Category Archives: photography

South African Adventures

This time last year, I had just made the move to South Africa and didn’t know if I’d be coming back to the States or not.  It’s hard to believe how much has changed in one short year; I’ve moved back to the US, set up house in a new city, started graduate school and met more amazing new friends than anyone should have the right to.  It’s gone by incredibly fast, but when I was in South Africa two weeks ago it almost felt as though I’d never left.  My favorite places like Bird’s, &Union and the Biscuit Mill are still thriving, and new places like the Power and the Glory have opened up too.  The fresh food available (if you can afford it, as so many people can’t), is simply amazing.  It’s almost silly to put ‘organic’ or ‘grass-fed’ on food packaging, because that’s kind of the status quo there.  Chemicals are expensive, land isn’t in short supply and agribusiness doesn’t reign supreme as it does in the US.  You can taste this in the food; the lettuce is sweet, the avo is creamy, and the dairy, eggs and meat are far more flavorful than anything I’ve tasted in the US.  There is also no shortage of culinary talent, so when you have these spectacular ingredients combined with the creativity and skills of the chefs, your meal is quite often unforgettable.  I enjoyed many wonderful meals cooking with my family, and also out at a number of lovely restaurants in the Cape Winelands.  It’s hot this time of year–it was 110F for several days– but it’s dry, so there are very few bugs.  The outdoors becomes an extension of the indoors– you leave your windows open, you eat outside.  The Western Cape remains one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, with craggy mountains, green expanses of grape vines and olive trees, dusty purple lavender fields, the indigenous fynbos (including my favorite, proteas), and a vividly, richly blue ocean.

Franschhoek, in the heart of the Cape Winelands

Now, for the food.  We celebrated Christmas (belatedly) with my little niece Maya, so we had to make cookies for Santa.  I made a simple snickerdoodle for Maya to decorate (along with cream cheese icing that was on flavor-wise but very off in terms of texture).

decorating santa's cookies

I also made a South African version of Momofuku Milk Bar’s infamous compost cookie, using a Black Cat Peanut Brittle Bar, Otees cereal, pretzel sticks from Pick n’ Pay, Cadbury Whispers, and Lay’s Crisps.

the ingredients

I also made sure to drink Windhoek, a favorite Namibian beer:

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and Savanna, my favorite not-too-sweet cider that is beyond delicious with a slice of lemon.

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I also had enough granadilla (passionfruit) to feed a small army.  In addition to being perfectly tangy, their color combination is, to use a South African expression, stunning:

 

delicious.

We had some delicious meals in:

 

onion, peppers, baby fennel and baby corn fresh off the braai

peri-peri prawns and coconut corn on the braai

rocket and prosciutto pizza

And some exceptional meals out:

 

chicken salad with mango and coconut cream

seared beef with wasabi cream, micro-greens and rice noodles

perfect udon, so delicious that I ordered them for dessert.

malva pudding, a traditional South African dessert

It’s hard not to fall in love with the place– it’s people, culture, food, and breathtaking beauty (not to mention wonderful friends and family) keep drawing me back.  Yes, the country has problems, problems that I dealt with and experienced firsthand while living there, and that I’m studying how to remedy in graduate school.  But most of what I see is positive, and I’ll return as soon, and as often, as I can.

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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 …

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.

Punkin Love

It’s officially fall today in DC– it’s chilly and overcast, much like the fall I’m used to from growing up in New England and three years of living in NYC.  It’s time for sweaters, hot cider, apple picking, and all things pumpkin.  I never, ever get sick of pumpkin (or the word pumpkin.  Pumpkin. Pumpkin! It’s so fun to say).  Baked started busting out the pumpkin (teehee) this past weekend in the form of pie and cupcakes, and my roomie (a fellow New Englander) brought home some tasty, tasty pumpkin beer this weekend.  It’s a trifecta of pumpkin deliciousness.  My camera and I are still in the honeymoon phase, so here we go … pictures!

pumpkin trifecta

Cupcake and pie both from baked & wired.  Beer from Maine!  It was the first time I’ve had Kennebunkport, but when I did a little intrepid googling to research found out that it’s actually an alternate label for Shipyard (and Sea Dog, which are all brewed at Federal Jack’s in Kennebunk).  So confusing!  Either way, I’m happy I get my boozy pumpkin fix.

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This pie is phenomenal.  The crust is flaky and mild, really letting the fluffy, smooth pumpkin filling take center stage with lots of warm spices.  It’s not overly sweet, too, which I really enjoy.

pumpkin? cream cheese? what's not to love?

This pumpkin cupcake was seriously outstanding.  The cream cheese frosting is light (I think it might be whipped) and nicely seasoned with pumpkin pie spices.  It lends the perfect amount of tanginess to the cake, which is unbelievably soft and airy.  Again, it’s not overly sweet, which is key to a successful pumpkin dessert.

Disclaimer: although I do work at baked & wired, I’m writing this of my own volition and even paid for my pie and cupcake.  Just sayin’.

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.