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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Movie: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Why, why haven't I seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington before now?

This is a great American movie. A true classic. The kind that makes me proud to be an American, and proud to be a Washingtonian to boot. Seeing DC through Jimmy Stewart's starry eyes reminds me yet again how fortunate I am to live here every day, in this seat of history and power.

You may be familiar with the plot. A Senator from a southern state dies and the Governor must appoint his replacement to serve out the final two months of the term. And even though Mr. Jefferson Smith has no political experience, well by gum, the Governor appoints the well-loved Boy Scout leader to take the job. Senator Smith arrives in Washington awed by those who came before him. He wanders off and visits the monuments, the archives, Mt. Vernon, Arlington Cemetery with that Jimmy Stewart look of awe and reverence. Of course, all of the Washington establishment thinks he's nuts -- he's going to Mt. Vernon? they smirk -- but in the end, he's the one who embodies true American democracy. One passionate man leading his fellow men for the good of the country.

The drama unfolds when Senator Smith writes up a handy little bill establishing a national boys' camp along the banks of a river that, whoops, is the same spot his fellow Senator is trying to put up a dam after quietly buying up all the land around the river so that he'll make a huge profit. The stakes are set: idealism vs. greed, one honest man vs. a corrupt political machine. Mr. Smith's good name is dragged through the mud and just when he is about to throw in the towel, he visits Mr. Lincoln up at his memorial and then returns to the Senate floor to fight the good fight.

In Frank Capra's and Jimmy Stewart's hands, this isn't a cliched or silly movie, it is an engaging and inspiring movie that pulls you in from its very beginning and won't leave you alone until you are just as in love with the American Dream as Mr. Smith is. Oh sure, it is a bit dated. In 1939, there were only 96 Senators, men wore hats, and that wise cracking secretary's problems will all be solved once she can just settle down and marry. But when I pass the Capitol Dome on my way in to work this morning, I will think twice about all the good ideas and hope that it stands for. And as I read the headlines today, I will hope that there is just a bit of Mr. Smith somewhere in Congress.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Thing 92: Hank's, Revisited

We all know that I'm a fan of raw bar. And so I could not resist going back to Hank's two days later to feast upon the 12 seafood dishes of Christmas:

Hank 12 seafood dishes of Christmas
Sing it with me now:

On every day of December, my true love fed to me:

12 Atlantic oysters
11 peel and eat shrimp
10 fried oysters
NIIIIIIIIINE GOLDEN RINGS (of calamari)
8 steamed mussels
7 fried clams
6 Pacific oysters
5 clams
4 BBQ'ed oysters
3 scallops
2 shrimp cocktail
and a bowl of ceviche
The 12 seafood dishes of Christmas is available at Hank's through December for $75.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thing 92: Hank's Oyster Bar

Did I have a meal last night at Hank's! Oh, my. I had eaten there once before, a long time ago, but after last night I'm not sure why I don't eat there every day. Everything was delicious!

From the small bowl of goldfish crackers we were offered as we looked over the menu, to the small nuggets of dark German chocolate given to us at the end of the meal, everything we ate at Hank's was wonderful. The menu is divided into four parts -- appetizers, small plates, large plates and sides. From this, you can piece together a meal that will satisfy exactly what you want and how hungry you are.

We started with an appetizer of Old Bay peel 'n eat shrimp, which were sweet and meaty, sprinkled liberally with Old Bay seasoning and served with a great cocktail sauce made spicy with horseradish. Then, seduced by all the side dishes that looked so good I couldn't pick one, or even two, I ordered a small plate of crab cake with sides of macaroni and cheese, caramelized onion bread pudding, and collards. The crab cake was lightly fried with an awesome aioli, the bread pudding was silky and savory, the collards made sweet and sour by a healthy dose of cider vinegar and sauteed shallots. Oh, and that macaroni and cheese, with pungent Gruyere, toasted breadcrumbs and a small dice of smokey ham scattered throughout. Oh, how I would like to eat that every day, all day, for the rest of my life!

The Boyfriend had the lobster roll, full of sweet lobster, lightly dressed and served in a toasted, buttered brioche bun with thin, crispy fries.

Hank's doesn't have a dessert menu, which is just as well because I would have ordered dessert even though I don't know where it would have fit in my mac and crab cake filled stomach. Instead, we got just a small bowl with a bit of high quality dark chocolate, just enough to whet that after dinner sweet tooth.

Hank's is a neighborhood joint, a classy and higher quality answer to the mediocre restaurants along 17th Street. I'm not sure why it took me this long to sit down at its long banquette and enjoy some shrimp, but rest assured, I will be back shortly. And for those of you in Ye Olde Towne, they just opened a second location there, too. Lucky us!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Thing 91: The National Christmas Tree

The National Christmas TreeI have a pretty intense NaBloPoMo hangover. After 30 days, I feel like I never want to blog again, which is a shame because I took a really awesome tour of the West Wing last weekend and I have pictures of me in the press briefing room and everything. But there is only one thing that could pull me out of my funk, and it is the National Christmas Tree.



The National Christmas Tree
I love the National Tree!! Located on the Ellipse, behind the White House, it is one of my favorite things about Christmas time in the District. Sure there is the great big tree, but what people usually don't realize is that each U.S. state and territory has it's own little tree surrounding the big one. They are all decorated by some charitable organization from that state in a way that is symbolic of that state. Plus there is a giant yule log fire pit and Christmas carols and lots of electric trains.
The National Christmas Tree
If you are not yet in the holiday spirit, throw on your mittens and head down to the Ellipse. And when you get too darn cold, you can head over to the Willard for a sugar plum toddy!

The National Christmast Tree

Friday, November 30, 2007

Day 30: Thank You!

Sam wrote to me today:

"I want to say, your blog during this month resembles a sitcom in its 7th season. You know you're going to get syndicated if you can just make it through the season, so you throw in a clip-show of highlights."

On this last day of NaBloPoMo, I want to say thank you to all of you who kept reading, even through the clip show of highlights. I am pretty sure I won't be doing this again.

I'll be back to my once or twice a week schedule after today, with hopefully a bit more freshness and enthusiasm.

Next week, on DC365 -- Ice skating in the sculpture garden, White House tour, and Hanukkah on the Ellipse. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Real Thing 90: Carafe Wine Makers

Did you read about the Shenandoah Brewing Company and think "that sounds pretty good, but I don't really like beer."? Well, boy do I have good news for you! There's a new shop in Old Town Alexandria that does what SBC does, but with wine!


The Boyfriend and I were doing a little window shopping down King Street after work, when a chalkboard sign announcing Carafe Wine Makers' grand opening caught our fancy. We entered the shop where an enthusiastic salesman told us the process for wine making. First, you get to drink wine (woo!). You try several different kinds of their finished products until you find the one you like best, then you go into the back and cook up your batch with the "juice" and some yeast and something or other. The whole process only takes 20 minutes. Then you return in four to six weeks and you have 30 bottles of your very own homemade wine! Depending on the type of wine you make, the price shakes out to between $8 and $25 a bottle.

The shop is also a wine store, with rows of bottles made on the premises and assorted wine paraphernalia -- glasses, wine openers, gift bags for bottles. The bottles are moderately priced, between $11 and $13 a bottle, but perhaps the best part is that you can taste the different types of wine at the small wine bar before you buy. That way you can be fairly sure you're going to like what you bring home.

The Boyfriend and I decided to stick around and get a post-work drink at the bar. They have a special deal that gets you one three ounce flight of three wines for $10, and you get to keep the small, branded wine glass. We veered a bit from the three ounces of three wines, and instead tried an ounce or two of six wines. A pinot grisio, a blend of Gewurztraminer and Riesling from Washington state, an Australian shiraz, a pinot noir, a Tuscan-style red, and a Cabernet. I don't know a whole lot about wine, but they all seemed quite good. I especially liked the pinot grisio and the pinot noir, and could definitely see myself brewing up a batch and having it on hand in the closet for anytime in the future I'm invited over for dinner, a party, cocktails, or if I was hosting a party of my own.

The staff is very friendly, and the space is homey and still so clean and polished you can tell they opened but three weeks ago. There are large leather chairs by a fireplace, and a high black marble bar with cheese shaped candles. The only thing missing are snacks. Nine ounces of wine requires a cheese plate, or else I start to get a little silly.

This is great gift idea for the oenophile in your life, and much like SBC, would be a fun and different place for a date (just be sure you like the person enough that they'll be around in a couple months to help bottle and enjoy!). Carafe Wine Makers is a great and fun addition to Old Town.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thing 90: Take Out The Trash

Sigh...NaBloPoMo or not, sometimes a girl needs dear friends, tacos, a glass of wine, and Tim Gunn. Sorry, I got nothin' tonight but taking out the trash. I thought this might happen, and I apologize. I promise to really pull out all the stops for the last two days of this God forsaken month. There will be a big finale number, with jazz hands.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The DC365 Holiday Gift Guide

There are only 28 shopping days left until Christmas! And only seven shopping days left until Hanukkah. But most importantly, only four days left of NaBloPoMo! So since I made turkey soup tonight instead of doing a Thing, I present to you the DC365 Holiday Gift Guide!

First of all, I recommend doing much of your shopping at the DC365 Shop. That is because a) you won't have to brave the mall and 2) I make money! It's like a gift for the person on you list and for me! This is the one stop shop for any DC-phile. You can get DC-related books, movies and music, guide books and maps, or heck, even a case of Route 11 Potato Chips!

If you prefer actually going to a real location to do your shopping, DC has plenty of funky and unique local shops for all occasions. Teaism sells beautiful and handcrafted ceramics and tea accessories. The Textile Museum gift shop sells scarves, handbags, and interesting books if anyone on your list is interested in fashion or sewing. The Dupont Circle Farmers' Market sells handmade and organic soaps, and also jams or pies that would make a great gift for the host of your next holiday party. I like Kramerbooks or Candida's for buying books and supporting local business rather than chain book stores. And Pulp on 14th Street is the place for unique, funny, or perverted holiday greeting cards.

If you're shopping for someone with a sweet tooth, I recommend Kingsbury Chocolates in Alexandria (and soon Logan Circle, but more on that later). These beautiful handmade truffles, caramels and chocolate bars feature unique flavor combinations like garam masala or cinnamon chipotle or lavender pistachio. Plus, I work there! So you know they're good. The chocolate covered salty caramels are my favorites.

If you're very, very brave, you can always hit the Pentagon City Mall or Tyson's Corner, but I can't guarantee you'll come out of it alive.

What have I missed? Where will you be doing your holiday shopping this year?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thing 89: Red Mei

I got a really nice little note today from Eden at NaBloPoMo. Eden says "if you've stuck with it this far there's no point in giving up now!". Well Eden, I'll have you know, I will NOT give up now, but I would appreciate it if you rigged the random drawing so that I win a prize for all this work. Thanks.

Red Mei looks like a chain, but it is the only one of it's kind! I need to blog about it now, before it becomes the kind of ubiquitous chain restaurant that I usually wrinkle my nose at (by the way, Thing 91 is "Go To Starbucks." Anyone have a problem with that?). But until it goes nationwide, I get to laud it for being an exceptionally delicious local fast food restaurant that has great franchising potential.

Deb once pointed out the simple and unexpected ability for a squeeze of citrus to re-awaken any dish. Well, now I can vouch for this touch. We've all had pad thai, right? It's always good and we can always count on it. But Red Mei's pad thai, with the bright cut of lime through it, makes you sit up and take note of this dish that you've tried so many times before. Likewise, the sauce for the Thai ginger garlic ginger was bright and alive with fresh lemons and limes, and given depth with licorice-y basil and bitter cilantro. I wanted to drink it with a straw.

This small corner restaurant is painted in bright reds and yellows, with Asian-inspired light fixtures and sleek counters running along the walls. It's not a fancy place; you go up to the counter, place your order, and then the cooks fire it up right there. Nothing is sitting around waiting, and everything is made hot and to your specifications. Not bad for a dinner under $10, right?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thing 88: Stoney's

Who remembers the old Stoney's? That dirty hole in the wall at 13th & L, with surly bartenders and 30 years of smoke in the walls? Remember how they didn't take credit cards, and you'd inevitably forget until the end of the night, when you were several pitchers of Stoney's Amber Ale in, and you'd have to stumble to the SunTrust across the street and pay an exorbitant ATM fee to cover your tab? Oh, that was just me?

My first job out of college, I worked for 21st Century Democrats, which at that time was located two stories up in the same building as Stoney's. I used to go there all the time. And even though I ended up working elsewhere (ahem, Iowa) and no longer was a regular when it closed, I still mourned the loss.

But now it's back. Resurrected from the dead and around the corner from my apartment. Since moving to Logan, this place has become my local again. (Of course, the new Stoney's has been open a little over a year, but NaBloPoMo is driving me to write about those Things that are mundane in my life.)

It's fitting to write about Stoney's in November, because as the Boyfriend likes to point out, this is a cold weather bar. We like to visit the many patios along 17th Street in the summer, for cocktails al fresco, but when there is a chill in the air, we pull up a bar stool at Stoney's where the grilled cheese and a cold Stella keep us cozy and warm. The door opens with a gust of cold wind, and when it dies down we remember that we are safe and warm, and resume with cheering for the Crimson Tide (or, if it was last Friday, with watching the LSU-Arkansas game unfold in an excess of overtimes).

The bartenders at Stoney's don't mind if you nurse a vodka tonic and do the crossword puzzle after a long day at the office. They put on whatever game you are following if you ask nicely. The pizzas are chewy and cheesy and available for carryout if you live in the neighborhood. The grilled cheese rules, and the super grilled cheese is even better, with tomato, onion, and bacon. The people are a cross section of this neighborhood in flux -- gay, straight, old, young, black, white, sports fans and wine drinkers are all regulars. A lot like the old Stoney's, but with decidedly less smoke in the walls and with credit card machines.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thing 87: Matchbox

I had never been to Matchbox before, in part because every time I tried to go, I was informed that the wait would be 60 to 90 minutes. And while that was just too long to wait when I was hungry now, it sure seemed to speak well for the restaurant.

So I went back on the day before Thanksgiving, when DC is practically a ghost town, and sure enough the wait for lunch was only five to ten minutes.

Matchbox is made up of two narrow townhouses in Chinatown, reconverted into open and bright dining rooms. Every spare inch of wall space at Matchbox is covered in framed magazine covers or news articles lauding the place. The Washington Post, the Washingtonian, Esquire, the RAMMY's, it seems like everyone is crazy about Matchbox.

Does this place live up to the hype, the long waits, the many raves and awards? In a word: yes. This place is good. Really, really good. Delicious food, affordable prices, lively atmosphere, and attentive service. I think we have a winner.

I went with my cousin, before we hit up the National Gallery. We were seated in the newly annexed part of the restaurant, which is bright with natural light, with deep booths on one side of the room and a high banquette along the other, ending in a busy kitchen with a brick pizza oven. As we were led to our table, I checked out what was on other peoples' plates -- looked like the crab cake sandwich was popular, the pizzas, and plates of mini burgers heaped over with thin onion rings.

Once seated, our waiter, Parker, assured us he would be right with us. It was still a few minutes before he was actually able to pay attention to us, but as he hurried back and forth with gorgeous plates of food he kept assuring us he hadn't forgotten, which was a nice touch. When he finally come over to our table, he mentioned that the place was famous for its pizza and its mini-burgers, went over the specials and any questions we had and left us to decide.

In the end, we split the "mini-trio," which is two scallops, two crab cakes and two mini-burgers. We really wanted to try the burgers, plus I wanted to see what those giant crab cake sandwiches were all about. All three were perfectly cooked -- the scallop firm with a thick seared crust and rich buttery sauce, the crab cake was sweet and meaty, and the burgers were perfect little patties, pink on the inside, topped with a crumble of blue cheese and crispy fried onions. Sadly, our mini-trio burgers didn't come with the little brioche bun. Next time, as good as that crab cake was, we order only mini-burgers!

Then we split the flatiron pizza and the iceberg wedge. The flatiron pizza was awesome -- an overused word, and yet completely applicable here. The crust was so thin, crispy and a bit charred on the bottom. The pizza itself was sweet and rich and spicy, with toppings of meaty mushrooms and steak, a rich and cheesy Gruyere sauce, sweet caramelized onions and neon yellow banana peppers providing a vinegar-laced heat at the end. I ate a lot, and looked forward to eating more later, cold, out of the refrigerator, except that I totally caved when the coat check guy at the National Gallery asked me if he could eat it, and so he got my creamy spicy leftover pizza.

The iceberg wedge was good too. I do believe that a wedge of iceberg will always taste delicious with bacon, red onion, blue cheese and hard boiled egg, but get this -- the iceberg lettuce had flavor. I didn't know that was possible! I always thought iceberg was there for texture, not flavor -- but this iceberg tasted like crunchy sweet lettuce.

As we were slowing down on the meal, Parker came over and got my hopes up by saying "is it time for..." Then he ended the question with "a box?" rather than "dessert?" Matchbox doesn't serve desserts. Matchbox, that is a shame. I want pizza and mini-burgers and ice cream, dammit. Matchbox, let's work out a deal. I make the ice cream cream sandwiches (3/6/9?) and you keep the thin crusts coming.

Matchbox is always packed, almost always a long wait, and all I can tell you is yes, it's worth it. Plan ahead, arrive before you are so hungry you'll settle for Hooters, and maybe hit RFD while you wait. But however you finagle it, go go go!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thing 86: The National Gallery, East Wing

It is way too soon after the feast to write a food related post, so Matchbox will have to wait until tomorrow. Instead, I am going to lay on the couch with this pot belly of mine, and ANTM on in the background, and tell you all about the really great Hopper exhibition at the East Wing of the National Gallery.

Edward Hopper at the National Gallery
You haven't seen it yet? You must! A complete and all-encompassing retrospective of his very prolific career, this exhibition follows Hopper from his early etchings, through his watercolors in Glocester, Mass, his oils of lighthouses in Maine, and of course his most famous scenes of New York City. I didn't know much about Hopper going in -- his "Nighthawks" piece, sure, but not much else -- but I must say that after the exhibit, I have a huge appreciation for Hopper and his work.

He was a master of light and shadow. He understood the power of natural light and was able to really beautifully capture the purple shadows in unlikely ways. He also tended to paint unexpected subjects. For example, he painted a whole series of pictures of lighthouses in Maine, but rarely do we see what might be expected at a lighthouse. Namely, the sea. Instead, we see the lighthouse against the hills, the hills with a corner of the lighthouse, the base of the lighthouse with some bushes and trees creating shadows.

Likewise, his famous scenes of people in New York City. He captures unassuming moments, scenes between people or through windows that don't seem noteworthy at all, but instill a sense of isolation or longing in the viewer. In Hopper's world, the theater-goers are more interesting than the movie and each apartment window hides complex lives and ambiguous stories.

There's a brief documentary at the end of the exhibit, a short 15 minute film about Hopper and his work, narrated by Steve Martin. It provides a good narrative and perspective on the paintings you've just seen, and helps to put them into historical perspective. One of the artists interviewed in the film says "I've never met anyone who didn't like Hopper. His works appeal to everyone." I think he may be right, and I urge all of you to see the exhibit before it leaves in January.

Liechtenstein at the National Gallery
We also checked out the bottom floor of the East Wing (and not just the gelato stand), enjoying the Liechtensteins, Warhols and Calders. Yes, there are blank white canvasses and cans of Campbell's soup cans and some weird stuff going on, but it's some of the best weird stuff you can find. And walking around the gallery might help burn off some of those turkey and cheesecake calories.

East Wing at the National Gallery

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Things To Be Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! The pumpkin cheesecake just went in the oven and I have an hour or so of down time before I resume baking. I thought I'd tell you about a tradition my family has on this day. After we have stuffed ourselves on cornbread and cranberry and lots and lots of mashed potatoes, we go around the table and tell everyone what we are thankful for.

So in that vein, I'd like to share with you all those things that I am thankful for:


Have a delicious, safe and happy holiday!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Well, we know who the Post is reading

According to Sunday's Post, Vermilion and the Tabard are two very cozy bars. And, ahem, I think we all know who their source is.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thing 85: Regional Food and Drink (RFD)

Continuing on with the exotic beers theme, after boiling wort and drinking chocolate donut stout, we rendez-vous'ed at Regional Food and Drink, or RFD, for some dinner. Located in the heart of Chinatown, this lively restaurant and bar has a beer list as thick as a comic book and a bar staff that will ruthlessly make fun of you if you attempt to order anything 'lite' or with the words 'silver' or 'bullet' in them.

RFD, owned by the same beer nuts that brought us the Brickskeller, boasts over 300 kinds of bottled beers from all over the world and the largest list of beers on tap in the city. I mean, take a look at this beer list! It's so long it's a bit overwhelming, and quite often I just have to close my eyes and point. The staff is remarkably knowledgeable though, and if you describe what you're looking for, they can often point you towards a new and interesting take on it. This time, I stuck with Jever, a German pilsener I've had before, and it was light and quite tasty until -- ahem -- the bulk of it ended up in my lap.

The crowd is the usual hip, well-dressed, mostly white mix of hipsters and frat guys that fills Chinatowns most nights. We were there fairly early in the evening and already it was full and loud; we had to shout over the music and noise to be heard. It seems a good place to go before going out for the night, or a good place to watch a game, with their ample TVs and a few couches to make it feel a bit more like home.

As I've mentioned before, Chinatown is now so replete with national chains and boring fast food joints, that RFD and its epic beer list are a welcome change of pace.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thing 84: The Shenandoah Brewing Company

As sprite correctly guessed yesterday, the big spoon was used to stir a large kettle of soon-to-be-beer at the Shenandoah Brewing Company!

I learned of SBC a while back from a friend who had mentioned in passing that it would be a great place for a second or third date. And I'm here to report back that yes, it would! Back in my dating life, this would have been a different and creative date. The whole process takes about two and half hours, during which there is ample time to talk and get to know each other. There are fabulous SBC beers on tap, food and munchies, sodas brewed on the premises, and even board games to play while you wort is simmering away. And -- and here's why you'd want it to be a second or third date, because you'd have to be sure you want to see that person again -- you go back in three to twelve weeks and bottle five cases of your very own microbrew. How cool is this place? It's even metro accessible! A short stroll from Van Dorn Street.


The process goes something like this: you show up and pick out which beer you want to make. They have about 80 recipes there, any of which you can modify to your liking, or you can even just describe a beer you like, or bring in a sample, and the friendly professionals at SBC will work with you on the recipe to achieve your goal.


Then you measure out your grains and hops according to the recipe, and head over to the giant kettles, where your wort is boiling away. You follow the steps of the recipe, stirring with your giant spoon, adding and timing things and whatnot, maybe drinking a pint or two of chocolate donut stout. Then the helpful brewing masters put it in a big giant vat, add some magical yeast that will make the beer become, well, beer, and then you kick the vat back and forth to ensure it's probably agitate and aerate your brew.

You can even design your own labels, if you are brewing for a special event or holiday party.

This is such a fun and friendly place, and for any beer aficionado or home brewer in your life...well, a gift certificate from SBC and your Christmas shopping can be done before Black Friday.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sneak Preview...

It is almost midnight people, and there is still laundry waiting for the dryer and macaroons to be dipped in chocolate, and wow did I just eat a lot of stuffing. So here is just a little sneaky peak of good things to come...

Here's a hint -- it involves a very large spoon.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Boyfriend's Favorites

Today we are celebrating the Boyfriend's birthday. Yay! And of course we are doing fun DC things. But between planning birthday surprises and making two cakes (because the first one was...I don't want to talk about it), I don't have much time for this blog a day thing.

So in honor of the Boyfriend's birthday, I asked him what his favorite Things have been so far. And he said:

  • 18th Street Lounge: Although I, er, had to leave the party a bit early, the Boyfriend was able to relax and enjoy this stately mansion cum night club. If you can find the place, you're in for a fun night.
  • Wonderland Trivia: Enjoy the funky, hipster atmosphere, the cheap sausages, and the damn near impossible trivia.
  • Kotobuki: I am so tickled that he chose a raw fish establishment as one of his favorites. If the Boyfriend can love Kotobuki this much, than anyone will love it, even those who may be lukewarm about the prospect of raw fish.
  • Georgia Brown's: It can't be all raw fish all the time. Georgia Brown's serves up fried chicken and shrimp and grits that feed a hungry Southern boy like the Boyfriend.
  • Apple Picking: Our trip out to Stribling Orchard was so much fun, we both can't wait to go back.
Although I can't tell you where we are going today (I don't want to ruin his surprise), I hope you'll join us in celebrating in spirit at one of his favorite locales.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thing 83: Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe

When you think cafeteria, you're probably thinking...what? Soggy egg salad sandwiches. Meatloaf in chafing dishes. Over salted frozen mixed vegetables. Jello cups. Right?

The Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe, the cafeteria at the National Museum of the American Indian, will completely dispel those negative ideas, proving that food you served on a tray need not be stale or of questionable nutritional value, but can actually be delicious, satisfying, healthy and adventurous cooking.

Since the Museum of the American Indian is a Smithsonian, admission is free and you can pop right back to the cafeteria. The actual museum is going to merit a really thorough post at some point in the future, with me spending a lot of time there and really thinking about the whole enterprise. That day was not yesterday. Yesterday I just wanted my lunch.

Mitsitam Salmon for lunch
As one might expect from a museum about native cultures, the foods at the cafeteria are all native to the U.S. and the cooking techniques mimic those of the native tribes. The stations are divided by geography, so there is one for the Southwest, Pacific Northwest, Great Plains, etc. Each station serves a main dish, several sides, and usually a soup and a dessert. The wide geographic diversity means plenty to choose from -- buffalo burgers or carnitas tacos, pumpkin soup or seafood stew, salmon, elk, turkey, oysters, clams...Limiting oneself to foods native to this continent is hardly limiting at all.

I ended up eating from the Pacific Northwest, where the lure of cedar planked salmon cooked over an open flame (seriously, you could see the open flame) was too much for me resist. Cooked until moist and rich, it was then brushed with a sweet blueberry sauce, a nice contrast to the rich, dense fish. Although you can choose your side dishes from any station to create a trans-continental lunch, I stayed with the Northwest, getting corn pone with wild mushrooms and wild rice salad with dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds and watercress. The corn pone was like extra smooth grits, and was so rich with mushrooms and (I'm guessing) butter it was all I could do keep from eating all of it at once. The wild rice salad was also good -- clean and light, with a nice sweetness from the cranberries.

My lunchtime companion went further East, to the Rocky Mountains, and had roasted elk which was really good. I'd never had elk -- it was rich and gamy had a great crust on the outside and tender chewiness on the inside. He also got grilled corn on the cob and green and yellow beans.

There's a variety of desserts available too, little pumpkin pies or brownies or key lime tarts, but the best is the Indian pudding -- that slow cooked cornmeal mush, sweetened with molasses or maple syrup. It is the very perfect dessert for a cold fall day, warm and sweet and satisfying.

Mitsitam Native Foods CafeThe cafeteria itself is a beautiful space -- no plastic picnic tables and fluorescent lighting here. The lines all bend and curve, just like the architecture of the whole building, and the walls are painted a warm red color. Large windows look out onto the Mall and the Capitol, with tables and benches running along the windows and into a round open space with long wooden tables. The ambiance is a bit...hectic, what with the inevitable hordes of elementary school children on field trips and fanny-packed tourists. And the food isn't cheap -- my plate set me back $16, which seems pricey for a meal eaten on a yellow plastic tray, even if it is much better than the average cafeteria.

This remains a great and unexpected lunch spot, replete with interesting and delicious foods, and I urge you stop by and try it. Be warned though, you might be overwhelmed with the desire to just stay at the museum after lunch -- or maybe pop in next door for a cosmic show.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thing 82: The Einstein Planetarium

Einstein Planetarium

Today I played tourist by hitting up the National Air and Space Museum on my lunch break and seeing galaxies collide at the Einstein Planetarium.

When was the last time you've been to a planetarium? For me, I haven't been since I was about eight years old at the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. I recommend going back to the planetarium than it took me -- the show I saw today was great!

First of all, it's narrated by Robert Redford, who, it turns out, is not only easy on the eyes, but easy on the ears! Second of all, I learned a lot. The show I saw, "Cosmic Collisions," explained how collisions in the universe were responsible for such things as our moon, the Northern Lights, the extinction of the dinosaurs, and billions of years from now the joining of the Milky Way with the Andromeda Galaxy. All brought to you in swirling 3D, with meteorites orbiting above your head and stars twinkling brightly in the night sky.

Tickets for adults cost $8.50, though the museum's admission is, of course, free. Apparently, if you go in the middle of the day the week before Thanksgiving, you don't even have to wait in line! But I can't vouch for more crowded times of the day. I have seen the line stretch far, far back.

Just relax, recline, allow the darkness to envelope you and listen to Robert Redford's narration. Going to the moon and back on your lunch hour is so much more satisfying than another PBJ at your desk.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Thing 81: Szechuan Gallery Restaurant

I remember the first time I ran across DC's Chinatown. Brand new to the District, I'd had a doctor's appointment up by Union Station. I arrived early in the morning only to find out that the appointment had been cancelled. With a couple of hours to kill before I had class, I decided to walk from Union Station back to Foggy Bottom. As I was strolling, I crossed through Chinatown, saw the big, ornate archway and thought "Oh, so this is Chinatown! I've been meaning to -- wait, where'd it go?"

You see, I'm from the suburbs of San Francisco, a city where Chinatown really means something. You can spend hours -- days! -- in San Francisco's Chinatown exploring shops that sell strange foods, imported goods, traditional herbal remedies and eating your way through some of the most delicious and authentic Chinese restaurants in the U.S.

So imagine my surprise when I stumbled on DC's Chinatown and it was two blocks long and two blocks wide.

Of course now, eight years later, it's not even that big. The main attraction in the area is no longer Chinatown but the Verizon Center. Generic chain restaurants have replaced any semblance of the old Chinatown. The only reminder that this area was ever a Chinatown is the Chinese lettering that adorns every business' sign. So there's a Chinese lettered Starbucks, La Tosca, Legal Seafood, Ruby Tuesday, Pot Belly Sandwich Works, Urban Outfitters and Benetton. Sigh.

Anyway, the point is that last night -- between cleaning the bathroom and folding the laundry, the Boyfriend and I sought out some actual Chinese food in Chinatown. It was a foolhardy and radical idea, but there we were at Szechuan Gallery Restaurant Garden, munching away at moo shi pork and sweet and sour chicken.

What a weird place. The food actually wasn't half bad (the crab rangoon was quite good in fact), but the place was just so weird. We were the only two people eating there for the most part. The restaurant smelled like an old man's apartment -- musty and slightly sour. It was decorated haphazardly, with a textured aluminum ceiling, fake flowers and Peking ducks drying near the front window.

At one point, a street vendor came in and sold the staff behind the bar some bottles of baby lotion, "two for five dollars." There was a lot of selling and negotiating for about eight minutes, then he left and it went back to being quiet again.

We ate our fill, with plenty of leftovers for today's lunch, and then headed out. Is this what Chinatown had to offer? Can you blame people for flocking to California Tortilla and Five Guys instead? Next time, Matchbox, all the way.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What I want to know is...

When do these people who post every day have time to clean their bathrooms?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Roll Call!

As NaBloPoMo continues, I'd like to take this opportunity to direct your attention to my Blog Roll at the right hand side of the page, "Inside the Beltway." There's some good stuff there, and I'd like to urge you to check out these great blogs!

C in DC: Caroline is just about the craftiest person I know, or rather, read. Check out her blog for interesting recipes, cake decorating tips, lots of yarn and knitting related items, cat updates and fun things going on around DC. Plus, she has really really awesome hair.

Culture Me, DC: Kate is great to check in with for deals and happenings about town. She is the master of the quick and dirty coming attraction, and we have very similar tastes.

DC Blogs: An excellent roundup of the most interesting DC blog posts. Plus, sometimes I get linked to, and then I feel famous.

DCNightlife Raw: I feel honored that these people like little old DC365, because I'm pretty sure they are a lot cooler than me.

Diminished Seventh: Lee's blog! Music news, both locally and nationally, and an abundance of wit.

Eavesdrop DC: I. Love. This. Blog.

Kelly the Culinarian: I'm new to Kelly's blog, but this Petworth resident is always on the lookout for new, interesting and delicious foods.

murkycoffee.com: We know how I feel about murky coffee. This is a great way to find out what's new at the store, including exciting developments such as $5 hot chocolate is back! (No questions).

Project Beltway: Who says DC has no sense of style? This intrepid blogger keeps an eye out for the fashionable few running around town. I found this blog when our friend John made it in for his Halloween costume.

The DC Concierge: The Concierge, much like, me is a wonky consultant by day and DC aficionado by night. I like her Q & A format, and she seems to know a lot about very useful topics. Got a questions? Your concierge is sure to know the answer.

The Gracious Bowl: Because DC is such a small town, I had been invited to a soup swap by these ladies long before I even had a blog. This blog is all soup all the time, and with the weather cooling down quickly this blog is a must.

WhereInDC: Amy is new to blogging (welcome Amy!), and she has already been eating up a storm. Plus, we know she has good taste since she dug my Bourdain roundup.

Bookmark these great blogs, leave comments and just generally lend them your eyes and your support. These amazing women (and a couple men) are making great contributions to DC's blogging scene.

Is there someone you love that I left off? Let me know! I'd love to find some new ones to add to the roll call.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Book: Historic Photos of Washington, D.C.

Note: I received a copy of this book free from the publisher for review. That said, I'd like to think that did not affect my review. I'd also like to think it makes me kind of a big deal.

It's got to be pretty clear by now that I geek out pretty hard about DC history. The Barry administration or the Willard or Pierre L'Enfant? Yes, please.


The pictures in Historic Photos of Washington D.C. feed that geek in me. I really enjoyed the pictures of DC street cars, the Capitol without its dome, Union Station without its fountain and Georgetown back when it was a wide open space. F Street and Chinatown were composed of quaint store fronts, mom 'n' pop shops or the shiny new department stores like Woodward & Lothrop (now closed) and Hecht's (now closed).

Besides the novelty of seeing a horse-drawn cart making a delivery to the White House, I learned a lot from this book, too. For example:
  • James Renwick, Jr. designed the Smithsonian Castle in 1847, which was then built using red Seneca sandstone.
  • Dupont Circle used to be called Pacific Circle. It was rechristened Dupont Circle in 1921 with the fountain, titled "Rear Admiral Samuel Francis DuPont Memorial Fountain." DuPont was the first naval hero of the Civil War. The three figures on the fountain represent the sea, the stars and the wind.
  • DC has pretty much always been ineffective at snow removal.
  • The Memorial Bridge opened in 1932 and was meant to be a symbolic rejoining of the North and South by connecting the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington National Cemetery.
  • The building that is now Ben's Chili Bowl used to be a burlesque house called the Gayety!
My only criticism of this beautiful book is there are too many officials pictures -- lots of presidents at the White House, processions down Pennsylvania Avenue and the monuments looking lovely. I would have liked more pictures of some different neighborhoods, especially Shaw and Howard, Foggy Bottom, Anacostia and Petworth. Considering the huge influx of African Americans to the capital after the Civil War, the book is filled mostly with white faces.

But even for its short comings, this book is essential to anyone seeking historic understanding and perspective on this ever-changing city.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Thing 80: Kotobuki

"Two thumbs up," says the Boyfriend. And he usually doesn't even like raw fish, so this is saying something. (I may have to rename this blog "Expanding Boyfriend's Horizons"!)

Last night, we met another couple for sushi. They seem to be our sushi friends -- they're the same ones we ate at Taro with. This time, I was hot to try Kotobuki, in the Palisades, which I had heard from DC Sarah was an excellently cheap place to gorge on raw fish and vinegared rice. And when DC Sarah speaks, she being equally enamored with all things delicious as I am, I listen.

The meal was indeed wonderful and surprisingly inexpensive. I spared our sushi friends the embarrassment that always seems to come from me taking pictures of my meals, so I don't have any photos to back this up with, but believe me when I say that we had two gorgeous plates of colorful nigiri and maki rolls arrive at our table, expertly crafted and begging to be gobbled up. The scallop was my favorite, so soft and rich on the tongue it was like eating through butter. I also really enjoyed the mackerel, a naturally oily fish, briny and fatty and pure white with a thin stripe of silver skin. The Boyfriend, who tried eel for the very first time ("Expanding Boyfriend's Horizons!") really enjoyed it, and I will agree that it was sweet and fatty and, according to our sushi friends, "damn near perfect." I was also surprised to find that I really liked the California roll -- normally such a redundant and boring roll, this one had a fresh and mellow flavor, and was given a boost with a little caviar.

Our sushi friends went a bit more daring than we did and ordered the salmon roe, the fried sweetened tofu and a rainbow roll, among other things. The rainbow roll was a fat, multicolored work of sushi art, with three different colors of fish roe -- red, dark red and orange -- contrasting beautifully with the creamy green and yellow of the avocado.

For dessert, we ordered those Japanese ice creams that are encased in bean paste, which are much more delicious than that sounds. I had tried some before, and I really like the sweet ice cream encased in the chewy membrane of bean paste, so I ordered two of them in green tea flavor. They were so popular, we ordered two more mango ones. A delicious and light way to end a wonderful meal.

Kotobuki is inexpensive. I hesitate to say cheap, because generally cheap is not an adjective I want associated with my sushi, but you can really go to town here and not break the bank. Nigiri is a dollar a piece for the most part, and rolls are in the $3 neighborhood. The Boyfriend and I ate a lot of sushi, miso soups, ice cream and I had a small sake, and it came out to a little over $20 a head. And we did not leave hungry.

The restaurant itself is small, just a small room with a sushi counter and a handful of tables on the second floor above the Makoto restaurant. They do not take reservations, and people arrive early and line up going down the staircase to wait for their table. It's a lively little restaurant, noisy and brightly lit and full of neighborhood people.

Full of neighborhood people for a reason. For you see, Kotobuki's biggest drawback is that it's darn hard to get to. The Palisades are nowhere near a metro, and while in theory the D6 bus should deposit you in front of the restaurant, I did not see a westbound D6 at all while I waited in the mild drizzle on Q Street. And, ahem, the D2 bus does not go downMacArthur Boulevard, which I learned the hard way. I ended up having to take a cab from God knows where I was in Georgetown. So the moral of the story is, you may need a car, or bring a date who has a car, if inexpensive quality sushi is what you seek.

All in all a really wonderful evening, with no small amounts of sushi and the kind of laughter that makes your abs sore in the morning. In the imaginary sushi playoffs in my head, Kotobuki ranks just above Taro, but not quite at the Kaz level. It is definitely a contender in the elite eight, if not the final four.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Thing 79: Teaism

How do you know it's NaBloPoMo? Because you find yourself waking up early so that you can go out to breakfast on a weekday.
Teaism, next to Starbucks
I love Teaism. I really dig its Asian-inspired attempt at a little serenity, adjacent to a Starbucks. Their food is fairly healthy and simple, they sell beautiful tea-themed gifts, and as the name implies, they stock a vast quantity of teas. Their salty oat cookies are locally famous and even made it onto the list of scavenger hunt items (five points). But perhaps Teaism's greatest claim to fame is when our fair lady of the Food Network, Rachel Ray herself, ate breakfast at Teaism while in DC on $40 a Day. Never mind what Bourdain would say of this.

I followed in Rachel's footsteps this morning, when I found myself at the Dupont Circle location, hungry for my breakfast. Like their lunch menu, there is a mix of Asian and subcontinent flavors, along with some humble American favorites -- scrambled tofu, scrambled eggs with cilantro, chicken sausage with naan and raita, sourdough waffles. Their lunch menu is similar, ranging from organic turkey sandwiches to a selection of bento boxes, Thai curries and ochazukes (Japanese rice and tea soups).

I stuck with what I'd probably have eaten if I'd stayed at home -- Irish oatmeal. Though I have been topping mine with pumpkin butter, this one came studded with raisins and dried apricots and sweetened with honey. I ordered a steaming mug of chai tea, which tasted like honey and cinnamon, and came served in a really handsome, square, black ceramic mug.


Irish oatmeal and chai at Teaism
While waiting for my breakfast, I wandered over to the shelves of small gifts -- beautiful candles, books about tea, and tea bowls and pots handmade by a local ceramic artist. There's also little stacks of salty oat cookies wrapped in cellophane for quick purchase and discreet devouring, and bags of ginger scone mix. In other words, enough to start a Teaism in your very own living room!

Teaism in DupontI took my breakfast upstairs, to the empty dining room (the Starbucks next door was hopping though, which makes me a little sad) and ate my oats and nursed my delicious chai. The dining area is simple and serene, with Asian inspired black and white photography, rustic looking exposed beams, a low ceiling and cream colored walls. (The Penn Quarter location has a downstairs dining area with real coy goldfish in a small pool. I've never been to the downtown location).

Then I bundled back up and headed to work, one more Thing down, and 21 to go. Suggestions?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Thing 78: Flying Fish

Oh dear, life seems to really be getting in the way of NaBloPoMo today, so you guys don't mind if I make this one short and sweet right? I mean, I gave you a bona fide celebrity yesterday, so you'll all be nice and cut me just a bit of slack? Phew.

Flying fish sushi
Besides, there's not a whole lot to say about Flying Fish. It is a perfectly good, perfectly respectable seafood restaurant on King Street, in Old Town. I ordered sushi, which was delicious but not good enough to replace my latest sushi love (in my head, all these sushi restaurants are in a bracket and are in the playoffs. Maybe later during this God forsaken month I will make it real, and download-able, so you can all play along!).

Spider roll at Flying Fish
The spider roll included an entire deep fried soft shell crab and a nice amount of caviar, which I'd never complain about. The Boyfriend ordered at seafood 'shepherd's pie', except in reverse, with a crab cake-like crust and a mashed potato center. He did, however, call the cornbread "industrial tasting," which really says a lot considering this boy would happily eat every meal from the 7-11 if we weren't dating.

The whole place is decorated with an art deco, cruise-ship motif. There are art deco style paintings on the wall, painted by local Alexandria artists. There are rich tiled floors and woven ceiling fans, like I imagine may have been in a British colonialist's bungalow in Kenya at some point. Brightly colored fish swim in brightly colored tanks throughout the restaurant, putting hungry restaurant goers in the mood to eat them.

Art deco at Flying Fish
Flying Fish is the perfect place for a party comprised of sushi eaters and non-sushi eaters, as it's seafood offerings are drawn from all cuisines and range across all levels of cooked-ness. It's also a nice alternative if you don't want you seafood, starches and candy bars deep fried across the street.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Thing 77: Olsson's Books and Records

I needn't have panicked, of course, because in this city, great Things are happening every day.

Take Olsson's Books and Records shops for

example. They have author events, signings and readings going on nearly every day. There is likely to be something that will please everyone in any given month, and for me, that something was Anthony Bourdain. Live, in the flesh, and telling it like it is.

Most people don't know this -- in fact, I don't think anyone knows this -- but Bourdain is one of the three people that spurred me to start this blog in the first place. I'd just finished reading A Cook's Tour, and was struck by his narrative style, his knack for the travelogue and the casual, humorous and honest ways he looked at food and travel. Unfunded by cable TV, I don't the means to do what he does in quite the same way, but darned if I couldn't write a fantastic travelogue about the city I'm in love with, which I am lucky enough to experience every day. (The other two people were Molly, and the Boyfriend, if you were curious).

So Tony holds a special place in my heart, even though he would probably ruthlessly make fun of me if I ever had the opportunity to tell him so. At 11:45 I ducked out of work and took the bus to Chinatown.

I was not the only one with this idea. By the time I rolled in, a few minutes after noon, I couldn't even find a place to stand where I could see the man. It was like Bourdain Radio, with a view of the backs of people's heads.

My view at Olsson's -- the backs of peoples' heads
But I could hear his voice, and what a voice he's got. I suppose he wouldn't be a successful author if didn't have a distinctive voice, but having now heard him live and off the cuff, I can vouch that he speaks with the same snarky bluntess that he writes with and that pervades all of his TV appearances. He's half jerk and half best friend, heaping honest praise on those that deserve it, and mercilessly ridiculing those that deserve it, too.

Anthony Bourdain! Live!
Bourdain on vegetarians*: If you are priviledged enough to be one of the few people who is even able to go to Thailand and you don't eat everything in sight, it's not just rude, it's dumb. It's like going to a museum and saying 'I only want to see the paintings in blue and red.'

On which Food Network chefs are worth their salt: Mario. Mario is a behemoth. He knows everything, about everything. Those are cloven hoofs he's got hiding in those plastic clogs.

On which Food Network chefs are not: People would complain if I went on TV and told all the kids at home to listen to Judas Priest records backwards, and then go into the woods and slaughter goats. But that's what that Sandra Lee is doing! Putting spray cheese on a Triscuit and telling people it's a healthy, homecooked meal for their families -- it's the same thing.

On why his show is no longer on the Food Network and on Travel Channel instead: They came up to me and said, "We want more BBQ shows. Our audience doesn't really get this thing you do where you go to other places. They don't do subtitles. But our grilling shows get huge ratings. What if you went to different tailgating parties instead?"

On whether he ever gets sick from the foreign food: Most of the times that I've ended up with my head in a bidet some place foreign, it's been alcohol related.

On where he plans on eating dinner that night: Ben's Chili Bowl. Ground meat of unknown origin? How can I say no?

Olsson's has a pretty strict system for getting books signed. You have to a) buy the book that day, at Olsson's b) then they will give you a numbered card and c) then you wait in line based on the number of that card. I was still on my lunch hour, so I ducked out shortly after his talk, but I did manage to sneak up to the front and get his picture as he was signing. Skinny black jeans, boots, dark shirt, silvery hair. He looked tanned and a bit gaunt, just like on TV, but, you know, in three dimensions.

For those of you who want more Tony -- he'll be at Lisner tonight, though it's sold out, and from his lips to your ear he'll be at Ben's tonight for dinner.

*These quotes are from my memory, as I wasn't taking notes or recording it. I'm a blogger, not a journalist!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Thing 76: Cox Farms

I am in something of a panic, because this is the last of the Things in my back pocket, and it hasn't even been a week of NaBloPoMo...So, God help me, but there's gonna be something in this space tomorrow, just don't ask me what.

Actually, I've had this one in my back pocket for so long, that the season is now over. So, um, you all will have to wait another year for pumpkin mania at Cox Farms. The good news is that they are reopening later this month for Christmas themed festivities, including Christmas trees, wreaths, and Santa Claus! And if their Christmas festivities are anything like their celebration of the fall, then it will be completely over the top.

Cox Farms' Fall Festival
I know I've talked about how much I love summer, but there is really something amazing about fall, don't you think? Not only is it my birthday and Halloween, but butternuts and apples come into season, and I get to start wearing scarves again, which are my favorite accessory. The air smells woodsy and the nights are crisp.

October of last year, Jenny and I went to a pumpkin patch and bought a couple of pumpkins and came back to her apartment to eat apple butter, drink mulled wine and carve them into a little mini pumpkin play. Obviously, we needed to repeat that again this pumpkin season. Unfortunately, we couldn't remember where we'd gone last year, and after some Internet research, we decided that we must have gone to Cox Farms.

Pumpkin Mania!
Boy were we wrong. Our pumpkin patch of last year was the amateur hour compared to the extravaganza awaiting us at Cox. Five slides! Hot cider! A twenty minute long hay ride that led us deep into the heart of darkness! A milking show! Piglets! Pumpkin Butter! Caramel apples and kettle corn! Cox is a fall lover's dream come true.

The Clintons...in beanies?Boy, that hayride though was something else. I'm not a country girl, so for all I know, hayrides are supposed to be 20 minutes long and take you past live action aliens, Charlie Brown, Pokemon and Disney characters, the Clintons wearing beanies, safari animals and scary witches. We got "stuck in the mud" until "Farmer Big Head" came out and clapped his hands and set us free. We stopped in a "haunted barn" where the lights went out and flashing lights and loud music went off. The kids seemed to be enjoying it, which I suppose is the point, but Jenny was terrified and I was confused. See video below:


We also slid down a great big tall slide, holding hands and giggling all the way. We saw baby piglets, which were oh so cute and will taste so delicious in only a few months' time. And there was a milking show, where Farmer John brought out Bessie the Cow, on a stage, and showed people how to milk her, while the audience sat on bales of hay. Americans seem to long for a time when they were connected to the earth and their food supply, and are now reduced to reconnecting with these elements in a variety act. Oh, America. I love you so.

Bacon!
On our way out, we went through the country store, of course, where we could select one free baby pumpkin, and stock up on fancy gourds and seasonal preserves. Cox farms' pumpkin butter is amazing, and I have managed to eat my way through the entire jar and now must either make my own, or wait until they re-open for Christmas...

Which doesn't sound like such a bad idea to me.
I love fall!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Thing 75: Organize a Scavenger Hunt


A city-wide photo scavenger hunt, my friends. I organized a city-wide photo scavenger hunt for my birthday. Because drag queens and orcas and Creme just weren't enough, I wouldn't rest until rogue teams of costumed individuals roamed the streets of DC harassing tourists and slamming back sangria. It was everything I had hoped it would be.
I had been dreaming about this event since I casually mentioned it to a friend in January for his birthday and he passed on the idea. I realized I was relieved, because I wanted the idea for myself. Then came Urban Dare, and it made me want to organize my own version that much more. And so, as the Saturday before Halloween dawned clear and the previous night's rain dried up, I met my friends in Dupont Circle to let the games begin.

This was incredibly fun and relatively easy to plan, and I urge you all to do this too (or, as the entrepreneurial Boyfriend insists I mention -- I will do it for you, for a nominal fee). Teams met in Dupont Circle at 2, and were handed a list of over 60 places, things, people, foods and drinks, all of which were weighted with different point values based on distance and/or difficulty in obtaining. I did it this way, rather than with clues or a shorter list, so that I could play too. There was an element of strategy involved this way that did not guarantee that I would win (and boy, did I not win. My team got smoked in fact). The teams then had four hours to run around the city, collecting as many photographs off the list as they could in an attempt to get the highest point total.

The list included everything from the DC specific (the point where the four quadrants begin, Duke Ellington's childhood home, Dorothy's ruby slippers), to the crafty (on 'spinning' bikes, in an elevator, playing shuffleboard), to the embarrassing (a tourist with a fanny pack, three tourists doing the "Charlie's Angels" in front of the Spy Museum), to local foods and drinks (sangria at Jaleo, a Julia's empanada, a salty oat cookie from Teaism). Extra high marks were awarded to the damn near impossible - 150 points for either a U.S. Senator, or George Clooney (who was in fact in town filming a movie that weekend). No one managed to snag a picture with George or a U.S. Senator, although our team did do a sweep of the men's rooms at Union Station.
Since it was the Saturday before Halloween, costumes were encouraged, but not required. One team showed up in some amazing lederhosen, which led to one of my favorite moments of the whole afternoon. Stopping at Jaleo for a quick sangria, the bartender told us that there had been another team in to do the same thing earlier in the afternoon. "They were dressed like Keebler Elves, but taller," he informed me.

At 6:30, all the teams met back up at Ben's Chili Bowl for dinner, cake and prizes. First prize went to team No Pugs with an amazing and unbeatable 515 points. The prize is a dinner cooked by me, so really, I was going to be a winner no matter, sharing food with good friends sometime soon.

You can check out all the wacky and ridiculous pictures here. And if you'd like to do one of these yourself in the future...do it! I will be happy to help, just leave a comment and I'll get right back to you.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Thing 74: Misha's Coffeehouse and Coffee Roaster

Piano jazz is tinkling out of the speakers in the corner. The air is rich with the burnt toast smell of dark roast coffee. Tribal women drumming in thick gold frames stare down at me from bright yellow walls.

I am at Misha's, with a latte and a crossword puzzle on a chilly Saturday afternoon.

Like all the best coffee shops, this one is quirky and community-oriented. A mix of the neighborhood pops in for hot drinks in the cold weather. At the tables sit students and families, a man studying poker, old friends catching up. The two people next to me are discussing their blogs, which I'm now blogging about. In a cute twist on the community bulletin board, a 1950's non-functioning refrigerator sits by the door with community announcements taped to it, like the proud pop quiz of a child.

At the front of the store, customers are greeted by a long counter with large glass jars filled with different varieties of roasted coffee beans. The menu is spelled out above the bar in refrigerator magnet letters. Those big, blocky, multicolored magnets that are impossible to read. But once you've deciphered the menu and placed your order with the nice young women behind the counter, you are handed a cup of what Misha's boasts is "the best coffee you'll ever have."
Misha's coffee - the best coffee you'll ever have
I'll bet murky would disagree, but it is awfully good coffee. My latte is rich and satisfying, without any bitterness, and the foam is thick and velvety, surpassing its lot in life as skim milk. My beverage isn't a work of art, but then again, I guess it is not necessary for my coffee to win a beauty contest.

When ordering, I was distracted by a covered dish of the most beautiful cupcakes I've ever seen. They are iced to look like flowers, a bouquet of little cakes. Unfortunately, I've just come from working at the chocolate shop, so I'm plenty full of sugar. I pass on the cupcakes, but my eyes feast on them while I linger at the counter. I'm guessing it's not every day that someone asks to photographs the cupcakes, and the woman behind the counter tells me that they're made locally. Just some guy who makes the cupcakes in his kitchen and delivers them to Misha's, along with the coffee cakes. Sir - if you are reading this, you are truly an artist.
A bouquet of cupcakes
With latte in hand, I wander into the green room to my right. It's a smoking room, which manages to completely disorient me, so used DC's smoking ban am I. It takes me a solid seven seconds to realize what that smell was, that there were ashtrays on the table and that, oh yeah, this is Virginia. Luckily, the smoking room is closed off enough from the rest of the shop that the smoke is non intrusive in the rest of the cafe.

I wander back into the main room, painted the shade of egg yolks, and take a seat at a small white marble table. I take out the crossword and get down to business. I stay for only an hour, watching people come and go, and then finish up my latte and leave the warmth of the shop for the cold outside.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Movie: Dave

It's day three of NaBloPoMo and I'm blogging instead of going to the gym...this does not bode well.

Hasn't everyone seen Dave? It's on cable all the time, and it's one of those movies that I stop and watch every time I come across it, even though I've seen it so many times before. Recently, I netflixed it on purpose and really payed attention; I didn't leave it on as background noise but studied it as the main event. And it is just as wonderful as ever.

The movie starts with the beautiful and idyllic sights of DC -- the Jefferson memorial, the White House, rowers on the Potomac in the early dawn light. Is this what visitors think of when they think of my city? Probably, though it gets so much more interesting in other places.

A couple of plot twists later, and small-town, good-hearted Dave Kovic is playing at being the president. And wouldn't you know it, but he's great at it! He balances budgets and saves homeless children! He plays with his dogs on the south lawn of the White House! He promises a job to every American! Is there room in the primaries for this guy?

Along the way, he falls in love with the real first lady. They sneak out one night to picnic on an imaginary hill that overlooks the whole city. Dave claims that they're the best sandwiches in the city...are they the special from Gandel's? If so, he may be right.

Dave is silly and heartwarming and damn near impossible not to love. As the weather gets cooler and we start tucking into out heated apartments with a bowl of soup, throw this movie into the dvd player -- or chances are it will be on cable. You will giggle and smile and maybe long for a different kind of leadership in the White House.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Thing 73: Creme

It's National Blog Posting Month -- NaBloPoMo!! Woo! And though I didn't know it until this morning, I haven't even blown it yet since I happened to post yesterday about the High Heel Races. The only terms of NaBloPoMo are that you post every day for the month of November...and that may be asking a lot. I may be setting myself up for a fall. But I have a little reserve of Things in my back pocket, and dammit, I'm going to go for it! Although at some point this month you may get something like "Thing 88: Take out the trash". But here goes...

The birthday recap continues...

On the actual night of my birthday, the Boyfriend and I headed out to U Street for a coolly romantic dinner at a table for two at Creme.

Creme has been on my list for a good while, and seemed the perfect choice since the nouveau-Southern-home cooking style meant there would be something there that the Boyfriend would surely enjoy (he gets a bit suspicious at things like tuna and almond nigiri or faux gras terrine).

We stepped into the hip space and were greeted warmly at the door and shown to our table. The place was full of a good cross section of the neighborhood. Gay men and black professionals and students in Halloween costumes and young women in work clothes all seemed to be enjoying drinks and handsome plates of food.

I am worried about how to describe the decor, because what I want to say is that it looks like it was furnished at Ikea, but that sounds more negative than I mean it to be. Ikea implies cheap and functional, which I don't want to imply. But take a look at their bar, and you will be reminded of an out-of-the-box Ikea entertainment center...but in a good way.

Even with its reminisces of Ikea, this is a cool and handsome restaurant. It's small, with a brief lounge and a narrow dining room. All the dining room's seating runs along one wall, coupled with a handful of seats at the bar and that's it. At the back of the room is a tiny kitchen, completely open to the restaurant, where the chef, his two cooks and a dishwasher are hard at work but clearly enjoying themselves. Large mirrors with antique-looking frames hang on the walls and modern light fixtures hang over the bar. The walls are painted in deep primary colors and the furnishings are all light wood. A martini glass filled with red liquid awaits you at the table -- not a complimentary cosmopolitan but the candle holder. A small tea light floats in the cocktail glass.

The food itself was good. I wasn't blown away, nor was I disappointed. I ordered the surf and turf -- crispy tempura'ed shrimp and a gorgeous pink flat iron steak, sliced and stacked on a bed of vegetables and topped with a salad. The meats were great, but the vegetables were boiled and uninspiring, and the salad was a bit confusing. The sweet and salty, Asian-inspired sauce was fine, but didn't leave me licking the plate (which, ahem, I have been known to threaten the Boyfriend with when we are out together).


Creme's surf and turf.  There's a lot going on on this plate.
The Boyfriend ordered more wisely -- shrimp and grits, for which Creme is widely praised. The waitress had warned him that the andouille sausage in the dish was spicy, and she was not kidding around. The sausage was smokey with a serious heat at the end in the back of the throat. Luckily, the grits helped to put out the fire, creamy and mild, as a nice complement.

The wild mushroom masterpiece.  YUM!Our starter was the real winner of the meal though; the "wild mushroom masterpiece" was just that. A deep bowl with simply sauteed local mushrooms -- a touch of truffle oil, and sprinkling of parsely and some finely shaved Manchego cheese melting over the top of it. The mushrooms tasted rich and meaty and were enhanced by the savoriness of the cheese. The Boyfriend and I split one, though in retrospect I should have been greedy and fended him off.

For dessert, we split the chocolate quad -- a chocolate spice cake, with whipped cream, chocolate mousse and chocolate covered strawberries. The cake was good, almost like a chocolatey Chocolate cake for the birthday girl!gingerbread, heavy on the spices. But again, not great. I've heard Creme does not have a pastry chef, and I believe it. Although I don't know where they'd put one in that tiny open kitchen!

So all in all, I enjoyed myself a lot. The food left us satisfied, the wait staff was friendly and attentive and the restaurant itself was cool and inviting. I do think it would be a better place to hang out and have a couple drinks then dinner, but I sure wouldn't say no to an invitation back there.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Thing 72: The High Heel Races

Speaking of celebrating one's birthday in style...

Celebrating in Style
Welcome to the Dupont Circle's Annual High Heel Races. Traditionally held the Tuesday before Halloween (aka, my birthday), all the lovely ladies come out in their Halloween finest to strut up and down 17th Street and show off their newest wig.


High Heel Races: Purple Wig High Heel Races: Wilma Flinstone Strikes a Pose
Harkening back to the Capital Pride Parade, I was back on the sidewalk in front of the McDonalds to watch the gay times roll. Literally, roll.









There were cheerleaders working hard to the soundtrack of "Legally Blond: The Musical." Marilyn Monroe was there, showing her panties to the world. Scary Condi was there. Hillary was there. Bathing beauty queens and disney princesses and for some reason, even the Washington Monument.
High Heel Races: Scary Condi! High Heel Races: Hillary! High Heel Races: The Washington Monument...and, um...Obi Wan Kenobi?The race starts at 9, but the fun starts around 6:30 when the crowds and the queens begin to trickle in. Everyone looks great and everyone has fun.

High Heel Races: Twister!
High Heel Races: Salt! With legs!
And when the race begins, oh boy do those queens book it!