Category Archives: markets

What have I been up to?

So, what have I been up to?  Not a lot of cooking, that’s for sure, but I can always eat.  So, without further ado, a short photographic journey of some of my recent food explorations, both in and out of my kitchen:

I made purple salt-roasted potatoes.  Anything purple just tastes better, and when you roast them this way and put a little bit of ketchup on them, it’s like a much, much healthier alternative to french fries.  This is a good thing when your stress level is through the roof, you’re up until all hours and you live behind a place that makes killer french fries until 4 am.

pre-roast, coated lightly with olive oil and sitting on a bed of sea salt.

the potatoes don't lose any of their beautiful purple color this way.

Then there was Fakesgiving (it means what it sounds like) with some friends from baked.  I didn’t get a ton of very good pictures, but have a look at this plate; there’s turkey, homemade stuffing, a pumpkin-ricotta pasta bake, corn-millet casserole, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, beet hummus, salad, and all kinds of roasted root veg.  Not to make you jealous, but there was also pie and a pumpkin cheesecake for dessert.

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The next day was followed with more epic eating out at Four Sisters Restaurant, my favorite Vietnamese place, out in Falls Church.  I had phở and summer rolls too, but ate them before I remembered to take pictures (this happens more often than I’d like to admit).  I did get some good pics of the bún (a rice vermicelli noodle dish served with fresh julienned veg and a sweet/spicy fish sauce vinaigrette) and the green papaya salad. Behold:

green papaya salad.

rice vermicelli, carrots, grilled lemongrass chicken, peanuts, scallion, lettuce, fish sauce.

bún with grilled lemongrass chicken.

I also did some marketing at H-Mart, a predominantly Korean grocery.  They have amazing producing and also a great seafood section– despite the overwhelming amount of seafood, it smells like the ocean instead of fish– always a good sign.  Have a quick peek at some of the fruit and veg my friend Dan snapped with his phone:

tomatillos, with cactus leaf to the left.

rambutan!

fresh olives. asian cuisine, especially chinese cuisine, treat olives very differently from mediterranean-style food.

chilies!

fresh chickpeas-- there's usually two bright green lil guys nestled inside of each pod.

The next weekend I jumped continents, culinarily speaking, and made gorditas with some friends.  Or rather, I made pico de gallo, and my lovely friend Nathalie cooked for the rest of us.  There were homemade gorditas (like a Mexican pita pocket, made with masa de harina), refried beans, queso fresco, shredded chicken in salsa verde and a chipotle salsa, and tequila.  I cheated in the below picture and made them open-faced instead of slicing them into pockets.

resembling nothing like the kak you get from taco bell.

In the meantime, I’ve been making lots of stir-fries, eating a ton of veggie burgers and a random assortment of things cobbled together that don’t really resemble a meal in any way, shape, or form.  However, I have a serious surplus of fuyu persimmons hanging out on my countertop and hope to be making some tasty nibbles with those in the near future.  Until then …

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A Last Glimpse of Summer

For any of you that follow my sporadic updates on Twitter, this past week has been less than fun on the school front.  I had a 10 page paper due last Thursday, a problem set and reading for economics yesterday, a 12 page paper due today, a project proposal due this Thursday, plus a book to read for Thursday.  I went to sleep at 6 am this morning and woke up three hours later so I could finish my portion of said project proposal.  This girl doesn’t function well on three hours of sleep, so I trekked over to baked having just rolled out of bed– in fact, still in my pajamas and slippers. I thought I timed my arrival so I would a) miss our morning coffee rush and b) not run into my morning regulars, who often see me half-functioning anyway.  Let’s just say that that didn’t go quite as planned …

In any event, my jam-packed academic schedule has left me zero time to cook.  I’ve been doing embarassing things like eating baked potatoes apple-style, relying on spoonfuls of peanut butter for protein, and microwaving mysterious rocks of frozen vegetables in an effort to consume something slightly green.  And we won’t even get into the quantity of coffee I’ve been drinking.

Since I can’t offer you a recipe or a food adventure, I leave you with this slideshow of lovely photographs I snapped at the Dupont Farmer’s Market a few weeks ago.  I didn’t have my baby Alpha at the time, but these snaps still look pretty and serve as a tasty reminder of this summer’s bounty.

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Food Trekking to Eden Center

One thing I’ve noticed about DC is that it is an epic, EPIC event to go grocery shopping.  There are no bodegas, no corner stores, no little delis or random markets tucked into places that wouldn’t necessarily qualify as a storage closet.  It’s weird that in a city this wealthy that there aren’t more easily accessibly places to get fresh food.  Compare this to New York, with it’s kickass bodegas, 24-hour organic markets and countless fruit stands—fresh food is everywhere, even though most people have kitchens the size of postage stamps.  It makes cooking here in the District a pain because you have to plan everything out in advance—no dashing across the street or around the corner to grab the one thing you forgot.  Another thing that drives me crazy (and then I’ll stop kvetching) is that there aren’t even any ethnic markets in the District (please, PLEASE correct me if I’m wrong!).  I relied wholeheartedly on a little Korean market across the street to get all of my fresh produce when I lived in Brooklyn, sometimes going there multiple times a day.  Asian markets have always been my favorite for the bounty of produce, spices, and the ability to pick something up because it looks interesting and hope for the best.  In the market situation, NYC=massive win over DC.

But … I’ve found something DC does better than New York.  Like, a lot better.  Granted, it’s a 15 minute walk, 20 minute metro ride and another 20 minute walk away, but I like to think of all of the transit as prep work for a marathon eating session.  And where is this mythical, far-off place?  Not that far, actually, if you have a car … Eden Center, in Falls Church, VA.  And what does it do better than New York?  Vietnamese food.  I know, I know, it’s sacrilege, saying that New York is lacking in a certain cuisine (especially Asian cuisine), but really, I’m not the first person who’s said it. Though of course now I can’t find that article,  so you’re just going to have to trust me on this one.

 

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Eden Center is a big, occasionally warren-like maze of shops, bakeries, restaurants, more bakeries, and more restaurants.  It does boast one traditional-style market, but you go there more for the eating than the buying of things to make later.  But enough of me talking … time for FOOD!

Oh, also, it should be noted that my partner in food crime, Jing, was with me for this excursion, and it was her Droid, patience with me and excellent directional skills that prevented us from ending up Delaware.

First up was Ngoc Anh—which actually ended up being the food highlight of the day.  There was a huge hot food bar, a menu for eating in the restaurant and a large number of Styrofoam cases with room temperature items ready for takeaway.  Jing and I picked out two takeaway items but ended up eating them in the restaurant.  First, we had a thick rice crepe, filled with dried shrimp, fresh scallions, crispy shredded green papaya topped off with crispy fried scallions.  We dipped them into a clear, liquidy sauce— not sure exactly what was in it, but there were definitely chilies, sugar, and a healthy dose of fish sauce.  The crepe was perfectly chewy and the flavors were so fresh and clean, salty, spicy, a little sweet with a ton of umami—exactly what I love about Vietnamese food.

 

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The second item we got was a summer roll.  To be clear, I love summer rolls. Love. Them.  I make, really, really good ones, but for anyone who has made them before, they’re kind of labor intensive, and they taste just that much better when they’re made for you … even if you know that yours actually would win in a contest.  Anyway, having eaten our share of summer rolls, we zeroed in on one that was a little different from the norm: it had the standard basil and mint with the delicate rice wrapper, but inside was an ultra-thin sheet of turmeric-dyed egg along with dried shrimp, Chinese sausage and more green papaya.  The peanut sauce served with it was dark and smoky—heavier than what the standard gỏi cuốn would call for but perfect for this version.

 

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You can just see how fresh the ingredients are.

 

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From there, we stopped in a few different places, scoping each out before deciding where to make our purchases.  There were a ton of places selling a selection of hot foods, but we didn’t want to overdo it our first hour there.  We visited just before the Moon Festival and stacks of mooncake tins crowded every shop and bakery.  Everywhere seemed to sell dragonfruit, steamed buns, rambutan, and green mangoes.

Next we stopped at Huong Binh Bakery and Deli, where we got a steamed bun made with pandan, filled with seasoned chicken.  Pandan is actually a leaf, and it’s extremely aromatic—the compound that gives jasmine and basmati rices their scent is also found in pandan.  The taste is … well, it’s pandan.  Slightly perfumey … hints of coconut and pineapple … it’s entirely unique and is complemented by either sweet or savory notes.  If you’ve ever seen an alarmingly green cake in an Asian bakery, it’s flavored and scented with pandan.

 

don't be scared by the green.

 

Don’t let the color scare you off, because it’s actually really good.  Most of the time.  While this bun was promising initially, it had lost its appeal once we got it home.

 

no bueno.

 

The following bakery, Song Que, was far more satisfying (it’s owned by the Four Sisters).  I got a pillowy sponge cake, which was light and fluffy on the outside but still moist and a little gooey on the inside—exactly the way I like it.  Look at the delicate structure of the cake—the very center should feel a little bit cool and moist (ick. I hate that word so if I use it, it’s significant) when you touch it so you know it hasn’t been over-baked.

 

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I also got jackfruit, which is one of my all-time favorite fruits.  It has notes of pineapple, coconut and an aftertaste of cinnamon.  It’s highly aromatic, and is enormous and beastly to look at (like a warty pineapple on steroids).  It’s not always easy to find fresh, let alone cut into manageable pieces, so when I saw this waiting for me, I pounced.  I hadn’t had jackfruit this good since I was in India.  The little fruit parcels you see here are all clustered inside the rind of the jackfruit and you just pop them off.  The flesh is firm but smooth—totally different from any other texture food I’ve ever had.  Inside is a huge seed that you chuck away—just be careful not to break a tooth on it.

 

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I also got a steamed bun filled with a sweet and salty egg custard.  Not exactly a health food, but ohmygod so good … There were tons of other foods I wanted to try there—lots of Bún dishes, more summer rolls, bubble teas, frozen ices, Bánh mì… but I exercised self control. Mainly because I want to have something new to try the next time I go back.

 

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We also found some funny translation errors (or typos?).

 

monk beans are delicious.

 

Our last purchase was at Phước Lộc.  I was tempted by the barbecued pork buns because they’re kind of like crack to me, but I decided to try something new and got two sticky rice rolls wrapped in banana leaves.

 

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One had a banana filling, the other mung bean.

 

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Jing got grilled sticky rice …

 

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… filled with banana.

 

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We had high hopes … but the banana tasted really, really odd … kind of fermented and boozy and not in a good way.  The mung bean one was okay though.  At least they’re pretty to look at.  We returned home full (stuffed, even) but overall very, very happy with the day’s eating.

If you want to know more about Vietnamese food, I’d suggest checking out Andrea Nguyen’s blog, Viet World KitchenWikipedia is also a great resource.  Or, you know, you could just eat some and learn as you go– experiential learning, if you will.

Play Time with the Alpha

As I may have mentioned in an earlier post, I got a new camera.  It’s my new favorite way to procrastinate.  First, since I do other things besides eat, cook, shop for food, and write about all of those things, some shots of the awesome Batala drumming group in DC that I took yesterday morning (fine, it was en route to the farmer’s market):

these ladies practice every saturday morning at mcpherson.

Batala Washington - the only all-women's Batala group in the world.

And just in case you need further incentive to check them out:

But I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t constantly preoccupied by food, like when I made tri-color Native American popcorn to snack on while reading about the disaster that was the IMF and World Bank in the 1980s (note on the corn: tastes the same, smaller pops, tri color kind of noticeable but not really– was it wrong of me to hope for purple popcorn??!).

tri color native american popcorn. smaller pops, same taste ... and not really tri-color.

Or when I made pickled chilies (technically these are cayennes) when I should have been running regression analyses:

the spicy, pickled.

I’m letting the peppers pickle fully before I taste test– and also because I need to pull together the ingredients for a dish that they can go in.  These lil guys are super picante and I have no desire to burn off my tastebuds. For once, my impatience is coming in second place.  If they’re good I’ll pass along the recipe.

Until then, the time I allotted myself for faffing around is over. Back to work I go!

A Present for Myself

As I’ve mentioned in a few posts, my little point and shoot camera has decided to relocate itself to whereabouts unknown.  I’ve wanted a good DSLR for a few years now, and after a few weeks of saving up my paychecks and stalking various ebay auctions, I took the plunge and got myself a Sony a100.  It’s the same camera my brother-in-law has, and while there are newers models out there, I’m a) not in need of a bajillion megapixel model and b) couldn’t afford one anyway.

So … what does this have to do with food?

I took my new (to me) baby out for a spin this morning at the 14th and U Farmer’s Market (after a brief stop at Pro Photo to pick up a few lil extras that my ebay bargain price hadn’t included).  While I didn’t snap any pictures there (short on time, hands), I did take a picture of the bounty when I got back to my apartment. In lieu of a recipe, I leave you with this pretty picture:

bitter melon, shallots, mustard greens, purple kale, purple peppers, liberty apples, indian popping corn, dried apples.

To Market, To Market, Pt II

I love working morning shifts.  M Street is loud and chaotic during the day with tourists and it being the favored driving route of ambulances, fire trucks and delivery vehicles.  But at 5:30 or so when I head off to work, it’s quiet.  There are a few cars out but virtually no pedestrians, and you can hear the wheels of the few bicyclists whirring as they fly past you.  5:30 am is also awash with that rich blue light; you know the sun is there but it hasn’t quite peeked its head over the horizon just yet.  Then the sun rises in gold, violet and red, and the light shifts from it’s voluptuous blue to a shade that’s a bit starker, but no less pleasant.

Fast forward about 9 hours.  The chaos and energy of the morning (plus access to a really excellent espresso machine) has faded and I sit down and realize that I am really, REALLY tired.  This is not helped by the fact that I wake up periodically during the middle of the night in a panic, worried that my alarm hasn’t gone off.  Although I am feeling pretty delirious at the moment having lived through exactly what I just described, I’m determined to get this New Amsterdam Market post completed.  Today.  I think I’ve exhausted my descriptive abilities, so we’re going to do a mostly visually inspired tour of the market, which I will embellish as needed.  Here we go …

visual appeal

Everything at the market is visually beautiful.  In addition to whatever food is for sale, all of the vendors have these sort of rough/polished booths that, visually at any rate, really bring the market together into a cohesive whole.  I like to call this aesthetic “Brooklyn Rustic” because it reminds me of a lot of my favorite restaurants and shops there (including, but not limited to, Cafe Pedlar in my old neighborhood of Cobble Hill).  The lines and palette are simple and soothing, utilizing the industrial aesthetic of a city (note the metal) combined with materials like raw wood.

mushrooms

Among the (few) produce stands was one vendor selling rich, meaty mushrooms.  One thing I don’t understand is a dislike of mushrooms. To me, everything about them is appealing; their soft/crunchy/chewy texture, their rich taste, their versatility when cooking.  They’re also gorgeous to look at, too.  Something about their striated colors reminds me of the Painted Desert.

I can practically feel my mouth pucker as I look at these.

Another vendor was offering early-in-the-season apples. Tart and firm, these apples would be delicious on their own, with cheddar, or maybe baked into a galette …

duck, duck, mousse.

Next was a seriously yummy duck pâté (I forgot to write down the name of the vendor).  I’ve gone from being a serious vegetarian to being seriously interested in consuming everything animal related, but this particular flavor combination was very approachable and appealing for those who don’t always like the richness of pâté.

In the midst of this initial phase of exploring, it had been lightly drizzling.  Then suddenly, it started to pour.  The Brooklyn Bridge went from looking like this:

dry.

To this:

soggy.

Inches of water were pouring down some of the aisles between vendors, literally rushing over the bare toes of people who weren’t paying attention to where they walked.  But since the market itself was covered, no one was exactly going to leave.  Jing and I waded through one of the soggier aisles to sample Ruis bread, a sour Finnish rye flat round bread.  Although I don’t usually like sourdoughs, I am never one to say no to a sample, especially when that sample comes with cheddar and bright green cucumber.

finnish sammie.

I wasn’t disappointed, so I left with two (which I then prepared and ate exactly the way I tried it at the market).

although the bread looks hard, it's actually very soft and moist.

Next came Mast Brothers Chocolate, of infamous video fame.  These guys are obsessed with chocolate, and I do mean obsessed.  They bring their cocoa beans in by boat.  Sailboat.  They sort through their beans individually, and use a unique machine designed by a NASA engineer to separate the hulls from the beans (really, just watch the video).  And just look at the pretty, pretty packaging, designed by the girlfriend of one of the brothers and then carefully wrapped around each bar by hand.  Actually, by hand defines how the Mast Brothers do everything.  A trio of these were picked up for my dad’s birthday present.

mast bros.

It was still pouring buckets, with everyone taking shelter.  Jing pointed out this bicyclist trying (in vain) to stay dry across the street.  At least we were stuck where the food was …

waiting it out.

We dawdled around some more, looking at poached fruits stewed with cinnamon and other warm spices:

frutas and cinnamon.

and a creamy soft goats cheese hanging out in oil and bright green herbs:

chevre and green.

We stopped at Narragansett Creamery, where they were sampling ricotta with blueberries and honey.  It was so delicious and fresh tasting that I had to stop and talk to them, which turned into a huge conversation about where they should distribute in Mystic (where my family now lives part-time, and only a stone’s throw from Narragansett, RI).  These lovely people gave me a big tub of their lovelier cheese as thanks, which I baked into my not-a-cake-birthday-cake.

ricotta, honey and blueberries.

At this point, the rain had mostly abated and Jing and I fled the market, full of food and good conversations with people as passionate about making quality products as we are about eating them.  We may have come out on the other side a bit soggier than when we started, but all in all, there wasn’t a better way to spend a Sunday.

gluttony of the garden variety

I’m taking a brief hiatus here over at POR.  School has started, baked & wired is keeping me (very happily) busy and something else has happened that I need to focus on at the moment.  I won’t be gone long, but have a look at the beautiful bounty of produce from Abigail over at gus & other things in the interim.  Being able to grow my own produce like this is something of a dream.  Why a dream?  Because a) I don’t have anything remotely resembling a garden and b) my green thumb actually tends to be more of a brown thumb, and anything plant-like of mine has a habit of dying a sudden, un-bountiful death (and I’m also afraid of bugs).  Until then, I’ll wish I had Abigail’s skills and rely on farmer’s markets and Whole Foods to keep my plate full.

photo credit: abigail at gus and other things