Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dreaming of Next Summers Dahlia Garden

Photo by Ralph Alswang

Last spring we planted the abandoned lot next door to us with tomatoes and lettuces. There was a misunderstanding and everything got pulled up and we replanted again with lettuces and cooking greens. At the end of the season we turned a bunch of coffee grounds and compost into the soil to ready it for next seasons planting. Recently with all of the seed catalogs arriving and a couple of warmish winter days we started plotting our 2010 garden...We have decided that this year we want to dedicate the empty plot next door to dahlias. We have dabbled in planting dahlias but never given them a proper spot in our garden and do not know much about growing them.

I do use lots of dahlias from July through mid-October that I buy from Bob Wollam. The dahlias he grows are phenomenal and are the focal point of most of my flower arrangements while they are in season. Last week Bob stopped by and I asked him if he thought the lot next door would be a good spot for dahlias. In addition to his farm in rural Virginia Bob has been planting urban gardens for decades and was very enthusiastic. He has promised to lend his expertise to the project.

We have a few other empty lots close by that we intend to plant with food and flowers this spring as well...

Monday, January 25, 2010

a lunch, a tea, a dinner and another dinner

photo Ralph Alswang

In the past 5 days at 1508 we have served lunch for the host committee of a Center For Inspired Teaching event, served tea to Alice Waters, had a full Home Restaurant and last night in collaboration with Joan Nathan we hosted and cooked for one of the Sunday Suppers that raised money for Martha's Table and D.C. Central Kitchen. A secondary goal of the dinner last night was to prompt discussion about food issues including hunger and sustainability.

Fresh in my mind is last nights dinner which was inspiring and thought provoking. Throughout the dinner and the day today it has stimulated conversation about bridging the gap between
actual dining experience and the way food is produced...In addition to Joan Nathan dinner guests included Robert Egger of D.C. Central Kitchen and Bev Eggleston of Eco Friendly Foods all of whom instigated and encouraged meaningful dialogue.

I can not think of two individuals in Washington D.C. doing more to bridge the gap between talking and doing than Bev (who runs an artisnal butchery practice commited to resisting corporate processing and factory farming) and Robert (who runs DC Central Kitchen, Fresh Start, V3, CKP...committed to feeding and training Washingtonians in culinary practices, community involvement...) they understand the importance of both action and politics and their very different approaches to the same problem of feeding and eating across all economic levels are inspiring... leave us wanting more... More than anything Bev and Robert offer us options, perspectives, help us to pause and in that form a resistance to status quo...

If you are going to give to any local charity give to DC Central Kitchen...

If you are going to eat meat get it from Bev at Eco Friendly Foods, at the Dupont Farmers Market EVERY Sunday...

John and I worked on the menu with Joan Nathan taking inspiration for many of the dishes from her forthcoming book...

Congratulations to Joan her hard work on these dinners that raised Over a Hundred Thousand Dollars for Martha's Table and DC Central Kitchen...

Lamb Chops with Preserved Lemons*
Apple and Parsnip Soup*
Beef Tongue with Capers*
Winter Squash Gratin
Moroccan Orange and Black Olive Salad*

Roasted Rockfish with Beets, Scrambled Eggs and Chives
Layered Turnip, Black Walnut and Wild Mushroom with Roasted Garlic Sauce
Roasted Chicken Thigh with Truffle, Mashed Potatoes, Shallots and Greens*
Batch 19 Cheese with Olive Oil Cracker
Grapefruit Soup with Figs and Mint*
Soft Gingerbread with Frozen Coconut, Chocolate Sauce and Hickory Nut Nougatine*

Small Bites
Pistachio and Cardamom Cookies*
Chocolate Chocolate Chip Drops
Sweet and Salty Pumpkin Seeds
Lavender Oatmeal Thins

*inspired by Joan Nathans Forthcoming Book, Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: In Search of the Cooking of the Jews of France (Knopf, fall 2010)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Cotton Man

For years I used cotton on sticks in arrangements especially in the winter. I love the cotton on its own as well as in arrangements. Often I would use it during the holidays mixed with ilex berries. I have not seen cotton on sticks available for several years. Every once in awhile I ask various suppliers about getting cotton but no one has come through with it.

Last week I met with Maria Cooke of Ritzy Bee, Carin and Julia from Hitched, Seana from Design Cuisine and Kelly Seizert about a display we are collaborating on for this weekends Washingtonian Bride and Groom Event at the Mandarin Oriental. Maria had made some inspiration boards and one of them was full of cotton. I became newly obsessed with finding some.

I once again asked several local sources, none of whom could locate any...then I emailed someone who sells wholesale branches in Brooklyn. He told me he did not have any but that, "the cotton man" would. I called the cotton man and he answered the phone and said, "cotton man here." I giggled!

I discussed my cotton needs and the fact that I was in a hurry. I emailed him about 9:00 at night and by 10:00 pm I had a UPS confirmation that my cotton would be delivered in two days. I am quite excited for the package that should be arriving tomorrow!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Invitation, Jacqulyn Maissoneuve Exhibition

We met Jackie late this summer. She is a senior in photojournalism at the Corcoran and asked if she could photograph our family as part of her senior thesis. Originally the thesis was going to be on a bunch of different people living in D.C. who were conscious of there relationship with the earth in one way or another. The scope of the thesis narrowed and she called one night in early August to ask if we would be willing to be the sole subject of thesis which would entail her photographing us regularly through November. Not really sure what we were getting into we said yes.

We immediately liked Jackie she is hardworking, talented, serious, fun and easy to be around. The fall ended up being a very busy time for us and we became accustomed to having her around lots. Her constant supply of photos was a great addition to our blog and something that we looked forward to receiving.

Today we got an invitation in the mail for her Senior Thesis Exhibition which runs from Wednesday February 3rd to Sunday February 7th with an opening reception on Thursday Feburary 4th from 6-8 at Gallery 31 at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. The invitation is fabulous, great photo, beautiful paper, a pack of sorrel seeds with planting directions and a quote from me that was shocking (but not in a bad way) to see in print...

"Everything I do is interconnected and constantly evolving. This applies not only to human connections but to non human ones as well... making a salad dressing where oil and vinegar emulsify, enhancing the garden soil content so flowers and food grow and sharing a meal with my family. Day to day I find pleasure through my practice, where there is no clear line between work and play, I find energy from the many dynamic, connected yet disparate elements."

A couple nights ago Jackie came by and gave us hundreds of prints which is just a fraction of the thousands of photos that she took. Looking through them we started to talk about pairing the photos with the blog posts that were written at the same time the photographs were being taken which include seasonal menus, recipes, gardening, flower arranging, musings...maybe this is the structure of the book that we have been talking about writing?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pairing Food with California Red Wines

Photo Jacqulyn Maisonneuve

Tom our wine guy is not a fan of "big" California red wines. He helps us pair wine with our food to enhance the food without ever overpowering. We generally do not use California reds because many are high in alcohol content, lack acidity and can have strong flavors of both vanilla and/or oak. These characteristics do not allow a wine to have a balance between sweetness and acidity which results in overpowering the taste of food.

Tom told me that over the holidays he had three bottles of California red. One of these bottles he really enjoyed. It was a zinfandel from an obscure area in Trinity County, well north of Napa recommended to him by a customer Phil from The Wishing Well in Easton, Maryland. Tom told me this wine had beautiful balance with no discernible excess sugar and some nice acidity. The wine was from R. Merlo Estate Vineyards and he told me he would have consumed the whole bottle had his father not helped him!

The other two wines were not such a pleasure they were big, grapey and sweet syrahs that he did not think would compliment any food. The second two wines had over 16% alcohol content. The high alcohol content is a result of grapes being left on the vine until they are ultra ripe which usually leads to high alcohol and ultimately out of balance wines. Tom's favorite California wines are usually from areas near the cost where fog rolls in at night. This helps cool the vines and helps the grapes develop some acidity as they mature on the vine.

I asked why California winemakers let grapes get so ripe, he explain that it is partially climate and other growing conditions. There is also another factor, the issue of ratings and "points" from critics like Robert Parker. Parker tends to love "big" wines and gives them higher scores. Winemakers know this and many will try to make wines in that style hoping to get such scores for their wines.

As always I appreciated the information I got from Tom and am looking forward to tasting the (Raquillet) Mercurey 1er 'Les Vasees' 2007 that we will be serving with local rockfish at our next Home Restaurant on Friday January 22nd.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Planning a Menu

Photo Jacqulyn Maissoneuve

Planning a menu never starts with a blank piece of paper it begins with conversations...

Last weekend I saw Fadia at the Dupont Market and she told me she expected to be seeing some local wild mushrooms in the next couple of weeks. I emailed Jim at Prime Seafood to confirm that there would be rockfish available next week and that it was looking good. I called Katie at Path Valley to see what vegetables are available. I got her availability list and found out about some new honey that one of the members of the cooperative was selling. After those conversations John and I came up with a preliminary menu for our upcoming Home Restaurant on Friday January 22 (we still have a few seats available). With the menu in hand I called Tom Kiszka the wine importer who helps us match wines with food at our Home Restaurant to get some wine suggestions I shared with him the current version of the menu and he came back with ideas for wine pairings. As we get closer both the food and wines may shift but for now this is what we are thinking... To cook is always a reaching out way beyond our minds as well as our kitchens... we are fortunate to be connected to such a creative network...

Seared Sea scallops
Roasted Eco Friendly Foods Chicken
Beef Tongue with Capers
Roasted Parsnip
Spaghetti with Micro Greens
Cauliflower Soup

Bay Leaf infused Vodka Martini
(Jean Masson) Savoie Apremont Vielles Vignes 2008

Egg in the Hole with Beet Ketchup, Path Valley egg fried in whole wheat bread
(Pascal Granger) Chenas 2007 (all gamay...a cru of beaujolais)

Turnip with Wild Mushroom, Black Walnut and Garlic Broth
(Olivier Morin) Chitry BLANC 2007 (all Chard...from the Chablis region)

Roasted Rockfish with Mashed Potatoes...
(Raquillet) Mercurey 1er 'Les Vasees' 2007 (all pinot noir, southern burgundy)

Cabot Farmhouse Cheddar with Olive Oil Cracker

Warm Apple Sauce

Soft Gingerbread with Chocolate and Coconut
(Tissot) Cremant du Jura Brut ROSE NV


Sunday, January 10, 2010

video blogging

We had a lot of fun experimenting with doing some videos this weekend. If you watch the first one we did last night about garlic you need to know I am not drunk, I just could not stop cracking up. I know that the sound is a bit off but we rectified that on the next one. Our hope is to catalog our practice using a short, about 90 second, format that is hopefully both informative and entertaining. We will be doing cooking, flower and garden tips. The video shorts will show up on the side bar of this blog and can also be accessed through YouTube. We welcome any suggestions about content and presentation.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sunday Supper January 24, 2010

We are excited to be hosting and cooking a Sunday Supper on January 24 at 1508 to benefit Martha's Table and DC Central Kitchen. This event is a follow up to last years successful Art, Food, Hope fundraising dinners that were initiated by Alice Waters during inauguration last year. Chefs are being paired with other chefs to collaborate on dinners being served in 14 different homes around the city on the same night. We are very excited that we are paired with Joan Nathan for the event. We met with Joan today and discussed menu, ingredients and including some recipes from her soon to be released cookbook.

Tonight John and I are working on the menu details, which are not quite complete, and he made the above sketch of the first three seated courses.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Emerson on Flowers

Photo Jacqulyn Maisonneuve

Reading Emerson last night and found this quote about flowers:

If at any time it comes into my head that a present is due from me to somebody, I am puzzled what to give, until the opportunity is gone. Flowers and fruits are always fit presents; flowers, because they are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty out values all the utilities of the world. These gay natures contrast with the somewhat stern countenance of ordinary nature: they are like music heard out of a work-house. Nature does not cocker us; we are children, not pets; she is not fond; everything is dealt to us without fear or favor, after severe universal laws. Yet these delicate flowers look like the frolic and interference of love and beauty.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Flowering Branches

Today I got the first flowering quince branches of the season. Throughout the year I often think...all I need in this spot is a big vase of flowering quince, pear, cherry, dogwood, tulip magnolia...

Although with flowers these days it is possible to get lots of flowers throughout the year that were previously only available in specific seasons flowering branches are only available from now through sometime in May. The availability is completely dependent on the weather and when they open is always a bit of a guessing game. Most springs I sweat over branches opening enough or too much for various weddings and events. You can somewhat control the opening with heat, warm water and sun but despite much trial and error there is a bit of luck...or, lots of branches collected in different stages of openness to ensure that there will be plenty with blossoms at their most beautiful at the time you need them.

The quince I received today came from North Carolina and I will continue to get them from further and further north until they are available locally. After that I will be able to get them from as far north as Upstate New York before the season ends, usually in March. If the weather ever warms up over the next month or so I will start to see buds on my white forsythia in the garden. I will have a choice of leaving them outside to develop blooms naturally or cutting it and bringing it inside to encourage blooms sooner. We bought the white forsythia years ago through a catalog and it is not very common although it is a favorite of mine. Forced yellow forsythia will also be available soon and although I do not use it often I love large bunches of it tightly packed into old urns and metal containers.

Usually around Valentines Day double pink cherry branches are available with absolutely no color showing. It often takes about three weeks of warm indoor temperatures and hot water to get them to open but they are defenitely worth the wait. Usually they are available as well as other cherry varieties in white and single blooms throughout March and into early April. Other favorites that I look forward to that will be fleetingly available depending on both weather and suppliers are pear and tulip magnolia both favorites and both very fragile. Last is the dogwood which generally shows up in late April and is gone by the middle to the end of May...and then we must wait for quince all over again.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

February Photo Exhibit

After a very busy last few months we have enjoyed regrouping this week, reading, getting out of town for a quick trip and returning to some projects that we had put on hold. One of these projects is an Opening at our house. We plan to exhibit photos by Abby Greenawalt taken when John and I witnessed the harvesting of cows at Eco Friendly Foods. Returning to this project after a few months it is clear that we need to incorporate text with the photos. This weekend we started working on what we want to say. Below is our work on this to date... Please share any ideas or comments.

In the United States today, the prevailing ideology of choice fuels the “Omnivore’s Dilemma”. If we think of ourselves as just one part of an eco-system, to choose to eat meat is unremarkable. Where it was once thought of as a privileged position to choose meat, it now seems to be a privilege to nourish without consuming animal products. To not eat meat is really not an option for many. Protein must come from somewhere and in most cases low quality, factory farm raised and slaughtered, animal protein is the most affordable and accessible option.

Choice as a reining ideology today maybe our most obstinate obstacle to reforming our food system. For many a vegetarian diet is not an option due to economics, time or nutritional knowledge. Similarly, for most in the United States grass fed animals raised on sustainable farms free from antibiotics that are harvested humanely are not affordable or accessible. So we live under an imperative to choose that produces multiple false choices, such as the many fast food options, yet for many in the United States there is no healthy choice. If factory farming, pesticides, steroids, antibiotics, etc. were eradicated from our food systems then one could actually have the choice to eat meat or not. Of course this would be a radical realignment of economic and health care systems. The economy, environment and health care as political issues cannot be approached without a long look at our food system.

Our food system is a network of practices. These practices include farming, processing and marketing. There are conceivable practices that could make eating meat a viable choice. And although eating meat or the taking of life may not be remarkable within an ecosystem, the senseless systematic over-producing or over-harvesting can have huge ramifications on the behavior of the individuals and the overall ecology of that eco-system.

Eating meat from a factory farm is destructive to both our personal health and the health of the environment. Finding ways of getting acceptable clean food products to people of all economic levels is a goal. This includes meat, fish and animal products that are raised sustainably and processed consciously. One of the obstacles to the production and availability of meat is that most animal processing plants are huge industrialized corporate owned places. Eco Friendly Foods is a rare example in today’s world of an alternative to the factory farm slaughterhouse.

Bev Eggleston of Eco Friendly Foods encourages visitors. He claims one of the major problems as it pertains to our food system is transparency, We were privileged to observe a slaughter day, where 6 cows were harvested for food. Witnessing animals being killed for food in a method where the environment, the animal’s life and death are respected partially informed our thoughts about factory vs. sustainable farming. Hopefully these images convey this intense informative experience.