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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Picnic Day

     I've been wanting to go out on a picnic for a while.  Wanted us to go out, have a swim, then cook a nice barbecue, and generally have a blast in the outdoors.  The time presented itself this past Labor Day, when the weather couldn't have been more perfect - lovely blue sky, hot, but not overtly (96F maximum), and with relatively low humidity.  We headed for Wekiva Springs, just a 20' drive from our home.

     The park is a great place to spend the day outdoors.  The natural spring has the purest, clearest water, and it is NOT salty.  As soon as we arrived we took a swim, then relaxed while people-watching.  There is canoeing as well, which we will do some other time, and some long and mysterious trails, with wildlife appearing right before ones eyes just like magic.
The main spring, highly inviting and refreshing.

     When lunch time hoovered, we grabbed the grill and some burgers and found a shadowy spot under a palm tree.  We did have some trouble lighting the coals, and spent about half a bottle of lighting fluid until they finally started burning, but once they did, the burgers cooked steadily and turned out wonderfully juicy.  I brought two huge ones, one made out of ground lamb with herbs and the other of beef with foie gras, ordered from Dean & Deluca.  I made some raita to pair with the lamb burger and opened a jar of caramelized onions to top the foie gras one.  To both, I added some tomato slices and lettuce.  Once placed into the sesame seed-topped buns, they were so big I cut them in half so that we both could try each variety.  They were delicious and filled our stomachs for the rest of the day.

Walking the trails after our substantial burger lunch.
     I am including here the recipe for the raita sauce I used on the lamb burgers.  It's Nigella Lawson's, and goes great especially with Indian or middle-eastern food.  

Ingredients:
  • 250gr Greek yogurt
  • 2 fat or 3 thin spring onions
  • 1/2 fresh green chili
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cucumber, peeled and cut into small cubes 
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons freshly chopped coriander and mint
Preparation:
  1. Tip the yogurt into a medium mixing bowl and, letting everything drop on top of it, slice the spring onions finely and deseed and chop the chilli finely too.
  2. Peel and mince the garlic into the yogurt and also add the peeled cubed cucumber and most of the freshly chopped coriander and mint, reserving a little to sprinkle on top later.
  3. Mix all these ingredients together, and taste for seasoning.  I agree with Nigella's suggestion of adding a fair bit of salt.  Sprinkle the remainder coriander and mint on top and serve.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A foodie day in D.C.


     A few weeks ago, and in his best out-of-the-blue fashion, my husband decided he wanted to visit his family in Alexandria for the Muslim Eid festivities.  I said I would go, however I would need one day to spend on my own around Washington D.C. and do some museum viewing, along with food tasting and shopping.  He agreed and we booked the flight.

     Our expedition lasted only three days, but it was fulfilling enough for me.  We packed light in order not to have to check any luggage in (a total and costly enterprise these days), and I made sure there was enough space left for my Neuhaus chocolates in my bag, which I planned to get from their shop at Union Station.

     After spending the whole of Sunday on Eid prayers and eating spicy Indian food throughout the day, I prepared for my D.C. excursion on Monday.  I left early.  Just before 10AM my husband dropped me at the Metro station in Virginia and, about 20 minutes later, I was in D.C.  I got off at the Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter station and headed for the National Gallery of Art and its West Building.  I was interested in seeing the paintings from the Middle Ages and, especially, the Renaissance.  I was not disappointed.  In fact, I was shocked at the amount of treasures I found.  The museum's imposing marble hallways lead to individual galleries with works by Tintoretto, Titian, Bernini, Rembrandt, and several painters of the Flemish school of the 14th and 15th centuries, including both paintings and sculptures.  My particular interest was, of course, that of seeing the only Da Vinci in America, the portrait of Ginevra De' Benci.
Ginevra De' Benci is the American Leonardo

     The daughter of a wealthy banker of the time, she is portrayed very much in the same way of the Mona Lisa, with a river on one side and a forest on the other.  The expression on her face suggests a calm, though acute misdemeanor.  I was surprised to see that the back of the picture is also painted, showing elaborate work of laurel leaves and gold.  Leonardo was obviously a man of detail.  I also admired James Whisler’s portrait of his mistress, Symphony in White No. 1.  Unlike Leonardo’s this is quite a large painting of a very young girl with a sort of haunting look that is softened by the lovely lace white dress she is wearing.

Giant marble columns inside the 
National Gallery of Art.
     After an hour and a half of walking, my spirit richly imbued by the presence of so many great works of art, I became hungry.  I walked all the way into the Concourse, which is the section of the Gallery that connects with the East Building, and grabbed an early lunch (I hadn’t had breakfast).  It was self-service and I chose a Greek-style flatbread with a green salad and a slice of spongy carrot cake with the creamiest of cream-cheese icings.  I grabbed a San Pellegrino limonatta to drink.  All for $15 – quite expensive in my view. 

     Re-inforced by this sustenance, I went back to the West Building and into the shop in the lookout for some mementos.  I got a set of six coasters, magnets for my fridge with imprints of famous paintings, a silk scarf for a relative of     ours, and gift-wrapping paper with antique design of the different regions of Italy.

My new vintage set of coasters.
     I decided to leave the East building, where modernist works of art lay, for a future trip.  I went out of the National Gallery and through 7th Street, headed for the National Archives, a place I’d always wanted to visit since I saw the National Treasure movies.  The Archives may hold lots of information about the nation, but not much of it is for viewing.  One basically enters the building and, after going TSA-like security, walks into a rotunda where the “Charters of Freedom” are displayed.  It starts with the Magna Carta (although I’m not sure which Magna Carta we are talking about here, as I saw the original one in London at the British Library), then goes on to the original documents of the Declaration of Independence, the full Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.  Although the room is very dark, due to conservation issues of these prized documents, the scripts are fading alarmingly.
The National Archives building
     After finding nothing else of interest in the Archives, I headed for the Metro again and into Union Station for my foodie adventure.  As soon as I went in, I looked for the Neuhaus shop, which was momentarily closed, with a sign indicating that the attendant had gone to the bank and would be back shortly.  I took a moment to ponder which of the boxes I was seeing through the glass windows I would be buying.  But of course I already knew, and did not have to wait but two minutes, when the shop attendant came back and invited me in, all smiles.  The temperature inside the store was a cool 60F, but I was in Heaven.  I chose an All Dark Ballotin, and a selection of Cornet d'Oré, Tentation and Caprice.  Then I also chose three pieces to have “on the go” with a nice cup of coffee.  The shop attendant was so thrilled about all my shopping that he did not charge me for these latter ones.

     By now I had been walking for about 4 hours and was hungry again, so I headed downstairs for my visit to “B. Smith’s Restaurant”.  It is found in an imposing area of the big building that makes up the train station, with the highest possible ceilings, carpeted walls and large dining salon.  There is also a bar preceding it.  Since I’d had lunch earlier, I only had a B. Smith’s limonatta, a cocktail drink made with lemoncello liqueur, and fried oysters in aioli sauce, served on a bed of greens with chopped pepper and mango.  Both were delicious and refreshing, and I welcomed the relaxed and quiet atmosphere of the restaurant.  The service was very friendly and knowledgeable, and I was glad to notice the many people of colour that patronized the place, dining unobtrusively with the rest of us.

Fried oysters with aioli sauce at B. Smith's Restaurant.
      Full of contentment, my joy hit another note of happiness when I saw Prêt-á-Manger, one of my favorite sandwich shoppes from Europe.  I ordered a cappuccino and had it for dessert with the three chocolates I had gotten as a thank-you gift from Neuhaus.  Then, I headed back to Virginia, where my husband picked me up at the same location he had dropped me earlier in the day.