Monday, April 25, 2011

Wings to Die For

A short one, but worth it. Try the rooster wings at Eat Bar in Arlington, VA. The name is a reference to Sriracha sauce, which has a rooster printed on the bottle. The sauce is good, but even better is that the wings are perfectly done.

I ran across the sauce by accident before hearing it was the chefs' sauce de rigeur. I popped by a place to pike up a few Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) and saw a bottle of hot sauce. I figured it'd be good and later foud out about Sriracha. I actually bought the chili-garlic sauce from the same company. I prefer it to Sriracha. It's a bit chunkier, but has that same chili goodness.

Anyway. Hit Eat Bar for Happy Hour. Great wines at half price and great beers at reduced price.

Better get back to work.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Cross-continental Easter Dinner

I didn't have any particular plans for Easter Sunday dinner. We had a big wine tasting meal planned for friends with the idea that people would bring appetizers to pair with particular wines. Complicating matters was that Keen was sick and had a monster transcription to work on, Secondo was an exceedingly cranky convalescent from recent surgery (adnoids & tonsils), and I was a bit stretched. It brought home to me how much Keen does when I decide to throw a party.

Everything worked out in that a dozen or so adults and half a dozen kids had a good time. My idea of paired wines and foods was totally trashed, but that's OK. The worst moment might have been when a cigarette butt was found in one of the bottles of red. I'd opened them up early and left them on the porch to cool. One of the guests is a smoker and didn't realize that these weren't ashtrays. [Sheesh, dude, even it it wasn't a FULL bottle of wine, maybe I recycle?] Ah, well. I wanted to dump the bottle and substitute something, though was shouted down. I decided to skip the red course as I wasn't going to have a glass of Vin Roja de Cigare. Fortunately, I'd opened and chilled a bottle of an amazingly good American sparkler from New Mexico (Gruet--try it!) and so sipped on that instead. 

While shopping on Friday, I ran into a friend at the grocery store. He was planning on buying some lamb to have with his girlfriend. I wandered over to the meat section with him and spied a gorgeous bone-in lamb sirloin. I adore lamb for its flavor, but haven't made it recently due to its high fat content. Oh what the heck. I took it out today ambivalently. Is that a word? Guess so, as the spell checker didn’t put squiggly lines under it.

After a bit of chatting, we decided on braising. I cut off all the surface fat, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and put it in the ‘fridge. Awhile later, I seared it on all sides and tossed it into a warm oven along with a big can of tomatoes, a can of chicken stock, the same can filled with a decent inexpensive red wine, some vegetables and herbs.

But what to pair with it? I’d roasted some potatoes for the wine event the day before and abandoned the dish I was going to make. Aloo tikki is great Indian street food. A friend of mine introduced me to it. The basis is grated or mashed potatoes, mixed with onion, cilantro, and some spices. Form this into cakes, pan fry, and serve with chutney and chaat.

Thinking about it, it sounded like a great starch side. I omitted the chile peppers from the mix and used it as a base. Take one tikki, top with braised lamb, and add a couple of ladles of broth from the braised lamb. Delicioso!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Play Time in Northern Virginia

The topic of a children’s play area in my development came up last autumn. Although Fairlington Towne lacks a dedicated play area, there are many options nearby. I thought it might be a timely to mention a few of them that I’d discovered in the five years since my twins came on the scene.

Starting from the closest available place, there is a play area behind the Fairlington Presbyterian Church where Van Dorn ends at King Street. Although small, our guys spent many hours playing there. We also met a few parents from the nearby apartments, one of whom became our future sitter. One advantage is that it’s entirely fenced in, a useful feature when you’re watching more than one at a time.

Fort Ward recently refurbished the children’s play area. You see a good cross-section of the local community there. The only down side to this play area is that it’s at the bottom of a fairly steep hill. I’ve managed it with a double stroller, though prefer to leave the wheels at the top of the hill. This play area is shaded, a bonus for the dog days of summer.

The main play area in Fairlington is located on the grounds of the recreation center between Stafford and Utah. This recently underwent a complete refurbishment. There is a small stage that my kids loved to play on as well as a soccer field. We’ve also visited a smaller play area on the other side of I-395 near Abingdon Elementary School.

Despite being a resident of Alexandria, I haven’t spent as much time in the play areas of our fair city’s parks. The play area near Mount Vernon School in Del Rey is well worth a visit. It’s within a block of a variety of shops and restaurants. Cameron Station has a couple of children’s play areas—the better of these in my opinion is located at Armistead Boothe Park near Samuel Tucker Elementary School. Our favorite Alexandria play area is located within Marina Park off Union Street. It has a nice fenced in play area that takes full advantage of the hill on which it lies. You also have a great view of the new Wilson Bridge.

Arlington has too many children’s parks to list. I’ll list a few of my favorites. Lacey Woods Park off the intersection of Washington & N. George Mason has a play area with an enclosed slide, handy if you don’t want to worry about a fall. True to its name, there are several paths through the woods. There’s a larger park nearby on Harrison, just north of Lee Highway. Catch it in early summer and there’s mulberries aplenty!

As long as I’m mentioning summer time, I have to note the spray parks in Arlington. They’ve been a wonderful resource when dealing with stir crazy kids in July and August. My favorite of these is located within Lyon Village Park. It’s fenced, there’s plenty of room to run, and the spray area is well done. It’s also walking distance from the Italian Store for subs. Another great little park with a spray area is located off of Lincoln, just south of I-66.

The big dog in the area is Clemyjontri Park in McClean. I can’t praise this place highly enough. It was built on donated land with the mission of providing play for children of all abilities. The park is fully handicapped accessible and has a number of elements for kids with mobility impairments. The variety of structures must be seen to be believed.  It also features a carousel that operates spring through fall. There is parking right there and a satellite lot that is a 5 – 10 minute walk.

If you like farmers markets, consider Cherry Hill Park in Falls Church on Saturday mornings. Finding parking can be difficult, but the park is large and there’s plenty of shopping to do. The park at Mount Vernon School is also a block away from a Saturday farmers market. The play area near Henry Elementary School on Walter Reed is a couple of blocks away from the Columbia Pike market on Sundays.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few of my favorite places to take the kids, even though they don’t have a play area per se. The Carillon in Arlington is a great area for the kids to run around and the view of the National Mall is spectacular. I have spent many hours on Roosevelt Island with my twins. The paths make it easy to keep track of them. The central monument is also a good area to run around. No bicycles are allowed on the island, removing one potential hazard.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A neat little scam

I walked to my car yesterday morning only to discover a ticket on it. We'd rushed back home Friday afternoon and I parked a little past the line on the frontage road close to home. It was a bit upsetting to get a $50 ticket for a couple feet. Still, my front bumper had edged out past the "No Parking From Here to Corner" sign and so I'd been duly nailed. What a stupid mistake!

I left the ticket in my car and headed off to get a baguette to have with the Fu'ul I'd made for breakfast. Yes, still obsessed with that dish. This morning, I was doing the same exact errand (it's been a fu'ulish weekend; I'll be here alllll night folks) and picked up the ticket. Then I looked at it. Really looked at it. The address seemed odd. Then I noticed it was a District of Columbia ticket. Hmm. I didn't think they ticketed in Alexandria! Although I do have Virginia plates, my car is a 2 door Ford, not a 4 door Honda. Naturally, the plates didn't match. Funny thing is that I did take note of the time of the ticket the day before, but missed the rest of it.

I'll give full credit to someone. They picked up a ticket Saturday night in the District. Noticing that my car was parked a little over the line, they put it on my windshield in hopes that I'd pay for their ticket. Well played!

They apparently think I'm stupid though. Is anyone going to mail a ticket for Virginia parking to the District?


Friday, April 15, 2011

Where to go for ethnic ingredients in Alexandria, Virginia

My previous post was on fu'ul, a standard dish across north Africa and a favorite of ours at Café Aurora. We had a little extra time today and I wanted to find the beans. I'd driven by a place near Aurora a number of times, but never stopped it. What a mistake! This place has an incredible selection of ethnic foods. I found a dozen varieties of canned ful, not to mention the dried beans. I also found…

Pomegranate syrup

Really good tahini

My favorite brand of Basmati rice (Tilda)

Chopped methi leaves (needed for the variation of Saag Paneer that I make; I'd never seen them before)

So much other stuff that I could have spent hours in there. The place is on Edsall Road, between Pickett and Van Dorn. It's a keeper.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

A fool for fu'ul

I’ve tried a few new dishes recently and can’t resist sharing a favorite with the world. WETA recently did a series on places that serve breakfast around Washington. One of the most interesting is Aurora Café, whose owners are Eritrean. It happens to be fairly close to my sons’ preschool and so we’ve been able to go there for a few breakfast dates. It won’t be a surprise to learn that the coffee is fantastic. I’ve had a few interesting dishes—kilcha fit fit (kinda like having spicy stuffing for breakfast) and eggs silsi (an Eritrean scramble) are two dishes I’ve had an enjoyed. Keen orders fu’ul every time she goes there and I happily polish off anything that’s left. We went there yesterday morning and ordered our usual. I was a bit disappointed to have no leftover fu'ul.

It’s a mushy bean stew served with a bit of yogurt and bread on the side to sop it up. Hunting around, I’ve found various recipes for ful, an Egyptian dish that appears to be related. I'm sure variations are available all across northern Africa. Fu'ul is a type of small fava bean. I tried an early version using edamame and lentils. Not bad, but not the real thing. Then I discovered an ethnic supermarket nearby that has the real beans--both canned and dry. Jackpot! My second batch rocks. If you can't find canned fava beans (the little ones), try using small white beans.

The other special ingredient is Berbere, a spice blend unique to Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine. I'm sure anyone from Ethiopia or Eritrea would protest, but garam masala is a reasonable substitute. The addition of paprika appears to be the primary difference. I hunted around a bit and I think this is the closest to what we've had at Aurora. Full credit to Jessica Balsam's blog. Serve with a crusty baguette.

I'm still looking for a silsi recipe.

Ethiopian Ful Medames
Serves 4

  • 1/4 cup olive oil + more for garnish
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup minced white onion
  • 1 teaspoon berbere (or 3/4 t. garam masala & 1/4 t. paprika)
  • 6 cups cooked ful (or two cans)
  • salt to taste
  1. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, and fry the garlic and onion for 2 minutes. Add the berbere and cook for 1 more minute. Add the ful and 1 cup of water and bring to a simmer.
  2. Remove from the heat, mash the ful, adding water if needed to reach the texture of refried beans. Salt to taste. Return to the heat briefly.
  3. To serve, divide the mashed beans between four shallow bowls and garnish as you like. Green onions, crumbled cheese (feta), minced jalapeño or tomato, plain yogurt (with a little berbere), and hard boiled egg are all good garnishes. Serve with a baguette.

Berbere Spice Blend


2 teaspoons cumin seed
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon fenugreek seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
8 cloves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
20 crumbled dried red peppers
1/2 teaspoon dried ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon turmeric
3 tablespoons sweet or hot paprika
1 teaspoon salt

Put all the ingredients up to the salt in a frying pan and heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. add the salt and grind the spices in a spice grinder.