Monday, November 26, 2007

East Meets West: Thanksgiving in Beijing

Do you know that United flies direct to Beijing from Washington DC? In about 13 hours, you can hop from one capital city to another. So, we did just that...and went to Beijing for about eight days over Thanksgiving. It made me be American. I really like China, but on cold, dry, bleak, winter days in this eastern capital city where there is nothing green or fresh in sight, when your shoes are gray from dust and spittle (yes, haucking a big one in public is commonplace), your lungs are full of pollution, and you've had your fair share of noodles and rice, you find yourself yearning for the comforts of turkey and gravy with all the trimmings. So when we got the last minute invitation for Thanksgiving dinner, it was welcome news.
Some expat friends from Washington state hosted a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner at their home in a towering and swank high rise in the center of the city. John and Kerri, along with their "ai-ee" (I'm spelling the Mandarin word for "auntie"--a euphamism for domestic helper--phonetically) made a meal that was all the more fabulous as many of the ingredients, like the turkey itself, sage, etc. are typically really difficult to come by. Though most things are pretty accessible, some specialty items have to be ordered or scavanged ahead of time when they are in stock, as the reliability and availability of many things are not guaranteed. For a dinner like this, Kerri had to make several trips to different stores. She only buys meat from the German butcher, as other sources are questionable in terms of their cleanliness. And when she saw the turkey available about a month ago, she jumped on it and bought the frozen bird, knowing that she might not get another chance at it. For vegetables, they have a woman who sells organic that comes to their building. And lately, a new crop of organic markets have popped up all over town. Anyway, it was a feat to get all of this together. So, if you're reading this, thank you John and Kerri very much for hosting a magnificent and unforgettable Thanksgiving! We ate and drank *very well*, met new friends, celebrated with old ones, and learned a great deal about what life is like for expats in China today, with its economic and cultural boom.

Friends enjoying some Champagne before dinner...

Delightful goat cheese stuffed the earthy sweet combination.

Bragiole (cured beef)-wrapped persimmon with arugula...a great take on the prosciutto and melon idea. Love the local interpretation using the persimmon!

The roux for the gravy, made with flour, butter, and drippings. Kerri then added home-made stock that she had simmered for hours the day before with the turkey meticulous!

Kerri roasting the fresh green beans and almonds. She later added lemon zest. green bean casserole, hands down!

An international summit on Turkey of sorts: John is American, Chris is British, and they're both trying to carve this bird in China!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Anthony Bourdain: An Assh*le of the Best Variety

Went to see the (argh) celeb chef last night at Lisnor auditorium. The guy is even more snarky and blunt and arrogant in person than he is on television. He. Is. My. Hero. He has that "I can care less" attitude on just about everything...and reems pretention and affluence in the fussy arse. This is a guy who has eaten everything from squizzle to bull testicles to many types of Asian-it'll-make-you-strong-concoctions of bile/reptile urine and jet fuel. He likes it in-your-face style, and not the vapid and loud Anna Nicole Smith brand, but the more cunning and languid Angelina Jolie kind. He scoffs at molecular cuisine and experimental ideas like an edible menu and, say, bacon served off a clothes line with 47 artisenal ingredients that take 23 minutes to describe. He doesn't want microgreens and foam on his food. He likes to keep things really real. He sees true culinary artistry not as making already good things (like filet mignon or lobster) good, but rather taking something bad (say scraps, organ meat, or whatever is leftover) and making it taste great. It is the enterprising creativity bourne of necessity that he believes is the mark of a great cook. He asserts that a truly exceptional chef is one who is free of the shackles of affluence. He thinks truffle oil is stupid. Indeed, Tony has two feet planted firmly on the ground and turns his nose up at the contrived and self-important and fat and obnoxious. For these reasons, he apparently despises The Food Network, Vegetarian(ism), and Rachel Ray. I agree on all accounts.

That's enough for now. I'll be referring to some of Bourdain's "wisdoms" from time to time. There's too much to digest in one sitting.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

What Washington Eats Wednesdays: Noi Chudnoff

On Saturday, I went to buy a moleskin (a writer's notebook) to jot down my "food" thoughts. We stopped in a Logan Circle kitsch store called Go Mama Go. I've lived in the neighborhood for two years but never visited the place because, well, I don't like kitsch. But this day I did and was pleasantly surprised by the very cool and fun items that weren't necessarily all crap--not the cheap stuff you find in the Chinese "everything for sale" stores in Gallery Place. This was purposeful and stylized tchotchke's. I bought a beautiful black notebook with a magnetic flap and a peacock feather pattern. "I need to come back when my boyfriend isn't in such a hurry to go" I told myself. I spoke briefly with the girl behind the counter, asking her about the store. She gave me the owner's card. On a plain orange piece of light stock paper, a homemade label read "Noi Chudnoff" and on the other side another sticker displayed the hours.

Odd name. Noi Chudnoff. So I looked it up and found a nice piece on the 60-something year old Thai native. . Her story is a great one: she left Thailand at a young age to find her independence, estranging herself from her very traditional parents who discouraged her ambitions for careers in medicine and law--careers for men, they said. In the States she made a good life for herself, attending graduate school and working creative jobs. She eventually opened Go Mama Go later in her life after raising her son. She craved her independence so greatly that in 2000 she decided to move into an apartment above an adjoining store, Home Rule, to attend to Go Mama Go while her husband maintained the homestead in Maryland. Her store reflects this independence, vibrance, and whimsy. It's full of colorful, fun things from kimonos to sushi plates, to body lotion and paper goods. Everything is quite tastefully funky. I was hoping at some point to meet the woman behind all the charming finds.

Unfortunately, Noi died suddenly yesterday morning. While being prepped for colon cancer surgery, she fell and hit her head, sustaining a brain hemorrhage.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

In The Office Kitchen Today...

an explanation of why 80% of my coworkers have a BMI of greater than or equal to 30. Note the requisite half-eaten "I'm saving my calories" doughnut left by *that* girl. You know her...the one who does egregious amounts of cardio and cries herself to sleep at night? That one. Also note that my colleagues favor the chocolate-covered variety of these law-enforcement friendly pastries (as evidenced by the brown gooey stains left in the box).

I, on the other hand, chose the healthier option of Danactive and Doritos for breakfast. Yum.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Chilly Outside, Chili Inside

No snarky commentary tonight. I'm lazy and it's raining (get the spurious correlation?). I'm digging back into my backlog of content to give you chili. This is a health(ier) interpretation of the good old stand-by: Turkey chili with avocado, green onion, cheddar and sour cream over mac noodles (kind of a take on Cincinnati style chili, which is served over spaghetti). Yum.

(I'll write about the disaster that was our weekend dining experience at BLT Steak later this week.) For now, enjoy this:

Goes great with this '99 Simi Cabernet:

Saturday, November 03, 2007

What I did this Summer: Part 3, Peach Picking in Virginia

I swear, this is the last in my "what I did this summer series." I you care.

Anyway, indulge me in Pollyanna for a bit. Nothing says summer more than fresh peaches. Oh the fragrant almost floral scent of the fruit makes me all happy and warm inside. One Saturday, we drove an hour outside of the city, ostensibly to go to Linden winery. However, along the windy roads out near Delaplane, Virginia, we spotted a hand-written sign that read "fresh peaches." We expected a farm stand, but what we found was much more exciting. A whole orchard bustling with people and about fifteen varieties of peach trees that ranged from golf ball-sized little tart surprises to medium-sized white, honey-like varieties to giant golden in-your-face balls of joy. I don't know their names, I was just amazed by all the peaches--each clinging to its branch, waiting to be discovered and picked. It made me feel like a kid again, finding Easter eggs in hidden spots along flower beds or Christmas gifts under the tree. Such a great experience.

In case you want to do this yourself, try Hollin Farms , a very interesting sort of operation. Started by successful Fairfax county developer, Robert Davenport, in the 1950's focusing on testing bulls and raising cattle, it still remains in the family with an added agricultural operation with orchards and, recently, vineyards. Managing the operation now is Davenport's grandson, Matt, along with his father, Tom. These gentlemen farmers (Matt studied engineering at Cornell and Tom and his wife are filmmakers and are active in the arts) have created a wonderfully idyllic life for themselves raising award-winning cattle and garnering the "Young Farmer Achievement Award" in 2005. When at the farm, you may pay to pick based on the size of the bag. I think a mid-sized one holding upwards of 30 or so peaches costs around $15. You'll have to check and see for yourself, because my memory is short (this was several months ago that we went). Anyway, it's tons of fun!

So we brought a bunch of these peaches home and couldn't help but eat several before we made our peach cobbler. They were incredibly sweet and perfume-y. So we used a very simple cobbler recipe, trying not to cook them or doctor them up too much, preserving their natural goodness.
Here's the recipe:

1 stick (4 ounces) butter, melted
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Heat oven to 375°.
Pour melted butter into a 2-quart baking dish or iron skillet. In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup of the sugar, the flour, baking powder, and salt; stir to blend. Stir in the milk and vanilla until blended. Pour the batter over the melted butter. Toss the peaches with the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Arrange the peach slices over the batter. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. The top will be browned and the cake will begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Serve warm with a little heavy cream, whipped topping, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.Serves 6.
So this is the last of the notable things of the summer. I did actually post in real-time my St. Michael's getaway which was also a summer highlight back in August. Read about it here.
Related Posts with Thumbnails

View My Stats