Place: The Dining Room Table (Send Your Photos!) 05.26.2013

I woke up on Saturday and found this: a crumbless, dishess, toyless, paperless dining room table, with a vase full of lush peonies from our garden.  It's rare that this happens in our house because our evenings are filled with a flurry of activity followed by all of us collapsing into sleep.  And invariably, something gets left behind.

We have a small house and the dining room table is used for multiple activities.  It is, of course, our breakfast, lunch, and dinner table, but it also is our work and play table.  In the Spring, you can look out the window at huge purple wisteria flowers, and all the plants around it marking different times of spring and summer with various flowers popping up.  On bright, clear days, I like working at this table.  

The only time all four of us really sit down and eat and talk is dinner time.  My son likes to wander in between bites so we've taken to playing games and telling stories:  everyone has to say what their joy and concern of the day was, and, per my son's request, everyone has to tell a spooky story.  And his spooky stories are lists of things that might be spooky if there was actually a plot involved.  "There once was a spooky house...and in the house was a spooky dog...and there was a spooky chair...and a spooky man came to the house...and then there was a spooky tree..."  and on and on the list goes of spooky things.

We also linger at the table for as long as we can.  I grew up picking up the dishes the second eating was complete.  Not so since I've been married.  We stay at the table and talk for as long as we can.  When friends are over, dishes may not get touched for hours while we talk, argue, drink, and there are several rounds of general merriment.  Life is short...merriment around the table is a must.

The chairs to this table are in dire need of reupholstery but that will happen when the kids are older and not prone to waving markers around.  Therein lies the risk in one good dining room set in a small house.

The table came from my in-law's Brooklyn brownstone on Pacific Street after they sold it 2001.  It's mid-century modern and goes with the decor of most of the house.  

What does your dining room table look like in a zen state?  Or a not so zen state?  Send your photos to by Friday (May 31) with a story behind the table, and I'll feature it here.  Is the table a hand-me-down?  Did you get it in Sweden?  Do you have your book club meeting around it every week?  You get the idea.   

Here's to happy times around the dining room table this week...Happy eating all!

Peonies from our garden

Raccoon’s Reign of Terror Ends with Sardines and Stuffed Olives 05.24.2013

For the past month or so, we’ve had a fat raccoon running around our backyard and up and down our 150-year-old silver maple.  And by “fat” I don’t mean that the raccoon needed to get in shape for bikini season, I mean that he’s got quite the life in our back yard.  And getting this guy was no easy feat.  He was enticed with all sorts of food, but it took a gourmet feast – sardines, stinky cheese, and feta stuffed olives – to finally capture him.

We first spotted him about a month ago, and it wasn’t until two weeks ago we called our pest people to trap him.  Because, you know, there’s nothing like a sick raccoon in close proximity to small children.  Raccoons are nocturnal creatures but we saw this fella strolling all over the place during the day – a sign most likely that he is rabid.

Two trap cages were strategically placed around the yard and in them, cans of cat food.  The raccoon (I’m assuming) would come in, eat the cat food, wipe his bandit mouth, and leave, grateful, I hope, of a square meal.  How he avoided the trap I have no idea.  I called our pest people after two weeks, a little frustrated (primarily because this adventure was costing us $250 and nothing had happened), and they brought in the big guns. 

The pest guy stopped off at Balducci’s (I am not making this up) and purchased two tins of sardines, two chunks of the stinkiest cheese, and two batches of feta stuffed olives.  Our pest guy, who looks as if he’s been riding around on a horse in the Old West, looks down at me from his pickup truck after setting out the fancy spread and said, “We’ll have him tomorrow,” with the tone of a hunter who has been looking for a depraved killer.

Our trapped raccoon

Well, it worked.  The next morning, the raccoon was curled up into a frightened ball in the trap, having feasted on all of his expensive goodies.  Raccoons love rich, fatty foods, and apparently are intoxicated by the smell of sardines. 

We were actually a little sad to see the raccoon go, but he’s headed for a better life in the woods.  Well, not sardines and stuffed olives good but happy and free and frolicking good. 

Everything Else: When Was the Last Time You Washed Your Car? 05.23.2013

Editor’s Note:  This is an occasional in a series of Four Courses blog posts that have nothing to with food, but have to do with everything else.  Well, they could fall under the category of “place” or “talk” which are two of the courses.  If you don’t like this turn of events, keep reading.  If you do like it, keep reading.  The blogger may choose to throw in a foodie tid-bit regardless of the topic.  Grab a glass of wine, enjoy. 

Yesterday evening my kids – 5-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy – demanded to wash the car.  Demanded.   I had no idea what kind of production it was going to be, but I’ve been meaning to get the car washed for six months so I went with it.   I am happy to report that it was a seamless operation that bordered on joyful with a hint of deep euphoria (on my part). 

I like to outsource everything and cannot remember the last time I washed a car.  It may have been in the early 80s.  I’m not kidding.  My brother and I used to wash our family car every week with a bucket of soap water made from Tide detergent.  That’s right folks:  our family Datsun was washed with Tide powder detergent and kitchen sponges.  We’d let the water run endlessly, completely unaware of the words “waste” or “water bill”, as we lathered up the car and spent way too long hosing it down.  I just have two words for this memory:  good times.

I don’t know what it is about washing the family car with your sibling(s) but it’s fun.  I don’t remember having conversations with my brother during the washing of the car; just working and feeling as if we were doing something important together.  It was the family’s mode of transport, after all.  And we lived in Houston, Texas, where you cannot go anywhere except down the block without a car.

And I saw all of this in my kids yesterday.  My daughter wanted solely to be responsible for the wheels (who takes the wheels??), my son wanted to wash the windows he could not reach.  They took responsibility with pure relish and anticipation. It was a good moment.

I am prone sometimes to say no to them, fearing that a task would take too long and wouldn’t it just be easier if I did it myself?  Sure, of course.  But deprive them of this pleasure?  Not take advantage of free child labor?  Cross your fingers they demand to wash the car next week.

About the photos:  When we came to America, my dad would take pictures of everything and everyone, and I have inherited this practice from him.  Some of his photos, however, are downright goofy.  For example, we would be at Sears and he would ask me to stand in front of a mannequin.  That was it.  That was the photo.  Why?  I have no idea.  So we have all these photos of my brother and me with and in our various cars.  We look incredibly badass in the photos but they are now hilarious.  In the photos here, I’m assuming my dad said, “Hey kid, pose with the Datsun!”  And I chose that particular pose.  I know it's a lot to take in.

Another awesome pose with the Datsun.

What I was eating at the time: Are you ready to be horrified?  Good.  Here we go:  During this period of washing cars in my life, I loved ketchup sandwiches.  I would take two pieces of Wonder bread and spread ketchup in the middle.  And if I was really hungry, I would slip in a slice of American cheese.  Sigh. Is there anything better than processed cheese? Yeah, I know there is, but still.  I was a latch-key kid if that helps to explain anything.

Happy eating and living, everyone.  And remember:  do not wash your car with Tide powder detergent.

This Blog Post Is Not About Food, But You Need to Read It 05.18.2013

Last week, we attended a party and art auction to benefit a DC organization that has become rather dear to my heart: Project Create.

Executive Director Christie Walser (R) chatting with
guests at the 5th Annual Project Create Art Auction.

Project Create provides after school arts education classes to children who are homeless or in transitional housing in Washington, DC – how do you not support that?  I know there are so many problems in the world, and wherever you are, I hope you are doing something about the problems in your backyard.  And here is what’s happening in my backyard:

There are 114,000 children in Washington, DC.  Of those 35,000 live in poverty and receive food stamps.   21,000 of those children live in extreme poverty and 1,800 are homeless.   And it is the poorest of the poor – the homeless or those in extreme poverty – that Project Create serves. 

My friend Christie Walser became Executive Director of Project Create almost three years ago so there was that interest.  But now I know and believe in what Project Create strives to do and I love it. Through Project Create, children who are in extreme poverty or are homeless have access to semester-long classes of visual or performing arts classes, art field trips, and exhibitions and performances within their communities.  

Art is so many different things to different people: it’s therapy, pleasure, work, a gift, a distraction… for the kids that Project Create serves, it’s an opportunity and a chance.  It’s one less hour in a week spent doing nothing or being on the street or fighting or struggling.  It’s one hour thinking, imagining, creating, and expressing.  It’s one hour of opportunity and chance that has profound potential to lead to so much more. 

Christie Walser speaking to the crowd about Project Create.

So, why am I writing about Project Create on my foodie blog?  For one thing, it’s my blog.  I can do whatever I want.  But listening to Christie speak about how little these children have and how much they deserve a chance, I wanted to spread the message beyond the space of my arms.  I want you to help.

Children who come from homeless families don’t have to miss out on creating.  They don’t have to grow up to be homeless adults.  They can have something better and we all know that.  We – as a community – can take the smallest of steps to change their lives.

For the benefit, artists donated work for auction, the proceeds from which go directly to Project Create programming.  My favorite piece was “The Gray Man” by Will Schneider-White.  I was outbid numerous times.  I’m sad not to have the piece in my house, but very happy to have driven the price up to benefit Project Create.

You missed this year’s auction – which, by the way, had tremendous food, wine, and music – and I promise to give you a heads up next year.  In the mean time, make a donation.  Small, big, whatever you want.  It’s tax deductible and it’s for a good cause. 

Depriving children of opportunities and chances is a gross negligence by society.  But I know one little way to fix it:  click HERE. 

“The Gray Man” by Will Schneider-White

Agora: Still Working Out the Kinks, But Oh Such Good Food 05.14.2013

You know what?  "Still Working Out the Kinks" could be the headline for so many restaurants I have visited recently.  They are all relatively new and while the food has been damn good at each one, the service ranged from mildly adequate to mediocre. Why does it take so long to work out the kinks?  WHY?!  And why don't human beings know how to be waiters and waitresses anymore?  I need answers, people.  

I am composing in my head a list of things wait staff should/should not do (same goes for the managers who train them), but in the mean are my thoughts on Agora.

Agora is a Mediterranean eatery near 17th and Q Streets in Washington, opened in 2010.  I was not focused on decor and photographing every little thing as I usually do, but was laser focused on the food.  Really, really fantastic flavors.  

There is a $14.99 lunch menu that starts with a spread sampler (hummus, cacik, and htipiti).  All of these are gluten free and delicious.  Htipiti is made of roasted red peppers, feta, thyme, and olive oil.  So. So. Good.  Years ago I used to make a htipiti with a serious kick – may have to dig out the recipe.  The cacik is made of yogurt, dill, cucumber, vinegar, garlic, and olive oil and is intense, in a good way of course.

Next up on the lunch special is a selection of sandwiches, wraps, or meat entrees. I went with shish tavuk and boy did I make the right choice.  The four pieces of chicken breast are marinated with grilled tomato and sumac onion on garlic pita bread.  What Agora needs to add to this description is that a garlic spread is generously slathered on the pita bread.  And despite the slathering, I wanted more. You cannot have enough garlic.

A waiter passed by our table and I requested more garlic spread.  He said he would get on it, but it never materialized. The place was filling up, but still.  A lady shouldn’t be kept waiting for garlic spread.  

Then our waiter came by, I asked for garlic spread.  This is what he said:  “Just give me a minute…we’re slammed.”  And then he walked away.  As a former waitress, I am fairly confident that this is not okay.  No excuses.  Just say yes and find someone to take care of the garlic spread.  I don’t want to know how busy you are; I’m busy too.  

Finally, the garlic spread arrived with more apologies for the delay.

At check time, the waiter apologized again and said it was as if everyone arrived at once.  My lunch companion, Leigh, who has less patience than me for these shenanigans, said:  “Well…that’s what happens at lunch.”  I was being all nice and understanding, but not Leigh.  And she’s right.   We’re in DC – not Paris.  Lunch is pretty regular and uptight, and, generally, around noon, there is a lunch crowd.  Be prepared.

At a meal, if I turn my head in search of the waiter more than a few times, it’s a bust.  I turned my head multiple times.

So, was the garlic spread worth the wait?  Sure.  It was mind-blowingly garlicy and I was blissed out.  

I may head back to Agora and hang out at the bar for the fantastic, fresh appetizers, but, mostly due to proximity, it’s not going to be in my regular stable of restaurants.  If I lived anywhere around 17th and Q Streets, it would be a different story.  Despite the long wait for the garlic spread.

The lunch special is three courses with a beverage (soda, coffee, or tea).

Go.  Eat the food.  Hopefully they work out the kinks.

Agora Restaurant
1527 17th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036

(202) 332-6767