Oven-roasted pork belly and kimchi bundles with Japanese-style potato salad and a tortellini-vegetable salad.  My Japanese potato salad included chopped egg, onion, carrots, apple and a slightly sweeter Japanese mayonnaise. 
 We like Korean soups and stews a lot. This creation blended soon dubu and kimchee chige.  I made a dashi with katsubushi flakes and konbu (dried bonito fish flakes and seaweed), added some leftover fresh kimchi, tofu, rayu-spiced green beans, cabbage, onion, carrots, leftover sesame-crusted tuna and Korean chili powder.
Today's Bento.  Mapo Nasu with rice and pickled ginger.  Cook-Do is a brand of sauces by Ajinomoto  that I used to buy when I lived in Japan.  You can find some at area Asian markets like Super H Mart. We recently received the sauce with some Japanese staples from a coworker who returned to live in Japan.  I added some fresh vegetables, mixed in the Cook-Do sauce packet, and cooked some rice.  It's a pretty fast and versatile meal, although a bit high sodium content-wise.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Metro 29 Diner

I love diners, greasy spoons, pretty much any place that serves copious amounts of coffee and massive platters of food.  This area really lacks the quality 24-hour Greek diners that I remember fondly from growing up in upstate NY.  One issue we're running into is the lack of late-night dining in the Old Town Alexandria area.  If it's after 10 pm, we've got slim pickings nearby.  After a marathon Ikea assembly session, it was 1 am and we were hungry.  Into the car we piled and off we went to Metro 29 Diner, which stays open until 3 am on the weekends.  
 My boyfriend loves breakfast.  He ordered silver dollar pancakes, hashbrowns and 2 eggs sunnyside up.  These were definitely not his favorite pancakes, and he probably would have been happier if they had grits.
My guilty pleasure, besides cheeseburgers, is a well-made reuben sandwich.  There's something magical about sauerkraut, melted swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye bread.  This one was massive in size, but with the sauce was the side it didn't create the unctuous bite I was craving.  It was good, but there are better reubens out there.  The onion rings were exactly what I was looking for. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cooking at Home

I love shopping at Super H Mart in Fairfax, especially when they have different samples to taste at stations around the store.  Today we tried a lovely soft tofu and a fresh fish fillet called "Basa" that we liked enough to buy.  With a careful eye on what looks fresh and well-priced, it's easy to restock Japanese pantry staples and pick up groceries for the week at reasonable prices.
 I like to use this bento box set for more leisurely-paced dinners.
Miso soup with carrots, soft tofu, scallions and wakame.  Broccoli and mushrooms; homemade umeboshi from relatives in Japan; snowpeas; tamagoyaki and pan-seared basa fillet; rice with lumpfish roe and shiso furikake.

Pho Hot in Annandale

We've had an extraordinarily busy weekend, between volunteer events, Ikea field trip and ensuing assembly projects, and setting up our new apartment.  Today we tackled dropping off donations at Goodwill, excursions to Micro Center and Home Depot, grocery shopping at Super H Mart, living room organization and laundry.  With all these activities ahead of us, we started off the day with pho at a spot my boyfriend found a few weeks ago.
 I do like that the menu includes bun and other items like summer rolls and spring rolls.  We went with the lighter summer rolls instead of the deep-fried spring rolls.  They were standard.
I chose a regular #5.  The broth was light and had a slight cinnamon essence.  At $7.50 for a regular and $9 for a large, the bowls were more expensive than what you'll find at Pho 75.  I felt like we were paying more per bowl for the decor than the more utilitarian but ultimately tastier Pho 75 bowls.

Dukem Ethiopian on U Street

Around once a month I organize volunteer events for one of my alumni organizations.  This month we went to St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Columbia Heights to help with the Loaves and Fishes program.  Eight churches in the region share responsibility for cooking and serving lunch on Saturdays and Sundays every month.  Third Saturdays belong to St. Columba from Tenleytown, which has volunteered with Loaves and Fishes for the past 30 years.  We helped plate and serve meatloaf with mashed potatoes, vegetable, bread, brownies, fruit and peanut butter sandwiches.  It's a great program and I look forward to heading back in the summertime.  Afterwards, a few of us went to share lunch at Dukem, an Ethiopian restaurant near 12th and U Street.
 Lentil sambusa ($2.50).
Crunchy phyllo-esque wrapper with a spicy lentil mixture wrapped inside.
14 Vegetable Combination Platter with tibs.  I particularly liked the cabbage, collard greens, yellow lentils, fresh tomato and jalapeno salad, and spicy green beans.
We had a fried croaker as well.  Delicious.
With a group of 4, our meal was incredibly filling and relatively healthy (ok minus the beers), for only $22 per person.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cava Barracks Row

We're settling in to our new apartment.  What a difference a few hundred feet makes!  One of the nicest perks is access to the renovated fitness center with a climate-controlled cardio machine room. The dangererous thing about our new gym is the tv attached to each machine.  While I was trotting along to an episode of HGTV's House Hunters, my boyfriend was watching Food Network's special on Greek food.  With the memory of whole roasted fish in his head, he was on a mission to find a place to try it.  After thinking about possible places, we had an impromptu dinner at Cava.  Without a reservation we had a short wait for a table, so we started off with some taramosalata ($5.95) and pinot grigio at the bar.  The pita is not made in house, so it's just ok, but the whipped roe dip was fluffy and delicious.
 We decided to try some new dishes, and went with the waiter's recommendation of grilled lamb chops $14.95.  They're served on a bed of french fries with lemon and fresh parsley.  The lamb was juicy and tender.
 Whole roasted fish.  Mkt. price $32.95.  This was a 1.5 lb. bronzino with parsley, lemon juice and olive oil.  Very simple preparation, and really enjoyable. 
Grilled Asparagus with lemon vinaigrette and feta cheese ($7.95).

Monday, March 14, 2011

Masala Dosa and Kingfisher Party

A former MBA classmate and fellow food-loving friend hosted a really fun evening with Bollywood, Kingfisher beer and delicious vegetarian Indian food.  The host and a few Indian friends were cranking out dosas in the kitchen like a factory.  Dosa is a crepe or pancake made from rice batter and black lentils, and a staple dish of the South-Indian states. 
My friend picked up a container of dosa batter from the Indian supermarket near him in the Reston, VA area.
Dosas are made by pouring a ladle of dosa batter onto a hot griddle greased with oil or ghee.  The batter is spread out evenly to form a pancake, and cooked on both sides.
Platter of finished dosas.
Masala is spiced potatoes and onions with a mixture of tumeric, mustard seed, yellow split pea and green chili.  The masala is wrapped in the dosa and absolutely delicious.
Our Chinese classmate said it was one of the first meals without meat that he's eaten in ages, and now he's addicted to masala dosa.  It's wonderful to share cultures through food adventures with friends.

Uncle Liu's Hotpot Adventure

I've read about Uncle Liu's and their hotpot menu on, one of my favorite food-related boards.  Hotpot is great in the colder months, and a really fun group dining activity.  With my boyfriend back home visiting relatives, I had a Friday to myself and decided to gather some fellow hotpot fans to trek out to Falls Church.  (A good explanation of the restaurant can be found here: The location is a bit confounding for anyone using their iphone mapping function.  All three cars ended up lost.  The shopping center is anchored by a Gold's Gym, Great Wall supermarket and a Five Guys is located nearby.
We ordered a split pot with half spicy and half mild.  The mild broth was a milky concoction of chicken broth with tomato and scallions.  The spicy broth included Szechwan peppercorns and red chilies, with a sheen of oil.  It's fiery and numbing/burning in a "hurts so good" kind of way.
Lobster balls
We ordered Chinese cabbage, spinach, tofu, lamb, tender beef, bean sprouts, mushrooms, chicken, shrimp, lobster balls, meat dumplings and vegetable dumplings.  Most of the proteins are frozen.
Due to a shellfish allergy and a beef-intolerance in the group, we had all nonseafood items in the spicy side and no beef in the mild side.  Cooking the sliced lamb in the spicy side was recommended by food posts, and be warned that soft items like tofu will absorb the spicy liquid like a sponge.  We made a selection of dipping sauces for the table, but next time I would prefer we make our own dipping bowls to dunk cooked food into. 
Water was a bit hard to track down, but the TsingTao was nice and refreshing with the spicy hotpot.  Looking forward to taking my boyfriend here, and I think he'd love the spicy side.  With a group of 6, it ended up about $20 per person, including tip, which is really reasonable.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Austin Grill in Old Town Alexandria

It's official. I am no longer an Arlingtonian.  While I'll miss being walking distance to work and restaurants, I'm excited to start a new adventure with my boyfriend a little further south.  We hired movers, which made leasing office snafus and idiocracy a lot easier to navigate with a semblance of calm.  Our new place is much nicer, the joy of once again in-unit laundry is immeasurable, and sleep uninterrupted by a continually-running toilet is truly wonderful.  Cable and internet are working, and I've got a lot of unpacking and organizing ahead of me.
We finished preliminary unpacking and apartment set-up after 10 pm.  Unfortunately the area is a wasteland for late-night dining and we had one lonely cheese sandwich in the refrigerator.  We had already swung by Eamonn's on Friday and many other places were closing for the night.  Luckily Austin Grill is open until 11 pm Monday-Thursday, and until 12 am on Friday and Saturday.  The food was surprisingly good, and the post-move Corona was delicious.
Grilled chicken wings had excellent flavor.
Taco Combination - picadillo, carnitas, steak, and chicken.  He said the steak and chicken were the best.
Spinach and portabello mushroom quesadilla.  Nice and not too oily like the version at Los Tios.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Dessert Crepes

I haven't been back to the small crepe restaurant in Pentagon Row in ages.  I used to love their mushroom and spinach with brie crepes while taking a break from shoe shopping.  In the interim, the interior has undergone a sleek makeover, although a little more lighting would be appreciated.
Craving something warm with his ice cream, we stopped in for a dessert crepe with chocolate and strawberries, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.  It transported my boyfriend to a wonderfully happy place. 
It is pricey for a crepe place, but I like the restaurant and the atmosphere.  It's a nice oasis from the Irish bar and sports bar around the corner, and the menu has some lovely salads and sandwiches in addition to both sweet and savory crepes.

Bangkok Golden in Seven Corners

All the food writers and food forums have been talking about Bangkok Golden in Seven Corners lately.  The secret Laotian menu now is handed out with the Thai menu for the non-buffet customers.  Since the region is teeming with Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, the addition of a Laotian menu is remarkable for its uniqueness.  Described as a melding of Thai and Vietnamese flavors with a higher spice intensity, I was eager to try some of the recommended dishes.  
While the address is 6395 Seven Corners Center, directions from our iphones let us down.  Easiest way to find the restaurant is to look for Hong Kong Palace (which also owns Uncle Liu's hot pot restaurant), and Bangkok Golden is three storefronts to the left.
Nam Khao ($8.95)
Crispy Rice Salad with a fantastic textural composition.  Vibrant cilantro and fresh herbs, mixed with crispy rice, peanuts, red onion, shredded coconut, lime and a gentle heat/chili.
Wrap in a lettuce leaf and eat with your hands.
 Larb Kai ($9.95)
Minced chicken seasoned with Kaffir lime leaves, fragrant toasted rice powder, shallots, garlic, green onion, red pepper, cilantro, mint. A little sweeter and sour rather than spicy.  Bright and fresh flavors.
Moak Fish ($8.95)
Steamed Banana Leaf-Wrapped Tilapia with a curry and coconut sauce.
Somehow we missed ordering any dish that had an abundance of chili heat which I had been looking forward to testing out.  I enjoyed the prevalence of fresh herbs and lettuce leaves to wrap the different dishes in.  The sticky rice was described as tasting like mochi by my boyfriend, and he's right.  This rice would be excellent with some fresh mango and coconut milk.  I'm planning a return trip with some friends, and hopefully we'll try a Koi (ceviche-esque fish), Orm (stew) and the Papaya salad.  The dining room is on the small-side, but the service was pleasant, and it's definitely worth a visit.

Saturday Brunch at Mark's Duck House

With the unexpected shutoff of the water supply, we debated where to venture for brunch.  Tossing out a few options, we settled on dim sum at Mark's Duck House.  There are probably better dim sum venues in Silver Spring, but MDH is closer.  One day we'll give Fortune and Hong Kong Palace a shot, when we're feeling adventurous. 
Panfried Chive Dumpling
Har Gao
Steamed Vegetable Dumplings
Crispy Pork
Steamed Spare Rib - gelatinous and unctuous
Gai Lan - Chinese Broccoli with oyster sauce
Usually we're pretty satisfied with dim sum at Mark's, although we noticed the selection was not as expansive as usual by 11:30 am.  Some of my favorite items were not in steady rotation, unless they were already nicked from the carts before they reached us.

Eamonn's in Old Town

We stopped in Eamonn's for a late dinner Friday night.  Old Town restaurants tend to close around 11 pm, so our options are limited when we head out post-10 pm to find something to eat.
We shared a large order of chips, a large cod and an order of grouper.  Not the healthiest meal, but a bit satisfying.  Lovely crunch on the fish, and the cod was flakey compared to the meatier grouper.