Summer Road Trip Plan

Last year, Greg and I took a two week road trip… heading north to Rhode Island, Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. There were whales, light house, lobsters and plenty of rain. This year, we are planning to head south. Here’s the map I just built.

The Brewery vs. the Power Outage

My favorite local brewery, Port City, found a clever way to make lemons into lemonade. Or, more precisely, a power outage into a new beer.

When last month’s freak storm, El Deracho, left the brewery and much of Alexandria without power for five days, the owners worried they would lose 13,000 gallons of beer. When the power switched back on, they found that five of the six tanks were fine. However, beer in the sixth had fermented at a higher temperature than intended.

Not ones to let a bad storm ruin good beer, brewery founder Bill Butcher took inspiration from Kiuchi, a Japanese brewery that which had reworked one of its beers into a special edition brew after equipment was damaged in the earthquake and tsunami.  Butcher wrote this in his letter on topic:

Five of our six tanks appear to be just fine. The 6thtank is a 60-barrel batch of lager beer that fermented at a higher temperature than we intended.

There is a beer style that developed in San Francisco called steam beer, or California Common beer. It is a beer made with lager yeast and fermented at higher temperatures like an ale. This is exactly what happened to this 60-barrel tank of our beer. As a result, this storm has given us Derecho Common beer.

The Derecho Common will be out in August. Port City isn’t bottling the beer. Rumor has it that it’s only being sold in kegs to local restaurants and bars affected by the power outage.  So check out Del Ray and Old Town establishments soon for the brew.

Cocktail Trials: The House Punch

Mixing up punch

Like many thing, a good punch is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration

My husband has been arguing that our house needs its own punch. Every home needs some basics, he says, like an address, a bathroom, some furniture  … and an official punch recipe.

Greg, a huge Alton Brown fan, was inspired by the celebrity chef’s show on punches. In the episode, Brown points out that back in the day, all clubs had their own punch.  Liking the idea of my living room being transformed into an 19th century gentleman’s’ club complete with leather armchairs chairs and a library of well-worn books, I agreed to try the punch.

What Makes a Good Punch?

Armed with Alton’s golden ratio for punches,  I hit the grocery store drink aisle and gathered a selection of beverages that I thought would go well with gin, our house’s favorite liquor.

Here were our contenders (along with the ration Alton recommends).

1 of Sour (Key lime juice / Trader Joe’s sparkling limeade)

2 of Sweet (pinapple juice, sweet tea, Sprite)

3 of Strong (gin)

4 of Weak (a lager, club soda, Sprite, sweet tea)

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The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Wok-Fried Soft Shell Crab

soft shell crab at sea side crab shack
Perhaps the best thing I ever ate: seaside crab shack’s fried crab

Inspired by the Food Network show The Best Thing I Ever Ate, I’m creating the DC version. Nothing is more frustrating than hearing someone gush on about a dish that you can’t actually have (unless you are willing to drive to Tuson or fly to Tokyo, that is). So I’m creating my own blog version, and it’s full of dishes that are easy access to anyone in the DC metro area.  First up:

Seaside Crab House
Dish: Wok-Fried Soft Shell Crab

Seaside Crab House is a Vietnamese restaurant in Fall Church’s Edan Center. If you aren’t familiar with Edan Center, get familiar. It has the best banh mi sandwiches and bubble tea/smoothies around. It is also like being in foreign country (Vietnam, if you want to be specific), so restless travelers (like myself) can get a little dose of an international vacation without leaving the beltway.

Best dish aside, this restaurant is awesome. It has three of my favorite things: cheap seafood, outdoor seating and beer by the pitcher.  It specializes in all types of seafood, including crawfish, which it sells by the bag and boiled in ginger and garlic. All their dishes are delicious and reasonably-priced. The grilled clams are especially good.

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Summer shrimp boil

Over here, we celebrated Memorial Day with a different take on all-American cuisine. Rather than BBQ and apple pie, we cooked up shrimp boil and key lime pie.

I may be a convert to this Southern take on the casual summer dinner party. It’s great for a group dinner because everything is done at once. No idling around while you wait for the third round of burgers to grill. Our guests pretty much devoured everything, with just enough left over for next-day lunches.

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What’s up with the Neighbors? Garden in the Hell Strip

herb bushes planted beside the curb in Huntington Virginia

Herbs curbside: Trend or apocalypse prep?

Our neighbors turned their “hell strip,” the grass between the street and the sidewalk, into an herb garden. It is growing hardy bushes of rosemary, basil and thyme — all free for the taking. I shrugged it off.

When the people living across the street copied their peculiar planting, I began to wonder if this is an actual, legitimate “thing”? Or were the neighbors just preparing for some post-apocalyptic scenario where, due the lack of food, we all have to plant communal gardens in our front yards.

Thanks to Google, I discovered that, yes, it is “a thing.” And, even cooler, the thing comes from the West Coast. According an slide show on the subject, strip gardens are popular in Seattle and Portland. Those gardens of course look pretty awesome with rocks, flowers and shrubs. I have to admit that our hell strip gardens, like our yet-to-be-gentrified neighborhood, are on the shabby side. (Photos below.) Hell strip gardens are such old news that they’ve even been covered in the Wall Street Journal — two years ago.

Will I be planting hell strip garden any time soon? In theory, I appreciate the idea. In practice, my hose doesn’t reach that far. I like the idea of extra space for flowers, but there’s no way I’m eating herbs that a bunch of dogs have peed on.

another house plants herbs in the space between the sidewalk and the curb

The copy-cat hell strip across the street


Cocktail Trials: The Sazerac

Note: I have been drinking the same cocktail since college. The humble gin and tonic has served my 20s well. It’s simple, frill-less and ubiquitous.  However, I’m broadening my horizons and finding a new (for lack of a less cringe-inducing, pretentious-sounding term) signature cocktail. Here is the journey, one drink at a time. Now up:

The Sazerac:

This classic from pre-civil War New Orleans and is (debate-ably) the country’s oldest cocktail.  It’s getting a tryout because of it’s awesome birthplace, history and bad-ass alcohol content.

After spotting the main ingredient a rye whiskey (shockingly, called Sazerac) on a recent trip to Brookyln, I decided that I had to try this at home.

Collecting the ingredients took some thought. I picked up a bottle of Peychauds Bitters from that same NY liquor store, but absinthe had to come from Virginia (it’s not yet legal everywhere) and my husband made up a batch of simple syrup.

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Grilling Mania! Making a whole meal over charcoal

Yesterday was 75 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Perfect grilling weather.

Taunted by a display of artichokes at the Trader Joe’s across the streeet from my office, I put together this meal. The whole thing is cooked entirely on the grill. (Although, you have to steam the artichokes first, so that may be cheating).

I didn’t really have a recipe for this. As it was a weeknight, I took a few shortcuts. The flatbread was Trader Joe’s pizza dough (I haven’t actually been able to make better myself), and the chicken kabobs were Trader Joe’s “Chicken Asada,” sliced up and threaded onto skewers.

The only part I made from scratch was the artichokes, and I bungled that by attemping to clean them first (as in this video), rather than steam them and scoop out the inediable insides afterwards. Despite being a hassle, the artichokes were a nice break from the salad/kale that I eat as a veggie side at least five days a week.

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Flavors of Summer: Grilled shrimp, watermelon salad and pineapple rice

For a meal involving all brand new recipes, this one worked out excellently. It’s the perfect summer dinner party solution.

All three of these dishes are currently on repeat at my house. It’s been two weeks since my initial experiment with the pineapple rice, and I am typing this as a third batch bubbles away in the ricemaker.

Pineapple Rice:

Adapted from Our Best Bites. When I lived in Beijing, my favorite restaurant made Dai food (a people who live in southern China near the boarder of Vietnam). One of their specialties was a delicious, sticky pineapple rice. I know that recipe didn’t have butter in it (like this one), but this is the closest I’ve found so far.


1 cup jasmine rice
2 T real butter
Juice from 1 large lime or two smaller ones (taste as you go, I add a lot!)
1 can crushed pineapple (You may want 2 small cans)
½ – ¾ C chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

Time to break out the ricemaker!  Cook rice in 1 cup water and 1 cup pineapple juice (drained from the canned pineapple) s soon as it’s done, toss in the butter and stir to melt. Add lime juice, remaining pineapple juice, crushed pineapple and cilantro. Stir to combine, and then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

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Must Be Summer(ish): Whole Fish, Bloody Mary and Thai Peanut Noodles

To celebrate that our grass grew in and we haven’t killed a single plant (yet), we marked Sunday’s sunny afternoon with bloody marys and an Asian whole fish feast. Here are the recipes:

Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary: The making of

I’ve only recently learned to love a Bloody Mary. Maybe it’s a grown up drink and a sign I am getting old. Or maybe it’s just that the Bloody Mary has been remade by the foodie crowd and no longer feature slimy V8. This recipe comes compliments of my friend from Brookyln, who, during a recent visit, made sure to stock our fridge with all the ingredients.


Tomato juice
worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper
tabasco (or another hot sauce).

Making the bloody mary

Fill a pint glass with ice and add 1-2 shots of vodka. Then, fill most of the way up with tomato juice. Add two or three good shakes worcestershire sauce, the juice of one lemon, salt and pepper (celery salt if you have it, or add celery seed in addition to the salt) and several shakes of hot sauce. Top that off with about a quarter to half a teaspoon of horseradish.

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