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July 2009

June 2009

Virginia Farmland Summer Solstice Supper

Summer Solstice Menu and Place Setting The desire to develop relationships with those who are growing our food has made the farmers market concept popular throughout the United States.  In the DC metro area, there are well over 30 farmers markets (in my neighborhood alone, there are three).  The markets give consumers the opportunity to learn about the farms and the farmers, providing a direct pipeline of information from the farm to the table.  This concept has been taken one step further with farm to table events like the one that was recently hosted by Vermilion Restaurant on the Moutoux Orchard in Loudon County, Virginia.  I had the

 Vermilion Restaurant, located in Old Town Alexandria is known for its conscientious efforts to use locally sourced produce, meats, dairy products and other ingredients.  Executive Chef Tony Chittum, a recent Rammy award winner for Rising Culinary Star, seeks out local farmers and producers to partner with, bringing farm fresh ingredients to the heart of Old Town. Out of this partnership came the natural progression of bringing diners to the farm itself for an evening of stellar food and the chance to break bread with those who grew it.

Horton Wines 3The Moutoux Orchard is a tapestry of beautiful trees bearing the fruit of their famous peaches.  The orchard has been owned by the Moutoux family for three generations and has expanded with its own community supported agriculture program.  Rob Moutoux, Jr. has also begun growing wheat, spelt, rye and barley, using chemical free farming practices.  The Moutoux family graciously opened up its orchard for the Summer Solstice Supper, allowing guests to meander around their orchards and fields. 

 The event started with a reception in the peach orchard, which included a selection of Horton Wines. After hearing the compliments being bandied around the reception, I decided to try their orchard peach champagne cocktail, a glass of their Sparkling Viognier NV with a splash of their peach wine.  I was pleasantly surprised by the clean and crisp flavor of the cocktail and the immediate essence of peach permeating it.

Sitting Down to Dinner 2

To offset the flow of wine, platters of appetizers were circulated throughout the white tent erected for the reception.  Fresh sausage was tossed with a snap pea slaw while the sweetness of beets was paired with an Alberene ash goat cheese.  The start of Summer squash season was heralded with grilled Summer squash coupled with a Virginia feta.  And fresh eggs were highlighted in a frittata of potatoes, leeks and Virginia ham.  All of the produce was harvested the day before – evident by the sweetness of the beets and the tangy earthiness of the squash.  A live blue grass band rounded out the trifecta of good wine, good food and good music, making for a lovely start to the warm Summer night.


A makeshift kitchen was set up close by, with Tony and his staff working feverishly over the open flames of the grill. The first course was set before us, a chicory salad with deviled eggs and a Summer squash and cornbread panzanella.  The eggs were gathered that very morning from the chicken coops, bringing new meaning to farm fresh eggs.  The yolk was smooth and creamy, requiring little seasonings to bring out its rich flavor.  

Knowing this, Tony and his staff used a minimal amount of ingredients to create the deviled egg, allowing its natural flavors to shine.  The salad course was paired with Horton’s Viognier 2008, a crisp wine that didn’t interfere with the taste of the food. The greens were tossed lightly with a vinaigrette of freshly picked herbs, providing an added depth to the salad. 

Hampton Jumbo Lump Crab CakesThe second course was quickly placed in front of us, a duo of the region’s seafood accented with fresh vegetables paired with my favorite wine of the evening, Horton’s Petit Manseng 2007.  A Virginia wrapped local scallop was paired with a Hampton jumbo lump crab cake, served on large, family style platters to encourage guests to pass the plate and start a conversation.  The crab cake was served on a bed of oak leaf lettuce, tossed with the same fresh herb vinaigrette used on the chicory salad. Rounding off the second course was a crudo of spring root vegetables, including fresh radishes and beets.  The gorgeous, deep red of the beets permeated the rest of the crudo, giving the dish a bejeweled quality. 

 During the break between the second and third courses, I was able to get a closer look at the kitchen created in the middle of the farm land.  Tony, an easy going and affable guy, chatted freely with guests as he maneuvered the Piedmontese beef, rabbit and bison skirt steak around the huge, open flamed grills.  “The menu was driven by the harvest,” he said as he wiped his brow and turned over a massive piece of beef.  Tony’s drive to use local produce started with a simple pursuit of quality ingredients.  

Grilling Up the Meat!Before the third course was presented, a Cabernet Franc 2006 appeared in my glass.  Although I’m not a fan of reds, I could appreciate the clear, full bodied taste of the Cabernet and believed it to be a fitting accompaniment to the New Frontier Farm Mixed Grill.  The grill included the aforementioned Piedmontese beef, a rabbit terrine and a bison skirt steak.  Seasoned only to bring out the meat’s natural flavors, the cuts were succulent and delicious.  The skirt steak was unbelievably velvety, almost melting in my mouth.  As with the second course, the mixed grill was served on heaping platters.  By this time in the dinner, everyone was relaxed and old friends, so the plates were passed around as if it was a family dinner.  

Caromont Farm Chevre Cheesecake As dessert was served, everyone tucked into the Caromont Farm Chevre Cheesecake placed before them.  A strawberry black pepper preserves and Chantilly cream sauce accented the cheesecake, a mellower version of the heavier, traditional ricotta and cream cheese cheesecakes.  A sweet but flavorful Late Harvest Viognier was paired with the cheesecake – and a favorite of several of my dinner companions.  The knowledgeable servers explained how harvesting the grapes later allow for a sweeter, almost port like white wine.  Although heavier than all the other wines served throughout the meal, the Late Harvest Viognier was still a crowd pleaser. 

A final treat of Virginia peanut cookies was served along with iced espresso before Tony came out to greet all the diners.  A rousing round of applause greeted him, along with flashes of cameras and shouts of praise.  He graciously accepted the compliments and chatted with every section of the table before heading back to clean up.  As we all headed back up to the orchard to our cars, full and happy, the sun gave way to night.  Fireflies seemed to be lighting the path back to the orchard, reminding me that I was a long way from the city.  This was a unique event, allowing the consumer and the producer to come together over the very food that binds them.  A celebration of the season and the hard workers who bring it to us every week, the supper was a huge success.  And I walked away richer in the knowledge that I truly know where my food is coming from.


Weekly Blog Roundup

CherriesHeard around the DC Foodies blogoshere this week...word quickly spread this week about the temporary closure of The Breadline for numerous health code violations. Founded by Mark Furstenberg, he responded "I was disappointed when I heard the news". Young and Hungry Blog detailed the 19 violations and the speedy remediation which allowed the lauded lunch spot to reopen its doors.

"Value-oriented" and the Ritz Carlton brand are an unlikely pairing, unless you consider ENTYSE in the Tysons Corner location. The bar and lounge will offer small plates, along with 3 and 4 course menus, according to Gut Check. "Wine'd Down Wednesdays", a weekly happy hour, will feature wine pours and a seafood bar where a variety of crustaceans and mollusks will start at $1 a pop.

Speaking of Tyson's Corner, Chef Geoff's opened a Northern Virginia location, according to Sauce on the Side, who attended the opening and benefit celebration this week. The former Colvin Run Tavern space seats 200, and is open for lunch and dinner daily. Summer specials include Cuban Salmon with Mojito Vinaigrette, and can be ordered with a Grey Goose cocktail named after the chef's wife, Nora O'Donnell.

Bart Vandaele, chef and owner of Belga Cafe in Capital Hill, grew up in the food and restaurant business in Flanders Belgium, reported Eat Washington. Practically raised by the Maitre d' at his parent's cafe, he attended cooking school in Bruges at the tender age of 12. In the RAMW nominee's restaurant, you can choose from Belgium bistro classics, or fine dining fare. Just pick of side-of the restaurant, and the menu.

Finally, here are a few recommendation for your weekend cooking. Dish-trict made a lovely Shrimp Noodle Curry-a combination of her favorite dishes at Regent Thai in DC. The Houndstooth Gourmet made a refreshing Shell Pea with Mint Soup, using peas from the Dupont Market, and Two Yolks used local strawberries to make Strawberry Lemon Marmalade.


CulinAerie looking for cooks who want to learn how to cook

Can you cook or can you follow a recipe?

Now, there’s nothing wrong with using a recipe to guide you through a dish. But the difference between knowing how to cook and simply following a recipe is the difference between painting by numbers and free handing a landscape.

Besides, cooking is a creative endeavor and there’s only so much satisfaction you can get out of following other cooks’ recipes (except mine, please keep using them). So if you think you’re ready to close the cookbook and take your culinary skills to the next level, then this may be the class for you.

Susan Watterson, co-owner of the D.C. cooking school CulinAerie, is looking for a few students who are willing to spend two intense days learning how to cook...really cook -- poultry, meat, fish and shellfish, with accompanying sauces and sides. There will be no recipes, there will be no beginners.

There will be lunch.

It won’t be easy, but you won’t be alone. I’ve agreed to take the class to chronicle the experience for D.C. Foodies. I’m also eager to find out what I know (probably not much) and what I don’t know (probably a whole bunch).

So what do you say, are you ready to cook?

What: Beyond Basics cooking class
Where: CulinAerie, 1155 14th Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005, (202) 587-5674
When: July 25 and 26, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
How much: $325 per person
Why: Because you want to become a better cook.
(Disclosure: I assist at CulinAerie regularly.)


Foodie To-Do List: Eastern Market Re-Opens, The Gibson's Liberated Libations, and Growing Green with Washington Youth Garden

TodoAs part of an ongoing effort to alert you, the readers of DC Foodies, to all of the really cool food-related events, classes and opportunities throughout the Washington Metropolitan area, we give you this week's edition of the Foodie To-Do List.

Each Wednesday, we give you a heads-up on a few of the upcoming events that we think look particularly interesting.  This week, we've got:

Eastern Market Reopens with a Community Celebration this Weekend:

What:
It's been a little more than two years since fire forced the vendors from Eastern Market's historic South Hall.  Starting this weekend, Market Lunch and the rest of your favorites will be back in their familiar spots.

When:
Saturday, June 27th, 10 AM - 6 PM

Where:
Eastern Market's Historic South Hall
7th Street,SE, between Pennsylvania and North Carolina Avenues
Washington, DC

Why:
Calomiris Produce.  Canales Meats.  Bowers Fancy Dairy Products.  These folks have been doing the small, neighborhood vendor thing since before most of us could even say the words "Farmers' Market."  Come check out the newly-renovated old digs, with skylights, historically appropriate paint, and air conditioning!

Cost: 
It's a free celebration - but show some love to your favorite retailers with a purchase or two while you're there.

Kick Off Your Independence Day Celebration with Liberated Libations at the Gibson:

What:
14th and U Street's answer to the modern-day speakeasy gets a head start on the 4th of July with an all-inclusive party on Thursday night.  With the 4th falling on a Saturday, most of us should have off on the 3rd...why not get the party started right with hand-crafted cocktails and a whole roast hog?
 
When: 
Thursday, July 2nd, 6 PM - midnight
 
Where: 
The Gibson
2009 14th St., NW
Washington, DC
 
Why: 
If you haven't had a chance to check out the craft cocktails at the Gibson - or if you've been waiting for an excuse - now's the time.  No firm reservation windows, roasted whole hog and grilled vegetables, and liberated libations all for $75.  Getting your money's worth will be NO problem.

Cost: $75 per person.  Tickets can be purchased over the phone Monday through Friday from noon to 5 PM.  Call (202) 232-2156 to get yours.


Family-Friendly Gardening Festival to Benefit Washington Youth Garden and City Blossoms:

What:
An afternoon of family and child-friendly activities, including workshops and work in the garden at the National Arboretum.  There will be live music, light food, and projects for families to take home and do themselves.

When:
Saturday, July 11th, 1 PM - 5 PM

Where:
US National Arboretum
3501 New York Avenue, NE
Washington, DC

Why:
Washington Youth Garden and City Blossoms are programs that seek to engage DC youth by encouraging them to plant and maintain green space in the city.  You can burnish your locavore credentials and help support these worthwhile endeavors all at once! 

Cost:
$5 per child, $10 per adult.  Pay at the event, and know that your contributions will go to help Washington Youth Garden and City Blossoms.

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If you would like your events posted here, please email help@dcfoodies.com with the event info.


The Darby Flower: the best cocktail you haven't had ... yet

15

This is the Darby Flower. It’s good. Damn good, actually. And it’s mine.  

Go ahead, look up the name, you won’t find it. Look up the combination of ingredients and proportions. You won’t find a cocktail that matches (at least I didn't). If you do, let me know and I’ll give credit where credit is due. Until then, it's mine, baby. All mine.

I came up with the drink back in March while taking a bartending class taught by Derek Brown -- bartender, writer, cocktail historian and all around nice guy.

Brown is the head bartender at The Gibson, and an ambassador for the Museum of the American Cocktail (OK, I don't really know what that means, but it's a pretty neat title). The man knows from a cocktail. If you get a chance to take the class he teaches at CulinAerie, do it. Even if you know the difference between a pony and a jigger, you’ll learn something the guy's class.

The three part course wrapped up with Brown pairing us off into groups to invent a new cocktail, which would be judged by Brown, chef and CulinAerie co-owner Susan Watterson and Going Out Guru Fritz Hahn. In the back of the classroom were our implements: a table full of liquors, bitters, fruit and mixers. The only rule was we had to use gin (Hendricks).

Before we got started, Brown gave us the pep talk: it's very difficult to invent a cocktail. First of all, you have to concoct something that people will want to drink. Secondly, it has to be an original combination of ingredients and proportions. Therein lays the problem. Bartenders have been mixing drinks for a long time, so coming up with one that someone else hasn’t already made is daunting. As Brown tells it, every time he thinks he’s come up with a new libation, he inevitably stumbles upon "his" recipe in some dusty old cocktail book.

With that boost of confidence, he set us lose to achieve what he has not (so far).

As I considered the table of ingredients trying to figure out a plan, I noticed the pint of little orange kumquats. Growing up in Florida … No, growing up in Dade City, Florida, I am familiar with the kumquat, an oblong citrus fruit whose name may well be better than its flavor. Most of the kumquats you see at the grocery store came from dear old Dade City. (Our gift to you. No thanks necessary.) When I was a kid, everyone I knew hated these things. The tiny, tart fruits made better projectiles than snacks.

So when I saw the pint of kumquats, I knew I had to use them, if for no other reason than a laugh. Besides, it wasn’t as if I was keeping them from anyone else. Brown also provided a bottle of elderflower cordial, a French liquor that I had absolutely no experience with. 

With ridiculous fruit in one hand and an unknown spirit in the other, my two teammates and I set off to make a mess, but came away with a winner. Of course, that was after several rounds of questionable cocktails. I'd mix one and my teammates would taste on comment (usually the looks on their faces said enough). By the sixth or seventh iteration, we knew we were on to something. The tartness of the kumquat juice was balanced by the sweetness of its zest, the elderflower and the simple syrup. The drink was rounded out by the gin (drier the better) and a few dashes of Angostura bitters. All in all, it was -- and is -- a pretty solid cocktail.

As pleased as I am with the result, the drink really is the product of pure dumb luck. But, boy dumb luck tastes good.

Like I said, this bartending class was back in March, which wasn’t exactly the ideal time of year to enjoy a refreshingly sweet, tart cocktail. Now that it’s June and we’re just starting to climb toward the 90s, the Darby Flower is ready for its public debut. (Incidentally, the name is a combination of Darby, the tiny area near Dade City my family moved to way back when, and flower, for the elderflower in the drink).

Cheers.

6 The Darby Flower

2 oz. of gin (the drier the better, but Hendricks is fine)
1 oz. of elderflower cordial
1/4 oz. of honey simple syrup
Zest of 2 kumquats
Juice of 2 kumquats
3 dashes of Angostura bitters

Combine the ingredients in a shaker, including the juiced kumquats, and muddle. Add ice, stir, shake (Yup, both. Trust me.) and serve neat with a thin slice of orange or a twist.


Weekly Blog Roundup

Eastern market Heard around the DC Foodies blogosphere this week...the Going out Gurus blog reported that Roberta Donna has signed a lease to open Galileo III in the old Butterfield 9 space. Donna has tapped Paolo Buffa as chef de cuisine, while the oft embattled chef will be omnipresent in "his house". Once again as with Bebo, Donna is a sentimental favorite, and foodies will rally in his corner and await good things to come. "I look forward to a rebirth of Roberto's original idea", opined Mark Slater (now gracing Ray's the Steaks) on Don Rockwell.

This week, Capital Spice gave readers an inside look into the renovated Eastern Market, which is scheduled to reopen on June 26th. Improvements abound, with skylights, accommodating bathrooms and air conditioning. History is also preserved, with walls brought back to the original color, described as "a shade of peach or pink".

Young & Hungry's blog announce the 50 Best Restaurants in D.C. Void of rank and stars (or sporks, Capital domes, obelisks etc.), Tim Carmen has compiled a list for the local foodie, not the occasional tourist, with restaurants such as Taqueria National, Spice Xing and Rustico. White tablecloth restaurants are also included, such as Teatro Goldini, but as Carmen refreshingly confesses "Good food is the reason I choose a place. Well, no, that’s a lie. I’m a critic. I go to tons of places that suck, but good food is the reason I choose to send you to a place."

Stilton cheese was featured in Cheese & Champagne's blog this week. Referred to as "the grand dame of blue cheese" and as having a "regal quality about it", C&C offers a punch list of facts on Stilton, including that there are only 6 dairies in the world licensed to make Blue Stilton cheese. As for the taste? C&C notes that it's a strong blue cheese with smoky flavor. Also, try pairing it with a Sauterne vs. the usual Port wine.

Finally, let's end with some mouthwatering food made by talented local bloggers. Buy a bunch of local rhubarb and make this Strawberry Rhubarb Shortcake from Pete Bakes. How about Coconut Chocolate Almond Macaroons from Adventures in Shaw? Heck, just go to the sites to drool at the photos!


"Food, Inc." Hits DC Theatres Tomorrow.

To most of you, the names Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food), and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) are familiar, and I imagine a lot of you subscribe to their respective philosophies. For you, Robert Kenner's new documentary "Food, Inc." will not prove terribly revelatory. If, however, you don't know these men and their works, are at all curious about the origin of your food, and dare to think what lies beneath the label, this film will leave you shaken.

Pollan and Schlosser (the latter a co-producer) act as guides, leading the viewer through a series of chapters, each focusing one of the pillars in the temple of modern American food, and the particularly dark shadows that they cast. Over a tight 94 minutes, Kenner takes the audience on a whirlwind tour of what's in their stomach, revealing a good number of hideous truths hidden "behind the veil." Built on the Michael Moore model of expose — explicit imagery, laced with irony, with constant factual context from an omniscient narrator — the film uses the most evocative elements of its source material to shock the viewer into a sense of disgust and righteous indignation.

Movie_poster-largeClassically American scenes of the pristine produce aisle and sanitized, plastic wrapped meats are interspersed throughout with scenes of horror — chickens collapsing under the weight of their own over sized bodies; crippled cows being forklifted into abetoires; helicopter shots of acres and acres of fetid, dung-filled feedlots; bleach-white, ammonia-treated hamburger being deliberately mixed into the general supply. The "pastoral fantasy" that Schlosser describes at the beginning of the film is quickly dispelled. As far as the meat industry goes, the pictures speak for themselves.

Probably more horrifying than the visceral imagery is the human element. The film leans heavily on the stories of several farmers, factory workers, and regular Americans whose lives have been devastated, whether they realize it or not, by the contemporary understanding of eating. Amongst the cast of characters is a Perdue chicken farmer (the only one who submitted to interview) who has become allergic to antibiotics thanks to the supplements she feeds her fowl, a family of four who eat at Burger King for breakfast, but can't afford vegetables, and a consumer advocate whose son died from infected meat at the age of three. There are a lot of bodies littering the road to cheap, abundant food, and "Food, Inc." lights them in a truly horrible aspect.

The most poignant personal story, and thereby the most moving sequence in the film, is a series of events surrounding Monsanto, one of the largest seed suppliers in the world. After creating Agent Orange, Round Up, and a series of other highly, um, "effective" chemicals, Monsanto got in the genetics game, and now owns the patent on the dominate corn and soybean varietals in grown in the US, which it monitors with surprising zealotry. Back before the advent of one-use, patented seeds, seed cleaning was a vital industry, allowing farmers to cull some reusable product from their hard-won harvest. So New World Order Monsanto takes on folksy seed cleaner Moe Parr — accused of "encouraging patent violation by cleaning seed" — and I'm sure you can just guess the result.

Of course, a documentary like this isn't really worthwhile unless it offers some solutions. Amidst the crooked politicians and unsavory businessmen, there are a few heroes. Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms brings sincerity and eccentricity to the film, discussing the importance of local, pasture-based foods while slaughtering chickens al fresco. Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm — one of the nation's largest producers of yogurt, and the leading organic brand in Wal-Mart — touts the necessity of organic farming, and speaks of the power of voting with one's dollars.

The end credits are preceded by a "Inconvenient Truth" style list of life-affirming, results oriented things that the viewer can do to make a difference, which unfortunately ring a bit hollow in the face of everything that came before. The film's major fault may be that it crams a lot of subject matter into its 94 minutes, making the problem loom very large, but without delivering much depth on any one particular topic. But while on the academic side, the food industry may be better covered on paper, it makes for a hell of a slasher film on the big screen.  If you've got a friend or loved one who could stand to lose his lunch, bring him over to Loew's Shirlington or Landmark E Street Cinema this weekend.


Foodie To-Do List: Kids' Restaurant Week, CulinAerie Cake Class, Starlight Foundation Soiree

TodoAs part of an ongoing effort to alert you, the readers of DC Foodies, to all of the really cool food-related events, classes and opportunities throughout the Washington Metropolitan area, we give you this week's edition of the Foodie To-Do List.

Each Wednesday, we give you a heads-up on a few of the upcoming events that we think look particularly interesting.  This week, we've got:

Kids' Restaurant Week at Seventeen Area Restaurants:

What:
Seventeen restaurants are offering deals for Foodie Families.  Take the kids out to dinner knowing that the restaurants are welcoming them - not just tolerating them.  A great way to broaden your children's palates and to enjoy a night out all at once.

When:
Now through June 21st, nightly between 5 and 7 PM

Where:
Participating restaurants - see website for list of participants, their menus and to make reservations.

Why:
Chicken fingers, hot dogs and macaroni & cheese do not a children's menu make!  These restaurants are showing that they value their littlest customers (and their parents) by offering these family-friendly dining opportunities.  And a portion of the proceeds benefit Miriam's Kitchen and Eastern Market!

Cost: 
Deals vary from participant to participant.  Restaurants are generally offering Restaurant Week-style deals on multi-course meals for adults and kid-friendly specials for the children.


Love Cake?  Learn How to Make Them From the Pros at CulinAerie:

What:
D.C. cooking school CulinAerie is conducting a cake making workshop. Attendees will learn how to prepare pastel de tres leches; apple, almond & amaretti cake; lemon mousse cupcakes; and a seasonal Italian fruit tart.
 
When:
Saturday, June 20, from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.
 
Where:
CulinAerie
1131 14th St., NW
Washington, DC
 
Why:
Because everyone loves the person who brings that great dessert.  This course will help prepare you for all those summer celebrations with an arsenal of delicious homemade celebration cakes.
 
Cost: $85 per person


Starlight Children's Foundation Summer Soiree:

What:
A swank rooftop party with wine and spirits from Schneider's of Capitol Hill...but wait, there's more!  This event benefits the Starlight Children's Foundation, a charitable organization that helps seriously ill children and their families cope with their pain, fear and isolation through entertainment, education and family activities.

When:
Thursday, June 25th, starting at 6:30 PM

Where:
Rooftop of Senate Square
201 I (Eye) Street, NE
Washington, DC

Why:
Rooftop party complete with DJ?  Check.  Good food and wine?  Check.  A great cause?  Check.  Yup, this one's got it all. 

Cost:
$75 per person in advance, $85 per person at the door.  Sign up and register at their website.

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If you would like your events posted here, please email help@dcfoodies.com with the event info.


West End Farmers Market

Broccoli at J&W On the first Sunday in June, I headed out to Alexandria to visit the West End Farmers Market.  The market is located in Ben Brenman Park, adjacent to the Cameron Station complex of condos and shops.  It struck me that a park was a fantastic place to host a farmers market and I wondered why there weren’t more park/farmers market collaborations.  As you’re driving into the park, you can immediately pick out the familiar white tents indicative of farmers markets the world over.  The background of the lush green grass that only seems to grow in state funded parks made the tents pop out all the more.  The market, in its third season, was originally conceived by Julie Bryant, a former coffee shop owner, with the assistance of Susan Birchler.  Since its inception, the market has grown to 25 vendors, ranging from fresh produce and meats to homemade chocolates and Virginia wines from North Gate Vineyards.  As I walked around, it was apparent this was a regular community gathering place, as vendors greeted customers by name and chatted about their plans for the upcoming week.  Water bowls were left out for dogs by the vendors, a welcome treat considering the warmth of the day.  And the vendors themselves were all happy to chat away about their offerings, giving serving suggestions and telling their own little stories.  A real sense of community has been created in this market and it is a shame it’s not more metro accessible.  By car, it’s a quick trip outside of DC and well worth the drive.

My first stop was J&W Valley, where the two ladies manning the table were shelling English peas.  While they had the peas for sale in the pods, they were also shelling them for their customers’ convenience.  Their easy manner and the table’s set up reminded me of the many farm stands that dot the Georgia landscape (I’m a Southern Girl, what can I say).  It was at J&W’s stand that I spotted the first broccoli of the season.  Considering my love of stir fries, I was quite happy to see the lovely green bunches.  I picked up a large container of the shelled English peas (I may be from Georgia, but the city has softened me…no shelling of peas for this girl) and about two pounds of the broccoli.  I resisted the temptation to pick up some of the spring onions and beets, opting to pace myself for once. 

Grubby Girl Lotions As I continued on, I noticed there were a number of local artisans with booths at the market.  I later learned most of the artisans only sell at West End on the first Sunday of every month.  A man was setting up his collection of paintings and sketches not far from a woman with various crafts on display at her own booth.  A cute booth accented with wooden shelves caught my eye, so I wandered over to find out more.  The shelves were peppered with glass bottles of oils and artisanal soaps, vaguely reminiscent of a Bath and Bodyworks.  The vendor, Grubby Girl, sells handcrafted bath and body products made from all natural ingredients grown on Meeting House Farm.  The farm is home to over a dozen bee hives and a garden of herbs and vegetables, all of which are used to make the Grubby Girl line of products.  The soaps are hand crafted into shapes ranging from flowers to stars and with names like “redneck” and “farm person”.  Unfortunately, no one was manning the booth when I walked by, but I remembered the name so I could look it up online later.  Their products are sold at farmers markets and specialty stores throughout Virginia. 

Fleurir Chocolates I stopped dead in my tracks when I stumbled upon Fleurir Hand Grown Chocolates, mostly because I saw the word “chocolate” on their sign.  Another customer was standing at the table when I walked up, so I quietly listened as Robert Ludlow, the chef behind Fleurir’s chocolates, rattled off the various flavors in each four piece box.  The flavors include standards like caramel and 85% dark chocolate but are mostly unique combinations created by Ludlow himself.  The cheesecake flavor tastes exactly as if chunks of the dessert have been dipped into chocolate and served on a platter.  The almond amaretto starts out as a simple chocolate.  Just when you’re thinking “so where’s the almond”, the flavor of almonds hit your taste buds and then mellows into a lovely finish.  The most unique flavor combination is the Ginger Rogers, a dark chocolate infused with mint and dotted with bits of crystallized ginger.  The chocolates are all made from locally sourced ingredients and use fresh cream and butter.  Sold in boxes of four assorted flavors, the chocolates aren’t cheap ($8 a box) but they’re great for an indulgent, occasional treat. 

I had heard about Tom’s Amish Store through various local food blogs, so I was happy to see his sign at West End.  The booth is littered with homemade jars of jams and jellies, loaves of fruit breads and other goodies made from the Amish.  Tommy Tompkins, the Tom in Tom’s Amish Store, has a friendly and easy demeanor that reminded me of someone’s kindly grandfather.  When I first walked up, he was talking with a woman he obviously has known for years.  Joking back and forth, the two could have easily been mistaken for a married couple.  She asked him about the cheeses he had that week and he cut off a piece for her to try (while slyly putting in a compliment about her appearance).  He gave me an easy smile as the lady decided on which cheese she wanted.  He managed to make her not feel rushed while acknowledging me, something many vendors can’t easily do.  With a wave and a promise to get together soon, she headed off with her cheese and he turned his attention to me.  I asked him about the cheeses he had and he first showed me an 18 month aged soft cheddar.  Like all the products he sells, the cheese is crafted by the Amish and aged in a cave Tommy helped them build.  The cheese had a silky texture and a robust flavor, perfect for a picnic of cheese, a baguette and fruit.  I got a block of the cheese, surprised to find out it only cost $3.50. 

Fresh Garlic - Westmoreland Farm I had gotten so distracted by the baked goods, cheese and chocolates, I almost forgot I was there for produce.  That’s when I hit upon Westmoreland Berry Farm’s stand, the same vendor I bought my first strawberries of the season from back at the opening of the Crystal City Farmers Market.  The farm, located in Oak Grove, Virginia, hosts a wide variety of “on the farm” activities, including tours, wagon rides and a “goat walk to the stars”.  The farm also allows people to come pick their own berries during their harvest months.  Known for their sweet berries, Westmoreland also sells peaches, apples, pumpkins and gourds from their orchard.  The stand wasn’t just a testament to berries though.  They also had garlic, onions and other greens.  I had already picked up a big batch of strawberries earlier in the week, but I couldn’t resist the first garlic of the season, so I picked up a bunch along with some onions (still attached to their green stalks). 

On the Gourmet Olive Oil Perched at the end of the market was a truck, festooned with big chalkboards.  One chalkboard touted their meat offerings, which included ground bison!  I noticed people going in and out of the truck, which confused me until I realized the vendor was On the Gourmet.  On the Gourmet is a mobile purveyor of local meats and dairy products and gourmet chocolates, crackers and oils and vinegars (to name just a few of their offerings), offering home delivery to locations up to 20 miles of Vienna, Virginia.  I have heard about On the Gourmet from other DCFoodies writers, as well as the boards on Don Rockwell, but had never actually seen the truck myself.  When I stepped inside, I was reminded of a tiny general store, with artisanal products artfully arranged to catch the eye.  Retro bottles of soda are juxtaposed with high end products like truffle infused olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar.  Boxes of Lucy’s Cookies, gluten and dairy free cookies, in varying flavors were stacked together next to a basket of “deep discount” items.  I dug through the deep discount basket, finding chocolates, cookies and crackers, among other things.  I picked out a box of olive oil and sea salt artisanal crackers (to go with my cheese, naturally) and headed out of the truck.  I could have easily stayed inside for hours, perusing their products and sampling; the truck seems designed to encourage foodies to explore its offerings.  Although I was tempted to pick up practically everything I saw, I stuck to the crackers and a few pounds of the ground bison. 

 Just before we headed out, my boyfriend Rick nicely pointed out he was starving.  A table weighed down with baked goods caught our eye, so we stopped to see what she was selling.  The vendor, Treats by Gale, had a selection of homemade scones that looked rather tempting.  Gale King, the Gale behind Treats by Gale, began selling her baked goods on a small scale before making it a full fledged business.  Her treats include chocolate chip and white chocolate cranberry walnut cookies, brownies, scones and even a Caribbean Great Cake.  The scones were only a dollar and were the perfect size for a morning snack.  Rick picked up a cinnamon apple scone and I opted for a blueberry one.  She wrapped up our scones and encouraged us to pick up her business card, saying she sold her treats online too.  We thanked her and headed home, bags filled with more than just produce.  The West End Market has managed to create a neighborhood bazaar, offering a wide range of locally grown and made products in the middle of a suburban park. 

 New produce seen around the markets:

•    Garlic bulbs
•    Raspberries
•    Blueberries
•    Broccoli


Beet, Turnip and Goat Cheese Tortellini Beet, Hakurei Turnip and Goat Cheese Tortellini

For the pasta:

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4  large eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pinch of salt

For the filling:

1 bunch beets
1 bunch Hakurei turnips
1 container Chevre goat cheese

Cut the beet and turnip bulbs from their stalks and wash them thoroughly.  Place the beets and turnips into separate pots filled with water.  Bring the pots to a boil and continue to let them cook until the beets and turnips are tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain the beets and dice them into small pieces.  Drain the turnips and scoop out the flesh, mashing it in a bowl.  Add the beets and the goat cheese and stir until everything is mixed together thoroughly.  Cover the mixture and put it in the refrigerator until ready to fill the tortellini.

Place the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the middle of it.  Crack the eggs into that well and add the olive oil.  With a fork, work the liquid ingredients until a dough forms.  Take the dough out of the bowl and place it onto a surface dusted with flour.  Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and then form it into two round discs.  Wrap the discs in plastic wrap and allow the dough to sit for an hour.  Using either a pasta machine or a rolling pin, roll out one of the discs until it’s about as thin as a quarter.  Cut the pasta sheet into 2 inch squares.  Place 1/2 teaspoon of the beet mixture onto the center of a pasta square.  Take one corner of the pasta square and fold it over to meet the other corner, forming a triangle.  Pinch the sides of the square together, sealing the filling in.  You may need to wet the sides of the dough square a bit before sealing the tortellini.  If any filling squeezes out, simply wipe it off and make sure the tortellini is sealed.  Take your pinkie finger and wrap the pasta triangle around it, creating the tortellini shape.  Pinch the ends together to finish off the tortellini.  Place the tortellini on a plate dusted lightly with flour.  Repeat this until all the squares from both discs of dough are used. 

Once all the tortellinis are formed, bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.  Add the tortellinis to the water carefully.  Cook until the tortellinis start to float to the top, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and serve with a simple sauce of browned butter and fresh herbs.

The West End Farmers Market is located at 4800 Brenman Park Drive in the heart of Ben Brenman Park.  The market is open on Sundays from 9 am to 1 pm.


Brandy Sangaree: My Favorite New Old Cocktail.

Sangaree2 Though I classify myself as very much a beer and wine guy, sometimes it is nice to have a cocktail out on the balcony before dinner, especially as the year gets on toward summer. As far as cocktails go, I am quite the master of the ampersand, and can whip up the best Gin & Tonic, Rum & Coke, or Scotch & Soda you've ever had! Beyond these, however, my skills and knowledge as a mixologist are shamefully slim.

'Course, the main reason behind this is a lack of practice. Like most you out there, I don't stock a full bar of obscure liqueurs, nor do I keep a fridge full of tropical juices, nor a full compliment of miniature umbrellas and swords, which exempts me from the more charming warm-weather cocktails. In addition to taking up a lot of room, that stuff is expensive, and decidedly less than versatile (you'd have to drink an unwise number of Harvey Wallbangers to justify a bottle of Galliano). Financial and spatial constraints have limited my fancy cocktail consumption to the bar, which is not typically the ideal space for sippin' on a Daiquiri or Pina Colada.

Recently, though, a friend of mine introduced me to an easy, tasty new cocktail of which I'd never heard: the Brandy Sangaree. In truth, the Sangaree predates the cocktail by about a hundred years, and with the Flip, was one of the favorite thirst quenchers of colonial America. As might be expected of such an ancient drink, the ingredients are very common, and the recipe is a cinch:


Sangaree1 Brandy Sangaree

2 oz Brandy
1/2 tsp Powdered Sugar
1 tsp Water
Carbonated Water
1 tbsp Port
Nutmeg

Dissolve powdered sugar in 1 tsp water.

Add brandy and pour into a highball glass over ice cubes.

Fill with carbonated water and stir.

Float port on top, sprinkle lightly with nutmeg, and serve.

The result is a light, slightly buttery, and pleasantly spicy concoction that, while refreshing, has all those delicious flavors usually associated with winter. Though slightly sweet, the port and nutmeg really take center stage, making this drink appropriate on its own, with a selection of fresh fruit, or even matched with strong cheese and charcuterie. Though ideally enjoyed out in the sun (what isn't?), the Brandy Sangaree also makes for a comforting indoor drink, and is great for whiling away these dismal days of monsoon season.

Perhaps most appealing of all about the Sangaree is its modest price tag; even though I sprang for the Christian Brothers VSOP (cuz I'm classy like that), the total ingredient cost was less than $30, and should be enough to keep me well stocked in colonial goodness for months to come. Compare that to a similar supply of even modestly priced pink or white wine, and there simply is no contest.

The standard recipe takes well to modification; for my part, I enjoy a little more port in my Sangaree, and go quite a bit lighter on the soda. Sangaree also covers a wide range of other ingredients, and a similar cocktail can be made with gin, scotch, or bourbon as a base. Whatever you do, though, don't skip the nutmeg; having tried the drink with and without, I've found that the spice really pulls the whole drink together.

If you've got your own go-to drinks (whether by-the-book or all Macgyvered up), please post them in the comments below. I would love to hear what others are doing to keep sauced in the summer!