Category Archives: vegetables

When in Doubt, Part 8: Invite people over to eat exotic things

This is the 8th and final piece of the “When In Doubt, Do Everything At Once” series on Taste Life Twice. See Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7

This series of “When In Doubt” posts deals specifically with how to get happy when you feel like you’re drowning in more questions than answers. I have frequently been in dips like this, as you can see from many of my posts. Sometimes I work out a problem on the blog here with you, but often it is expressed in activity in another sphere. Here is where I’m showcasing those other activities, and how I deal with uncertainty every day.

Here’s an easy riddle for those of you who have read this blog for a while:
What has NOT yet made it into this series, but used to form the backbone of the site?
Ah, yes: FOOD!

Sicilian Croccante from the May 2012 Southern Italian class

The Taste Life Twice Cooking School

If you’ve been paying particularly close attention, you’d remember that I ran a market trial of a travel-cum-cooking school out of my house last summer. This was the first ‘product’ to ever come out of Taste Life Twice, and I still think it’s got promise, so I will be reviving it after I move, and actually marketing it beyond word-of-mouth. It will showcase just the type of exotic exciting foods I find in places where I’ve traveled.

Why exotic foods? And what constitutes ‘exotic?’ are good questions to ask in a town that has a restaurant for every type of cuisine in the world, overlaid on a landscape of precious fusion techniques and showmanship. Washington, D.C. is indeed a hard town in which to impress the foodie set, just ask Dan O’Brien, whose recent fame came only after years of building and crafting and honing his skill (You’re sorry you missed his fried chicken, too!).

Exotic foods here then are those that are overlooked, unknown, or underappreciated. These pique my interest and I want to learn about them… then I want to share the results!

Romanesco Cauliflower, via Dreaming of the Country blog

Overlooked, Unknown, Underappreciated

I especially like highlighting home foods from different cultures. This is the sort of food that people take for granted that their mother or grandfather cooked, but which they don’t find in a trendy restaurant: Sauerbraten. Pupusas. Soft-boiled eggs. Oxtail stew. Sauteed greens. Dates in almost anything. Chermoula. Purslane. Short Ribs. Gremolata. So many things to discover!

What remains unknown in globalized times like ours? The kind of food that takes a long time, that’s what. Slow-roasted. Sauteed, then in the oven. Takes forever to peel. Requires a finicky water-bath. All these things I have looked at and thought, “Are they really necessary?” And the answer, if you want to experience the real deal, is yes.

I’ve seen several vegetables (think kale) and even organ meats (headcheese!) have their day in the sun recently, but you’d be surprised at the number of still-more unappreciated plain foods that can be wonderful: cabbage. Fennel. Barley. Parsnips. Orzo. And for the love of God: sweet potatoes!

Photo by Domino Postiglione

So where’s the ‘Get Happy’ part of all this?

The reason that finding these exotic foods is so happy-making is that you get to share them with others! You don’t need a cooking school to do it. Invite some friends for an Evening of Discovery and introduce them to The Elegant Kohlrabi, or The Mighty Eggplant.

Knowing where foods originated, what they are most often paired with in different cultures, how they got to be a staple, who made them famous, (this is what I do at the TLT Cooking School!) all this detail enriches our knowledge while enhancing our enjoyment of the food. And hopefully when all that is done, you have time for some helpless giggles at some of your own ‘exotic’ creations! It’s the start of a beautiful community.

How have you challenged yourself on the food front? How have you shared your knowledge with the world?

Comfort Friend and Comfort Food at Hudson Lounge

I love getting visitors here in the District of Columbia. I get to be a tour guide, a hostess, a Resident Foodie (we need badges, no?)… well, usually I get to play these roles, but this summer I had a different kind of guest. One who had already lived here, already had favorite places, and was on a mission. Kind of like me! Hi, Rooske!

So no tour guiding. But there was lots of talking over life plans and adventures, and figuring out the work projects we want to do.

I did get to put on my Resident Foodie hat, though, since restaurants change in DC so quickly, and being out of the country for a year will definitely provide you with a panoply of new places to try. It so happened that Hudson Lounge, which was new when she was living here, had never made it on her top list to try. Enter my Groupon.

The menu has the mouthwatering descriptions, but I’ll give it the personal touch here. Above is what I had as an appetizer: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with currants and pine nuts. For the past year or so, I’ve been diving into any version of roasted brussels sprouts at restaurants, since I tried it at Potenza— but Potenza has closed! I just found out last week. It’s sad, and it’s probably because they never put the sprouts back on the menu…

But I digress. These were very good, but not with the flash fried crispiness of other places. Rooske had a cauliflower soup, which was nice, but didn’t make me do cartwheels. And that’s really what life is about, right? Doing things that make your heart do cartwheels?

Next were the entrees: Caramelized Cauliflower Risotto (above) and Fried Chicken (below). The risotto, while rich and creamy, really was over-the-top with the amount of cheese. Very heavy. I no doubt would have erred in the other direction making it at home, since I don’t like the tedious grating of pecorino or parmesan.

What had really beckoned me to try this place though, was the report of its fried chicken- duly noted as being from Murray Farms, a group of Pennsylvania farms. Instead of being wearied by all the name-dropping on the menu, I rather like when restaurants note the purveyors of their ingredients. It shows that they have formed a relationship with a producer that they’re proud of owning up to. Hooray for transparency in the food industry, I say! Did it live up to my view of transparency begetting good product?

Fitting leftovers into containers…

Nice crispy skin, and succulent meat, even as leftovers (contained curiously at right) reheated in the oven, was the answer to that question. And of course there were leftovers- duh! That’s what the civilized person does when confronted with American-sized portions but wants to sample the diversity of the menu!

That diversity, of course, Rooske and I both agreed,  involved sampling dessert. And speaking of American-sized portions, Hudson offers a Half Pound Warm Chocolate Chip Cookie. Half a pound. Of cookie. We shared a half and put the rest in the container to take home. Also good later.

 Was it really necessary to top the cookie with powdered sugar? I think not.

As I post this, it seems like a while ago that Rooske was here and we were having those conversation, but they continue in different form, and always bring me comfort on my journey with extra inspiration for the road. I hope I can do the same for others in my life… Feel free to test me. :)

 

Passing along Southern Italian Foodways to You

**Announcement!**

I would love to host you at my final cooking class of the summer in August, so email me now to reserve a space!

This class will focus on Southern Italian foods and cultural foodways, which, as you’ll see below, I learned a lot about while in Naples, Sorrento, and Sicily this spring. It was gorgeous. In fact, this was the sight that greeted me from the window of the hydrofoil as we docked- quite amazing.

Pozzuoli and Napoli held their own charms- views of the sea and charming locals high among them- but the next stage of my trip launched me into the independent mode of travel. From the seaside you see above, I scaled the cliff (ok, climbed the stairs) with my suitcase, and getting some advice from the tourist office, I scouted out a few small hotels before deciding on one.
The night of my arrival I wandered around the small town of Sorrento, glimpsing citrus trees in every yard, people in every cafe, and a bustling center of town, which included this gated corner alcove, apparently an ancient men’s club (so unfair).

I walked and walked until I was so hungry I had a hard time making a dinner decision… ending up with this spread, so I didn’t end up too badly…
Whole fried anchovies (unless they were sardines? I can’t find a good way to tell them apart when battered and fried), octopus, shrimp, and more- all celebrated the generous gifts of the Mediterranean Sea. Perfect for my sampler nature.

After a couple days like this, I went to see one of the most famous historical sites right nearby: Pompeii. Having gotten a good look at Vesuvius on the hydrofoil journey crossing the bay from Naples to Sorrento, I was excited to see this city that was buried in an instant, so long ago.

What bowled me over about the site was not the professionalism of the preservation or the views of the countryside (although the site was well managed, the surrounding suburb was rather scrappy), but the unbelievable detail brought to us whole and untouched from that distant culture. Here is a frescoed wall from a bath house. Such colors, thousands of years of ash and dust later!

I recently had “atavism” explained to me in an online course, and it was connected to the idea of a discontinued past, that past which is not linked to our present because we perceive it to be too different. Pompeii was nothing of the sort- the people living here had road ruts under repair, were building extensions on their houses, and had decorations lovelier than many expensive ones I’ve seen  in our own time.

Mosaics laid so precisely.

Signs lettered so carefully
and in recognizable script!

It made the tragedy of the deaths in the settlement all the more real. Here, the archaeologists had left their mark, finding the bodies burnt to ash, essentially vacuuming them out, and making plaster casts of how their bodies were found. It was both eerie and compelling to see the models, composed of some of the ash of the bodies themselves, on display in their final, frantic positions.


But since the one plaster model I saw was placed near the entrance I used, I had a couple hours after that of wandering around the narrow streets and peeking through other courtyards to sweep out the sad thoughts. Marvel at the art and society of this little town was the foremost emotion, and by the time I finished, I was ready for switching gears.

What did I jump to? My cooking lesson with Chef Lucia!

She had a menu planned and printed out for me, and we mixed it up a bit as we went along. Chef Lucia took me through an immense amount of details as we made our way through rolled beef, stuffed eggplant, and rolled eggplant (I requested the eggplant- love it!). One of the highlights of the class was the ballet dance of languages we all did, as her son translated for me, I tried to understand Lucia’s Italian, and she mostly understood my English. It made 2+ hours of standing on my feet in the little kitchen fly by, and that is saying something!


Chopping.

Tearing.

Mixing.

Heating garlic in oil!

There are proper ways to do everything, and traditional ways, too, as in whether you peel your cucumber completely or in stripes- one way gives you the Napolitano version, the other, the Sorrentino.


One of the add-on items on the menu was fresh pasta from potatoes, usually known as gnocchi (that is a link to an excellent tutorial with step-by-step pictures- go see for yourself!).

We used a pasta machine, the kind that clamps on the counter and cranks by hand, which led to some more ballet-like hilarity among the three of us. We also used a tool like the one shown  in the linked tutorial above, which looks like a miniature washboard. It is obviously a skill learned through repetition, to drag two fingers with a dollop of gnocchi dough over the wooden board in such a way to create the classic shape. I tried, but my pasta didn’t win any beauty contests!
It was a lot of fun, and even though setting up the class was stressful at the last minute, and finding the place was another adventure, it was all totally worth it.

Now I have this precious experience to share with you!

Have you taken cooking classes on vacation? How did it give you a different view of the location and the region’s people? Did it help you connect the region’s past with its, and your, present?

It’s magic!

Let us hear about it in the comments…