Monthly Archives: February 2008

Gentrification on Aisle Nine…

Considering my love of food and cooking, I am fairly discriminating about where I buy groceries. Although I get most of my produce from my CSA, I still have a need for various other provisions. Unfortunately, I live in Shaw, which really only has one grocery store: Giant. To say this Giant leaves a lot to be desired is an understatement. Not only is the selection less than ideal, the employees act as if they are doing you a favor by checking you out (and let’s not even go into the conversation I overheard between two cashiers about the cheapest place to buy weed). This is why I walk almost 9 blocks to go to Whole Foods. An inconvenience, but at least I get a better selection of produce and other grocery items. Because Giant is the only close grocery store in Shaw, I believe management has no motivation to improve service or selection. This, however, may change soon.

A new mixed use complex is opening up at the corner of 5th and K called City Vista. The complex includes a Busboy and Poets, Results Gym, 5th Street Hardware (from the same people behind Logan Hardware) and the piece de resistance, an Urban Safeway. A new concept in the Safeway chain, the Urban Safeway has been billed as the affordable Whole Foods. The buzz in the neighborhood is that this new store has already started recruiting college students as employees in an attempt to create a more upscale atmosphere.

I run down 5th street on the weekend, so I have been anxiously watching it’s progress (okay, so I press my nose against the glass and cry out “Give me fresh greens”…and then the construction men comment on my ass). I have not once thought of this new grocery store as anything other than a great new option for Shaw residents. However, in line at the Giant tonight (I needed cat food…you try going home to an angry 10 pound cat without any food for her), I overheard this older woman complaining about the impending Safeway. Her exact words: “See, these damn White folks are too good to shop with us, so now they’ve got their new fancy place [said with a mock snooty accent].”

Something as simple as the opening of a new grocery store seems to be a symbol for the more overarching issue of gentrification in Shaw. Many of the more longstanding residents see the grocery store, and the other new restaurants and shops moving into the Shaw area, as a threat to their neighborhood’s identity. As more and more professionals move into Shaw, clashes over its future have increased between the new and the old. In fact, Shaw ANC meetings have made their way onto Youtube because of their contentious nature.

While no one wants to say it, I can tell you that a lot of the old residents are Black, while the new residents are a majority White. The new residents just want better options for their shopping needs, but the Black residents see it as an affront to their sense of self. They’ve shopped at this Giant for years, so why isn’t it good enough for these new (mostly White) residents? They’ve eaten at this same cheap Chinese restaurant for years, why must we have all these exotic new restaurants and “fancy” foods? Why? Because the demographics of the neighborhood are changing, which invariably means a change in the services offered. But no one likes change, especially if it could mean they will be forced out of their affordable housing. Me? I just want a grocery store that doesn’t smell like the outdoor bathrooms after a rock concert.


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Adventures in….Food Photography

I am relatively new to this blogging thing, but even more so to food photography. Before yesterday, I didn’t even have a digital camera. I went to Penn Camera and explained I wanted to be able to get quality shots of food to be published on my blog. I also pointed out I was a beginner, so too many bells and whistles would just leave me on the floor in the fetal position crying for my mother. The salesman suggested the Olympus FE-310 because it had a mode for cuisine. I purchased the camera and happily headed home to start my previous blog entry.

I now wish I had waited for the advice of a more experienced food photographer before heading out to Penn Camera. The camera is easy to operate and does take great shots of everything else. However, in the cuisine mode, there is this weird yellow hue, faintly reminiscent of the documents you’d find in the National Archives. After playing around with the settings for the majority of the day, I have come to the realization that I need another camera. So the Olympus will be returned to Penn Camera on Monday (or sold on Craigslist…for some reason I am completely lazy about store returns but will put something on Craigslist at a moment’s notice). In the coming weeks, with a little guidance, I hope you will see an improvement with the quality of my pictures. Until then, please be patient as this is still a work in progress. If anyone has any suggestions on cameras or my blogging style in general, don’t be shy! I welcome any and all thoughts, musings and critiques!


Filed under Photography

Pina Colada on a Plate

I am quite the fan of the Pina Colada, so imagine my pleasure when I found out about the Cookthink: Root Source Challenge ingredient for this week: pineapple. Just as a little background, the Root Source Challenge names a new ingredient each week and participants must devise a recipe based on it. I had already been thinking about escaping the winter with a nice tropical drink when I saw the challenge ingredient. So I immediately thought of ways to incorporate both pineapple and coconut in a dish. The result? A take on the apple crostata, one of my favorite winter desserts. Instead of doing the usual apple/cinnamon filling, I decided to use the same ingredients for the topping of a pineapple upside down cake. And since a Pina Colada isn’t complete without coconut, I opted to top the pineapple crostata with a homemade coconut gelato. While the gelato was taken from the food world’s favorite convict Martha Stewart, the pineapple crostata was a result of my own twisted thoughts of adult cocktails.

Since the crostata dough requires at least an hour to chill, I tackled this step first. I have used this recipe for years and I believe I originally got it from the Barefoot Contessa (it’s handwritten on an index card in my recipe box, so I am not 100 percent sure of its origins). This recipe will actually make enough for two crostata crusts (you can always freeze the second one to use later), so if you only want one, cut it in half:

2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 Sticks Unsalted Butter – chilled and cut into squares
5 Tablespoons Cold Water

Place the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor with a steel blade insert. Pulse several times to combine all the ingredients together. Add the butter and pulse again until it’s crumbly. Add the water and pulse until the mixture comes together but before it turns into a ball. Remove the dough from the food processor and shape it into a ball on a floured surface. Separate the large ball into two smaller balls of dough and then flatten each one out to a disc. Cover each disc in cling wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of one hour.

For the filling, I like to use a whole pineapple instead of the inferior canned slices. I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to find a whole pineapple this time of year, but Trader Joe’s turned out to be my savior. Before you think it’s too hard to cut up a whole pineapple, let me tell you it’s quite easy and the difference in taste is phenomenal. However, it is important you have a good carving knife!

Cut the top off a large pineapple and then cut it lengthwise. Once you have the pineapple cut into halves, cut it again into quarters. Then carefully skin the pineapple and remove the core by slicing it out of the middle of each section. Then slice up each pineapple quarter. The remaining ingredients are as follows:

1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/2 Vanilla Bean

Before starting the filling, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Cut the vanilla bean in half and scoop out the beans from one section. Place all the ingredients, including the vanilla pod, into a heavy saucepan on medium heat. Stir the pineapple mixture occasionally, monitoring the absorption of the liquid. As the liquid starts to absorb, reduce the heat gradually. Once the pineapples turn translucent, which takes approximately 25 minutes, remove them from the heat.

Because the crostata dough will not completely cover the fruit, every crostata usually has some sort of crumble topping. The crumble topping is very easy and can be done in the food processor too. Place 1/4 cup of sugar and all purpose flour into the bowl, along with a half stick of chilled and diced unsalted butter. Pulse the ingredients until you get a nice crumble mixture. Set this aside.

Once the dough has chilled, take it out of the refrigerator and roll it out to about 11 inches. Put the dough on an ungreased baking sheet (I have a baking sheet that doesn’t require greasing, but if you don’t, I suggest lightly greasing it). Place the pineapple mixture in the center of the dough, leaving enough space on the sides to make a border. Fold the sides of the dough onto the pineapples, pinching the edges to make a decorative statement. Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the visible pineapple filling and place it in the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

This is best served warm, so when it’s cooled down just a bit, place it on a plate, along with a scoop of the aforementioned coconut gelato.

As a side note, since I had a half section of vanilla bean, I scooped out the beans of the remaining half and put it in the gelato (I incorporated it when the final ingredients simmered before being placed in the ice water bath). This is not necessary as the gelato is fantastic on its own. It was just a bit of improvisation on my part.

Feel free to enjoy an actual Pina Colada while tucking into this crostata. I, however, enjoyed it with a cup of hot cocoa (albeit spiked with Kahlua).


Filed under Dessert

Political Straw Grasping

In the interest of full disclosure, I will first state I am a staunch supporter of Barack Obama. I truly believe him to be the salve needed for the wounds inflicted on this country by the Bush administration. He has both the charisma and the intellect to make a difference, a combination I haven’t seen since the early Bill Clinton years. Hillary, on the other hand, may have the “experience” (more on that later), but lacks the personality necessary to convince the two parties to work together to clean up the Bush mess. I know many people who would vote for Satan himself before voting for her.

But aside from that, I have been riveted by this primary season and the political discourse created by it. For the first time in quite a while, issues are the center of a political debate, not smear campaigns. Top news stories focus on our presidential race, not on Britney’s latest antics. I am lucky enough to work in an office with very informed and intellectually curious people, so having this wealth of political material to discuss is almost orgasmic. While there has been some dirt throwing (more on this later), it has been minimal in comparison to the very ugly campaign mounted by Bush against Kerry. All the candidates have kept the “attacks” mostly on their opponents’ platforms and where they stand on the issues, not on their personal lives. And even with the most recent questions of McCain’s relationship with a lobbyist, the media and the public have demanded more information and have really analyzed it’s merits. Such accusations in previous campaigns would have been accepted at face value and taken the focus away from the real issues. If for nothing else, we all should be grateful to the candidates for bringing real meat back to the political meal.

That being said, I now turn my attention to the Democratic race (because even if Huckabee hasn’t accepted it, the Republican race is over…someone please tell Chuck Norris to pass this message along to old Huckey). When Hillary announced her plans to run for president, most people saw her as the inevitable Democratic nominee. And her attitude pretty much reflected this “heir apparent” atmosphere in the Democratic party. And while Barack was seen as a shining star in the Democratic party, no one expected him to gain the support and momentum he has shown in the last several months. The Clinton camp particularly didn’t expect the African American vote (which Bill had practically sewn up during his presidency) to get behind him in such huge amounts. Nor did they expect the primary campaign to go on this long (evident by her $5 million loan to her own campaign…announced the same day Barack raised $3 million via the internet in one 24 hour period). Her key voter demographics (women, the rural population and the working class) are also deserting her as if she were the Titanic (the recent endorsements of Obama by key labor unions is a huge indicator of this). Her lack of charm has proven to be an impediment in debates and speeches, especially in comparison to Obama’s eloquent and almost Kennedy-esque style.

So how does the Clinton camp react? Reiterating her 35 years of experience (see George Will’s editorial on this very topic) and resorting to weak accusations of plagiarism. Her experience does not include running a large scale government like her husband’s gubernatorial experience prior to his run for presidency. It doesn’t include years of military service or even more than one term as a Senator. In fact, her record as a Senator doesn’t stand out as making her “ready on day one” as she repeats ad nauseam. Aside from the question about her experience is her camp’s response to Obama’s very effective campaign. Several comments from her camp have been seen as racist and have left a very sour taste in the African-American community. I used to have a large amount of respect for Bill Clinton. However, his behavior during his wife’s campaign has tainted my perception of him. I have always seen Hillary as a bit of a Lady MacBeth (I truly believe she would run over a passel of small babies if it meant more power for her), so her behavior comes as no surprise. But to see Bill resort to innuendoes of drug use and comments that feed into the “White Man’s Fear of the Black Man” leaves me incensed.

The final straw (and what made me take to this blog) was the Texas debates this evening. Again, the questions of plagiarism against Obama came up (show me a politician who writes every one of his speeches and I’ll show you a pig flying). Hillary took the opportunity to grasp at this very thin straw by saying Obama’s campaign is “Change you can xerox”. Not only was this comment a low blow, it was VERY poorly received by the debate audience. In fact, her overall performance at the debate was flaccid. The analysts have already declared Obama the winner of this debate, stating he was able to bring up his plan for change even amidst her attacks. Her lack of personality (she reminds me almost of Cruella Deville) was a serious handicap in this setting and the fact that she is sticking to a strategy that isn’t working only further hinders her. Where once Hillary thought she was the runaway Democratic nominee, she now must win both Texas and Ohio to stay in this fight. Bill Clinton even hinted at her withdrawal if she lost either state.

I’m not going to sit here and gloat (especially since the dust has not yet settled on the Democratic race) about Hillary’s downward spiral. But I am so glad Obama’s call for a change in the old political system is being heard. Hillary, in my opinion, represents the old Democratic party: listless, unyielding and ineffective. Obama, however, brings new life to a party that has been flailing about like a fish out of water for the last decade. And I believe that a campaign between McCain (whom I respect for the most part and who also concentrates on the issues instead of the backbiting of the old political guard) and Obama would be an excellent display of political issues and not swiftboating tactics. And at a time when the country will need to come together after the national disaster known as the Bush administration, a McCain/Obama race would be a welcome change of pace.

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Running for a Cause

Over the last few months, I have really upped my running routine and truly come to enjoy my runs. With those thoughts in mind, I started looking for a 5k to participate in within the DC metro area. Imagine my pleasant surprise to find a 5k that supports colon cancer research. As some of you may already know, my beloved older sister Sharon is a colon cancer survivor. So to not only be able to complete a 5k, but to do it in support of a cause I strongly believe in was too much to pass up. So on March 30 in West Potomac Park, I will be running my very first 5k! My friends Kelly, Scotty, Zumi, Selena and Kelly dog will be there to cheer me on (and if any of you will be in the DC area, feel free to come out too), even though it’s at 8 am on a Sunday. As it is a fundraising event, there is a link to make a donation to colon cancer research. If anyone is interested, feel free to check out the website Scope It Out 5k.

My gym is fairly small, so the women who work out around the same time have formed a bit of a social support network. I mentioned to one of them my intentions to run a 5k and she gave me several tips. Apparently, two years ago she up and decided to start running and did a “Couch to 5k” program with her husband. She said her first 5k was exhausting, but she felt an immense sense of pride at finishing it. She did a few more 5k’s and found herself hooked. The 5k’s led to 10k’s, which led to her completing the Army 10miler (a celebrated race here in DC) last October. She did three half marathons last year and is now training for a full marathon. I was surprised to hear she had done so many races in only 2 years and it gave me a bit of inspiration. Not that I am planning on running any marathons soon, but my new goal is to do the Army 10miler in October 2009. So I will be entering as many 5k and 10k races as I possibly can over the next two years in preparation for my new goal. The lady at the gym gave me some training tips that I plan to incorporate into my current routine, so I will keep y’all (I’m from the South, so yes, I say y’all) posted on my progress!

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Filed under Fitness, Running

My Two Left Feet

In keeping with my New Year’s Resolution to socialize more, I have started taking tango lessons. Yes, you heard me, little old me is taking dance lessons. Now, as my oldest friend Hui Chin will attest, I have no rhythm. This is especially sad considering I am half Black and half Hispanic (I should, by genetic birthright, be competing on Dancing with the Stars). So when a friend suggested I tag along with her to a tango class taught by her friends, I said “Why not?” and headed out into the winter cold. The classes are taught by Sharna and Isaac, two experienced tango dancers in the DC area who have a true love and appreciation for the time honored traditions of tango. The Tuesday night “crash courses”, held at 18th Street Lounge, are geared towards those who are new to tango, so there isn’t pressure to be a dancing queen right off the bat. Even better, you don’t need to have a partner for the class. You simply show up with a willingness to learn and a good pair of shoes (I learned that the hard way).

My first class taught me one thing: I like to lead. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering I am a bit of a control freak. But it’s not a good thing in tango for a woman to be unwilling to surrender the lead to her partner. So I spent the better part of my first lesson trying to wrestle away control from my unfortunate male partners. My friend gently pointed out that I was, in fact, the woman and thus should allow the man to lead me around the floor. When I pointed out that I wasn’t sure any of these guys were capable of leading a hungry man to an all you can eat buffet, much less an entire tango set, she agreed. But then she still insisted I at least try to relinquish the lead to my partner. Lesson one ended with me still struggling with the whole “man should lead” concept and with the concept of moving backwards. But I had a blast and I really enjoyed learning the steps. I promised to return and even considered taking Sharna and Isaac’s beginner’s progressive tango class series. Unfortunately, it’s in Bethesda and my laziness reared it’s ugly head the next Monday when I was supposed to be heading for the beginner’s series.

I did, however, return for the next crash course and two friends noticed I was starting to loosen my body up and was showing signs of improvement (although that could just be them trying to bolster up my confidence enough to return on a regular basis….my friends are such liars). Again I left vowing to go to next Monday’s beginner’s series…and again, I got lazy and stayed at home to watch wrestling (shut up….who are you to judge my television viewing habits). The plan is for me to start the next beginner’s series, scheduled to start in two weeks. And now that my friend knows the extent of my laziness, we have devised a scheme wherein I pay her $5 every time I bail out of a tango class. But my growing interest in tango (and the rituals surrounding it) are turning out to be great motivators in and of themselves….

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The Reawakening

One of my biggest passions in life is food, which can be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I truly believe everyone should have a passion in their lives and a curse because I once weighed 200 pounds. While I have been able to maintain a healthy weight, somewhere along the line I lost my zeal for cooking. However, like so many other things in my life, DC helped to reignite this passion.

Before I moved to DC, one of my professors strongly urged me to check out the Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market. I was a frequent visitor of the markets in North Carolina, so I was used to the world of fresh produce. In fact, I have long been a supporter of using locally grown, in season produce. However, nothing prepared me for the almost orgasmic quality of produce available at the D.C. farmer’s markets. Not only were the markets twice the size of the ones in North Carolina, they had such an incredible variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products and so many other food marvels. The very first trip to Dupont Circle ended in me spending almost $100 and lugging a huge bag of items 15 blocks (I hadn’t yet mastered the bus schedule or the wonders of Zip Car). When I got everything home (did I mention I moved up here in the beginning of summer…I did not look pretty when I finally made it back to my apartment), I spent all day exploring different flavor profiles and recipes. The beast was awoken!

While I am still a frequent visitor of the various farmer’s markets in D.C., I now get a majority of my produce from Star Hollow Farm through a program called community supported agriculture (CSA). The concept is simple: a person buys a “share” of a local farm’s harvest for their growing season. Each week, the consumer receives a portion of the crops harvested that week at the farm. There are numerous benefits to this arrangement, for both the consumer and the farmer. The farmer receives financial support (and not in the form of farm subsidies…something my sister and friend Dan abhor) and reaches out to his/her community, thus increasing their profile (and hopefully customer base). Some farmers I have spoken to in the past have said creating their own CSA helped to keep them from losing their farms. The consumer gets fresh (and for most CSA’s), organically grown produce at an affordable cost and gets to know who is growing their food. It helps to encourage the purchasing of local foods, thus reducing the shipment of food across the country (and hopefully reducing carbon emissions). Plus, you often get to try new vegetables or fruits that you normally would not experiment with because of the variety of the harvest.

With this renewed vigor for cooking in mind, I will share my food experiment successes (like this lovely blood orange, beet and red onion salad…credit must be given to my favorite food blog) and failures with you. Hopefully my passion will inspire others….or at least cause you to drool on your keyboards.

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Filed under Cooking, CSA