Tuesday, August 19, 2014

DC Dining: Crane and Turtle


     When you know that you will be leaving a city (possibly for good), your neighbor's yapping dog looks a little cuter, and that list of restaurants that you told yourself that you would try seems a little more urgent.  I had actually given up on trying restaurants in DC because for a while, everything seemed so mediocre.  DC is flanked with steakhouses, white tablecloths, and dark wood-paneled places serving some version of an unadventurous meal, always including roasted/fried chicken, steak, beet salad and spring mix lettuce.  If I ever see the incredibly dull spring mix salad or beets and goat cheese salad on a menu, I unfortunately discount it immediately.  Many say that "That is DC" and most people are not going to step out of line when you live with the strongest government power in the world in your backyard.  In my opinion, that is reason to.
    In the year that I have been in London, more than the usual trendy food truck has opened.  There has been serious growth in the restaurant and food industry, demonstrating encouraging levels of appetizing creativity.  Don't get me wrong, a lot of pointless places have opened too, which will ,continue to feed the expense accounts of the city's palette-less elite,  But I can finally say that the cooking population is finally starting to step out of the box. And maybe, just maybe, DC could be inching closer to the reputation for interesting dining of our Big Apple Yankee neighbor.  
   One such restaurant moving DC in the right direction is Crane and Turtle.  This is a very small Japanese/ French inspired eatery in DC's Petworth district.  This area is still off the map, allowing you to avoid tourists and most everyone else who does not live in the vicinity....although not for long.
We sat at the chef's counter which feels like it takes up half of the tiny eatery, and provides great entertainment.  The chefs are calm perfectionists, taking a few minutes to chat with the diners between chopping and frying.
    The whole menu is seventeen items long and does not cater to vegetarians (except for one fairly simple vegetable dish) nor any sort of an adaptation of the genre.  The only shortcoming is perhaps The appetizers and "Amuse de Mer" selections create a powerful opening act, showcasing some of the freshest fish in the city.  The Sea Trout was a beautiful bright orange.  On the meaty side, the very creative Pork "Ramen" is made with crackling pork instead of noodles. (Low-Carb friendly for all of you fanatics.)
   Moving on to the main dishes provides a tough choice.  Crispy, tender Scallops, Halibut with green tomato chutney and Szechuan Duck seemed to be most popular on our visit.  With such compliments as a schmear of miso-cured egg yolk, acting as a savory custard, or the braised and buttery satisfying Yuba, every dish is incredibly flavorful and interesting to eat.
      Crane and Turtle knows what it is doing and I expect that the new Washington will understand and appreciate it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nuts and Honey

Shall we say it has been a while since I have put on an apron?  Back in the US, as jet lag was settling in, I laid in bed, wide awake at 3am.  I opened one of my favorite cookbooks (Pure Desserts by Alice Medrich) and I was trying to decide where I would start, when I landed on her recipe for Peanut Butter Cookies.  But cookies really go so well with ice cream... and so her Honey Ice Cream recipe would have to be made too. 

With my eyes and muscles heavy from sleeplessness, I dragged my body through the grocery aisles one at a time.  Scanning the shelves of baking ingredients, in my head I was converting the prices back to British Pounds and deciding that most things were well priced compared to London.  I started remembering the ingredients that I liked, and those not so much.  I filled my basket with the basics: flour, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, but also a few more interesting items: caramelized peanuts, extra dark dutch-process cocoa, and rye flour.

Back at home, I dug through the kitchen drawers finding my whisks, bowls and measuring cups. All of which had been shoved in the back, out of use.  My poor little tools, moved aside for bottle openers and soup spoons.

As the cookies baked, the warm peanut butter aroma filled the apartment torturing me every one of the 20 minutes I had to wait as they cooked and then cooled just enough.  There is only one thing more amazing than one of Alice's warm peanut butter cookies...one of them a la mode with a large scoop of wildflower honey ice cream.  

PB Cookies from Alice

1 1/3 cups (6 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt or 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (9 ounces) natural (but not unsalted) chunky peanut butter—stir well to blend in the oil before measuring.
5 ounces store-bought Coconut Toffee Peanuts or Toffee Peanuts, coarsely chopped

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and mix together thoroughly with a whisk or fork.
In a large bowl, mix the melted butter with the sugars. Whisk in the egg, vanilla, and peanut butter, add the flour mixture, and mix with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon just until evenly incorporated.
Cover the dough and refrigerate for an hour or two and up to 2 days.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
Pour the chopped nuts into a shallow bowl. Scoop about 2 level teaspoons of dough for each cookie, shape into a 1-inch ball or fat little log, and coat the top and sides heavily with the chopped nuts, pressing in any pieces that fall off so that there are no bald spots. Place 2 inches apart on the lined or greased pans.
Bake the cookies for 15 to 18 minutes, until they are lightly colored. The cookies will seem very soft to the touch, but they will firm up as they cool. For lined pans, set the pans or just the liners on racks to cool; for unlined pans, use a metal spatula to transfer the cookies to racks. Cool the cookies completely before storing. May be kept in an airtight container for at least 2 weeks.

As I warmed the milk for the ice cream base, I ate/tested a few cookies.  They went down way too easily. 

Alice's Honey Ice Cream
½ cup whole milk
½ cup honey (any honey you choose)
1/8 tsp. salt
2 cups heavy cream

In a small saucepan, warm the milk over medium heat until it begins to simmer gently around the edges. Pour it into a medium bowl, and allow to cool completely. (This will prevent curdling when the honey is added.) Add the honey and salt, and stir well to dissolve the honey. Stir in the cream. Taste, and adjust the amount of honey as needed. Cover and chill thoroughly, preferably overnight. Then freeze according to the instructions for your ice cream maker. Then, before serving, store the ice cream in the freezer until hard enough to scoop, at least 3 to 4 hours 

The ice cream is super creamy, smooth, and only slightly sweet with floral notes from the Wildflowers. Eat with cookies. Or sprinkle with nuts and honey.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Columbia Rd Flower Market

East London is full of secrets, some reveal London's history and underworld, while others reflect the new and revitalized beauty of a vibrant city.  The Sunday Columbia Rd Flower Market is one of those hidden gems.  Worlds away from the London Eye, you will find the streets packed with the local families with children, singles, couples and friends of all ages, but you won't find any tourists.    

 Originally a flower market with sellers from the nearby Hackney and Islington, this historic road was almost demolished as the area went into steep decline in the 1970's.  With the strength and dedication of the locals the market began to get rebuilt in the 1980's and has since been growing and changing with the times.  Today it is one of the best market areas in London.

There are tiny art stores, antiques shops and cafes spilling out with eaters and drinkers.  Nothing feels cheap or gaudy, but instead quaint and alive.  The smell of roasted coffee fills the cafe alleyways, while the flower sellers all line the main route flanked by independent bakeries, pubs and vintage stores.

To compliment the food, crowds, and the yells of the flower sellers hawking their best priced and most beautiful tulips, there are plenty of street musicians.  This French accordion player serenaded the crowd, while her partner passed his hat.

This lucky little girl took a spot in a much better place than her stroller would have left her.  She had a birds-eye view of the market as she enjoyed her toasty croissant.

"Columbia Road flower market and shops are open on Sundays from 8am ’til 3'ish come rain, wind or shine and even on Easter Sunday. Columbia Road is in the East End sitting on the edge of the city with Shoreditch to the west and Brick Lane and Spitalfields nearby."- Columbia Rd Traders Assoc.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

La Bella Napoli

  Naples, Italy is not for the faint of heart.  Infact, if you are looking to take a deep breath any time before you lay your head on the pillow each night, Naples might not be the best choice of destinations.  However, I love Naples.  Napoli is so full of character, Italian vivaciousness, and of course amazing Southern Italian food.  Over the New Years holiday "Capodanno" I spent a full week immersing myself in the very vibrant life of Naples.  I was travelling with my parents which made things a little more interesting.

    We barely passed through the British authorities at the airport in London (or just avoided jail according to my mother), as my father was forced to relinquish his passport temporarily since he was carrying a menacing looking knife through security.  Truthfully, like any good Italian, he only carries it on him at all times so that he is well prepared to slice into a salami, a hunk of fresh cheese or a loaf of crusty bread, but try explaining that to the British.  After getting his passport back just in time to catch our flight, my mother claimed she was not planning to give up our week planned in Napoli, if he caused himself to get stuck in a London prison.


   Our arrival in Napoli, was perfectly Neapolitan.  To begin, our cab driver overcharged us.  Even though we knew the fixed price that we were supposed to pay, he assured us that there were other added tariffs that we did not know about.  He told us that it would be fine, and just to get in.  My mother seemed to think this was fine as well, so she shooed us into the cab and proceeded to chit-chat with him, in Italian, about life in Napoli.  The cab driver was nice and friendly, but also managed to offer us a "special" guided tour of Pompeii and the coast, if we were looking for a driver/tour guide.  (This would be the first of many enterprising offers...I cant say I don't admire his ambition).

    As we completed our third circle of the "Centro Storico" historic center of the city, where our hotel was located, our cab driver pulled over and told us that we were very close but that he could not get down the narrow street to our hotel, so we had to exit the car here and now.  (And here began our trek to the hotel.)   He managed to drop us in the absolute MOST crowded street in ALL of Naples.

Dragging our suitcases behind us, we inched along down a narrow cobbled street where masses of people were crowded along to look at all of the "Presepe" sellers (nativity scenes).  This was my lesson (and lesson learned!) about how enthralled Naples is with creating their personal nativity scenes.  But this was not just any crowded street, we were literally stuck in a swarm of people and could... not... move.  People that were coming up the street could not go up, and people going down could not go down.  The only person that actually somehow managed to get through was a crazy man swinging a metal container of incense coals and blessing us all.

  So after 20 minutes of checking for my wallet, then inching another foot, then trying to understand what was just yelled in Italian, then smelling the incense coals being swung above my head for the third time and meanwhile fighting off fits of claustrophobia, we made it to the hotel. There, we realized the cab driver just really did not know where the hotel was, as it was perfectly reachable by car (noted by all of the cars parked outside of it). 

    After our arrival we were perfectly primed for the rest that Naples had to offer. On New Years Eve we dodged fire crackers that were thrown by the lovely, sweet, Italian boys that can do no wrong in their mothers eyes.  My father was offered a special price if he would buy out an entire shop of pianos, and we learned that a bottle of wine on a restaurant menu can come in any size or price, the details of which will of course not be listed on the menu, nor told to you.

 In fact, not half of what a restaurant serves will be listed on the menu.  This all actually made lunch quite interesting, almost a game of roulette..  Ask for a bottle of red and see how much they charge us...  Ask for a plate of fish and see what arrives...Ask for the vegetable of the day... and then later see that someone else at another table got something much better.
  To supplement our dining roulette, my mother and I carried out a pastry and pizza tasting. Throughout the week,  we tasted the offerings of 4 pizzerias and about 7 pastry shops.  My father whole-heartedly gave up early on, after only two pizzas, referring to the chewy soft Neapolitan pizza dough as similar to a "slightly soggy pancake".

While we did not get through all of the pastries in the city, our very scientific summary is that we can also do without the Neapolitan pizza, but the pastries are absolutely not to be missed.  If you are headed to the area any time soon, send me a note and I can give you all of my recommendations for great food, and don't worry the Presepe street should be walk-able until next December.

Before we could part with Naples we got to experience one good bout of Italian bureaucracy.  As we boarded the plane, the British pilot mentioned that the Italian gas man did not fill our tank enough so he would have to quickly return to do so, then we would be off. Easy, right? No.
 After 20 minutes, the pilot returned to tell us that it is Italian law for there to be a fire truck on guard when the gas tank is filled with passengers on board, so the fire truck is on its way.  Then we can fill and go.
20 minutes later, the pilot is exasperated.  He says that the fire truck can not come to this area of the airport (well it is a good thing that we are not actually on fire), so we will have to move to where they can reach us. Then the fire truck will come, and the tank will be filled, and then we can go.  
20 minutes later, we have moved, the fire truck shows up, the gas man shows up, and the tank is filled in 10 minutes.  We finally depart, leaving the Bay of Naples and all of its lovely nonsense until next time.

Other Non-food pictures

Piazza Dante

The Bay of Naples and Mt.Vesuvius

The Bay

The Lungo Mare (The Seaside Walk)

Above the city

Beautiful Floors

View from the hills
 My mother was lucky enough to find a secret admirer ("Rita ti amo!")

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

December in the Cotswolds

Here are just a few pictures of my trip into the famed Cotswolds this past weekend. I relinquished my life back into my mother's hands as she took hold of the wheel on the right side of the car, while driving on the left side of the road.  My parents and I braved the British roads, over the hills, through the woods and into the beautiful countryside of England.  It did not make me feel any better that before we had left Mom fueled her love of English mysteries by buying a book entitled "Death in the Cotswolds".

We visited a beautiful Woollen Weaver and were tempted by the beautiful craftsmanship to buy wool vests, riding pants, blazers, caps, and gloves until we remember (much to our dismay) that we do no belong to the English royalty and will not be fox hunting any time soon. I am not sure if these little owls held any function but they sure were cute.

 We found some interesting sculpture,

...and even saw a few spots of sunshine.  The roads definitely seems slightly bigger and less intimidating in the sunshine as opposed the black darkness of 5 pm.


While mom enjoyed her "video game" of British driving in our tiny Chevy Spark, we were all quite happy to give up our wheels and regain out feet when we returned to the streets of London.  At least in London all that we have to look out for are the silent (because they are electric) double-decker buses flying down the road and crazy taxi drivers...not to mention the vicious British road rage.
Maybe we were safer in the Cotswolds, even if we were occasionally driving on the wrong side of the road.