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Archive for January, 2010

Seeds and Plants: Ordered!

The new year of gardening is officially underway.  Or, at least, I’m starting to set things in motion.  I made my seed orders today, doing most of my buying from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  Even though a lot of SESE’s varieties are not region-specific, I just sort of prefer to shop locally when I can (SESE is located about two hours from DC).  My SESE list is:

Cylindra Red Beets $2.35
Scarlet Nantes Carrots $2.25
Arugula $1.95
Lacinato Kale $2.35
Sweet Genovese Basil $2.10
Corno di Toro Pepper $2.25
Russian Banana Fingerlings $13.50
Cherokee Purple Tomato $2.50
Wild Garden Lettuce Mix $2.75

I also bought a few things from Territorial Seeds that were harder to find close to home (like onion transplants and bare-root Tri-Star strawberry plants).  And I still have some seed packets from last year, including some of my favorite oddballs (such as pepquiños, Señorita jalapeño peppers, and Dr. Carolyn Yellow Cherry tomatoes).

One note to my fellow gardeners: the folks at Hometown Seeds are giving garden blog readers a 10% discount if you enter the code ‘thanks’ at checkout before February 28th.  I’ve never ordered from them since they’re a bit farther afield, but I certainly encourage people to check out their selection.  Not everyone has to be a local seed snob like me.  Tee hee.

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I can’t  believe January is almost over already.  My, how time flies.  After this month’s fabulous DC Food Blogger Potluck, we’re returning to the happy hour format at the cool new gastropub Againn.  This is exciting for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that I’ve been salivating over Againn’s sticky toffee pudding ever since ModernDomestic posted a pic a couple weeks back.  The party starts at 6pm on Wednesday, February 3.  RSVP in the comments on Thrifty DC Cook’s post.

Your hosts: Arugula Files, Beer Spotter, Biscuits and Such, Capital Cooking, Capital Spice, Common Man Eats, Dining in DC, Gradually Greener, Modern Domestic, We Love DC, and Thrifty DC Cook.

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DC’s got it’s share of salad and sandwich joints, but I was very excited to learn about Mixt.  It’s a San Francisco outfit that is opening four locations in DC over the next few months, starting today with their spot at 19th & M.  I dig that they place emphasis on sustainability and seasonality (though clearly winter salads are going to be a more difficult prospect out here than in California).  The shop is sleek and modern, yet most of the materials were recycled.  The tabletops, for instance, are made from crushed and reconstituted detergent bottles.  Very cool.  Even cooler, at least to this gardener: they have salad and herbs growing in a “living wall” of planters on the back wall:

Mixt’s menu is more sophisticated and whimsical than the usual downtown lunch options, though slightly pricier as well.  But not many other salad places are going to keep golden beets, Thai lemongrass vinaigrette, Morrocan spiced grilled tuna, and white-truffle potatoes on hand.   At yesterday’s preview I got the Maui salad, which features cashews, mango, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and absolutely luscious slices of coriander-crusted ahi tuna*.  (As a side note, I appreciated that the salad chef asked how much salad dressing I wanted).

I’m looking forward to trying out more stuff at Mixt, because honestly at this point I can’t bring myself to get salads at Cosi anymore, and SweetGreen is too far from my office.  I do hope that they can make good on their goal of forming connections with local farms, especially as we come out of winter.  There are plenty of fancy restaurants that specialize in local ingredients, but it would be great to see Mid-Atlantic ingredients highlighted in a workday lunch as well.

The gleaming array of toppings is veritable food porn.

* Full disclosure, my preview day salad was comped.

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Last week I went entirely gluten-free.  I’m not celiac, but my mother seems to be at least somewhat gluten-intolerant, and like most people I occasionally have gastrointestinal issues.  It seemed prudent to test whether gluten might be the cause.  So two Saturdays ago I got up, had a bowl of corn flakes, and didn’t eat any gluten for an entire week.  It was actually fairly easy, except for the day when Curbside Cupcakes (DC’s latest, awesomest mobile food innovation) made a stop half a block from my office and all my coworkers went and got yummy cupcakes.  Sigh.

But physically, I felt really good last week.  On Saturday, when my week-long experiment was officially over, I found myself at a popular bagel shop with a beau and couldn’t resist a big ol’ gluten bomb.  I had an absolutely delicious bagel with cream cheese, plus a delectable chocolate chip cookie.  Later that day I had some fab Vace pasta.  And I must admit, I felt much more unsettled that evening than I had during my wheat-free week.

I don’t think I can give up gluten entirely.  There are just too many good things that involve it, and I’m clearly not outright allergic.  But I might try limiting my intake.  It was easy to make dinners that were starch free, or relied on things like rice, potatoes, or quinoa.  And there are plenty of takeout lunch options that don’t involve bread.

Especially promising was today’s development at the Curbside Cupcakes truck, which once again stopped right by my office.  They are testing gluten-free cupcake recipes, so I got to try one – a chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting (cream cheese-based rather than buttercream, I think).  It was quite good!  Dense, but not in a bad way.  Nice and fudgy, with little chocolate chunks throughout the cake.  Although it’s not the same as a light, airy, chiffon-style regular cupcake, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.  Keep up the good work, cupcake man!

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Despite some silly grumblings, the recent implementation of a 5 cent fee for plastic bags appears to be achieving its intended effect of reducing plastic bag waste.   My evidence?  Well, this falls somewhere between anecdote and solid data, but today I was at my favorite downtown lunch spot, Spice Express, where every takeout transaction ends with the question “would you like a bag for that?”  The guy behind me in line asked the owner whether the rule had affected customers’ decisions to get the bag or not.  The owner replied that in the 2 weeks since the bag fee went into effect, he had distributed fewer bags than he used to distribute over the course of 1 week.

There could be conflating factors, of course (holidays, no recent rain, etc).   But it seems like a drop of more than 50% is a pretty good indicator that many people are changing their behavior because of the fee.  Personally, I never got the plastic bag for lunch takeout anyway,  since it’s easy enough to carry for a couple blocks.  But I did find myself refusing a plastic CVS bag the other day when I bought a couple of bath items (I stowed them in my purse instead).  Probably I’d have taken the bag if it weren’t for the fee.

I’m happy to pay 5 cents when I need a bag, particularly since a portion of the tax will go directly to cleaning up the Anacostia River.  But the real beauty of the fee is that it makes me think about whether the plastic can be avoided for that particular transaction.  Even those of us who generally try to be eco-friendly need the reminder.

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Remember pepquiños, also known as Mexican Sour Gherkins or cucamelons?  I planted them in my garden last summer, and got oodles of the little mini-cukes off of my two or three climbing vines.

Well, on Friday all my posts concerning the little teaspoon-sized veggies started getting an unusual number of hits.  People searching for pepquiños, and especially people looking for pepquiño seeds, were landing on my blog in mass numbers.  Turns out the Rachael Ray Show did a segment with Rocco DiSpirito on Friday, in which DiSpirito named pepquiños one of his must-try foods for 2010.

When I clicked on the show’s link for a specialty market that sells pepquiños, however, I can see why people are searching for seed sources!  At Marx Foods, the little cukes sell for a whopping $70 per pound (and if you only buy 4oz, the rate is $120 per pound)!

By that measure, I must’ve grown several hundred dollars worth of pepquiños last summer.  I don’t know exactly how many pounds I got, but I think it was at least 5, probably more like 10.  So, seriously, people, don’t buy pepquiños (they were out of stock on the Marx website anyway, probably because of the show).  Just grow your own – they’re very easy and productive.  Territorial Seed Company sells them under the name Mexican Sour Gherkins.

For more information,  check out my other posts on Mexican Sour Gherkins, cucamelons, mouse melons, pepquiños, or whatever you want to call them here.  (Maybe the upside of their appearance on Rachael Ray is that the name will get standardized).

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The DC Food Blogger Potluck, January’s answer to the monthly happy hour, was a resounding success.  Delectable treats + lots of wine + dozens and dozens of DC’s finest foodies = one excellent evening.  I think my favorite food items of the evening were Modern Domestic’s cheesy peppery walnut shortbread crackers, and also the fudgy espresso brownies (not sure who brought those, but they were awesome!).   The Arugula Files has some sweet, sweet photos, but here are a few more of my own:

Arugula Files herself, with Mango + Tomato

Crowding around the desserts.

Aren't we all just so glam.

The savories, plus the bar.

To go with my blog's theme, I brought wine that is supposedly carbon neutral. Not sure I fully believe it, but still.

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