Cheery Observations

Celebrating the Unique, Sustainable, and Creative

Modern Spice: Monica Bhide July 6, 2009

While driving home from work one early-June afternoon, I turned on NPR (typical) and started listening to Kojo Nnamdi (not so typical, as I don’t usually get out of work so early and have to settle for Kojo repeats).

Kojo had a guest host that day and she was interviewing Monica Bhide, author of several cookbooks, including her latest, ‘Modern Spice’.  I had a lot on my mind that day and was debating turning off the radio and zoning out.  But there was something about Monica’s self-deprecating and engaging manner that kept me listening for my entire drive home…and listening after I parked my car in the garage.  As a novice foodie, I’m excited about developing my food palate and learning how to use and pick out spices in food.  However, I’ve been intimidated about where to start and up until listening to the interview, had not been incredibly adventurous in my cooking, though I can certainly throw in a good dose of salt.
The interview was fascinating for several reasons.  First, Monica explained her round-about career path to becoming a cook and cook book author.  She started out as an engineer and was quite frank about the difficulties she faced when she decided to leave a well paying job to follow her passions—financial difficulties, family confusion, etc.  It was an inspiring story to hear—I admire those who are able to buck society’s many pressures and follow their hearts and passions.
Second, she was so easy going about navigating spices and experimenting in the kitchen.  She recognizes that traditional Indian cooking takes forever and has an element that is simply not ‘teachable’ (as she said, her grandmother used to just throw in a little of this and a little of that, and she had no idea what was happening).  Her goal was to make a cookbook where the flavors of Indian cooking came through in an accessible and delicious way.

After listening to this interview, Justin and I immediately went through all of our spices, threw out the incredibly old ones, and bought Modern Spice.  Since purchasing the book, we’ve tried four different recipes and already feel more comfortable with using curry, fennel, coriander, and cumin.  We were also lucky enough to meet Monica at the Penn Quarter Farmer’s Market last week and try a few additional recipes from Modern Spice.

Our dinner tonight included Roasted Cauliflower with Fennel.

modern spice
If you are an aspiring foodie interested in cooking more adventurously, I highly recommend this cookbook.  I would love to find a cookbook as accessible as Modern Spice for Asian cooking.


Penn Quarter Farmers’ Market: July 2nd July 3, 2009

Justin and I went to FreshFarm’s Penn Quarter Farmer’s Market yesterday and had a wonderful time wandering around.  We went with the goal of getting eggs and peaches, but left with two bags full of delicious produce and flowers.
Penn Quarter Farmers Market
We started off grabbing two pain au chocolate from Quail Creek Farm, a bakery outside of Hedgesville, West Virginia,  and an iced tea from nearby Teaism, as we were feeling too hungry to control ourselves and probably definitely would have started buying everything in sight!

Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins

After we felt somewhat satiated, we picked up some broccoli and green onions for a stir fry.   The garlic they were selling was perfectly shaped!

Perfect Garlic

Perfect Garlic

We also grabbed some peaches and snap peas (mmm, stir fry) from another farmer and eggs from yet another farmer.  We  bought a bunch of beautiful purple zinnias from Wollam Gardens, an outdoor grower of cut flowers, located in Jeffersonton, Virginia.
flowers wollam
We completed our Farmers Market rampage with delicious bacon from the Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s Red Apron Butcher.  Besides at Farmer’s Markets, Nathan Anda sells his hand cut and cured meats at both Planet Wine’s shop and as part of Buzz’s delicious paninis.

We have already cooked the bacon and scrambled the eggs:  a perfect start to a holiday weekend Friday!

Red Apron's Pepperoni and Soppressata

Red Apron's Pepperoni and Soppressata


Virginia Farmland Supper June 24, 2009

In honor of the Summer Solstice and in support of both our favorite group of restaurants—The Neighborhood Restaurant Group—and local farmers, Justin and I went  to the Virginia Farmland Supper last weekend.  This ‘farm to fork’ experience was absolutely one-of-a-kind.

The event took place far out in Loudoun County, VA (practically West Virginia) at Moutoux Orchards.  I am somewhat familiar with a few local farms, but was unfamiliar with Moutoux before this event.  Their orchards and farm were the perfect venue!  Moutoux Orchards is a family run operation and pride themselves on growing their fruit and vegetables without pesticides.  Peaches, strawberries, and a variety of grains (wheat, spelt, and rye) are their main focus, however apples, cherries, plums, and pear trees were recently planted and should be bearing fruit within several years.  If you are local, you can check out Moutoux at the Vienna fruitstand and Arlington and Dupont Farmers’ Markets.
Farmland Supper Collage 2
We are frequent guests at all of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s restaurants (in fact, Buzz Bakery is making our wedding cupcakes!).  We’ve been to several of their other events (OctoberFest and Neighborhood Cookout) so we knew we couldn’t miss this event!

After waking up to torrential rain, I find it unimaginable how perfect the late afternoon and evening weather was.   The night started with passed appetizers:  housemade sausage with vegetables, grilled summer squash, beets (!) and an amazing sparkling Viognier from Horton Vineyards.   There were 4 bluegrass musicians playing nearby and we were able to wander around the farm and visit the chickens.
farmland dinner collage
We walked about a half mile further into the farm to a massive table set up in the field, near lush swiss chard and wheat blowing in the wind.  Each course came with a wine pairing from Horton Vineyards.  Highlights of the meal were ‘This morning’s deviled eggs’, the best crabcake I have had locally, and chevre cheesecake (as light as air).  We sat near two of the farmers working at Moutoux and some local foodies.  It was a refreshing and authentic night and the perfect way to start summer:  supporting sustainable farming and a community restaurant group!


The Ultimate Play with your Food Accessory May 27, 2009

Filed under: food and recipes,housewares — meaghin @ 11:34 am
Tags: ,

While browsing the internet, tied up in a meeting and not able to leave, I have food on the brain:  I’m starving!  I came across these plates from Pop Deluxe.  These plates are touted for children, but I think they’d be a riot when I’m not trying to impress or eating my once-a-week meal of chicken tenders, mac&cheese, and peas (which is very much a toddler meal!).  The faces remind me of the characters out of ‘Guess Who?’.


I can see these working well with children who have a) already learned proper mealtime behavior and b) need to be creative in everything they do.  Or of course the kid who won’t eat, UNLESS they can play with their food (leading to problems in future school cafeterias, but we don’t have to tackle that one!).


Trayless Cafeterias: A Positive Way To Lose that Freshman 15? May 5, 2009

Filed under: Environment,food and recipes — meaghin @ 8:19 pm

A few weeks ago I read an article in the New York Times that made me hopeful.  Some, mostly small, colleges have enacted a small change that could ultimately lead to big results both for the environment and (maybe) for the future generation’s awareness of their impact on the environment:  how a small change can help themselves and the environment simultaneously.

This quote from the article provides a good summary:

The Sustainable Endowments Institute, a research organization that tracks environmental practices at the 300 colleges and universities with the largest endowments, said that 126 of them had curtailed use of trays, some of them banishing trays only from certain dining halls, and some introducing, for example, “trayless Tuesdays.” Such moves are often part of a larger push to embrace environmentalism that includes hiring sustainability coordinators, introducing solar panels, composting dining-hall waste and encouraging students to turn off lights with catchy sayings like “Do It in the Dark.”

This trayless policy, as the article goes on to say, saves gallons of water (from washing trays), money (due to less food waste) and students’ figures/waste lines (and self esteem?  Perhaps a stretch!).  Going trayless means that students must put the food they’re interested in one plate, instead of grabbing everything they may want to eat and putting it all on one tray (guilty!).  This forces the student to think about what they’re eating instead of mindlessly taking anything and everything.  It also helps curtail a student’s desire for unnecessary seconds.   A negative of this is that lines *may* be longer, but honestly I would say in most dining halls that effect is minimal (as the lines are already long!).


Working in an elementary school has reminded me of how much waste exists in everyday life.  It’s too disheartening to really wrap one’s mind around for too long a stretch of time because then the mind just multiplies all the waste seen in one elementary school to all other elementary schools in the district, to middle schools, to high schools, to the tri-state area (ETC…).  And then it’s easy to use those thoughts as a jumping off point for almost any business!

Besides the ‘obligatory’ paperwaste that is bound to happen, especially with old technology floating around, the food waste and every waste associated with the cafeteria is really mind boggling.  The students at my school all have styrofoam trays:  styrofoam–aka that tray won’t decompose for 2 billion years (slight exaggeration)!  I also usually see about half the food end up in the trashcan, and don’t get me started on the plastic bottles that have one sip taken out of them and then are chucked.

Certainly what colleges are doing with plastic trays is not feasible in an elementary school setting.  Most kids can barely balance their milk with their slice of pizza, much less have everything on one plate.  But reading the article made me hopeful that when these students move on to higher education, there might be even more environmentally friendly policies in place.


Real Simple Recipes December 16, 2008

Filed under: food and recipes — meaghin @ 11:34 pm

I have been subscribing to Real Simple for a long time now and while occasionally the magazine is not exactly pertinent to me (I’m not a mother in my 30s!), the recipes rarely disappoint. I organize all my recipes in a program called ‘Yummy Soup’ and about 50% of the recipes are Real Simple creations. The recipes are true to their name (real simple) for several reasons:a) they are organized in a way that makes it easy to quickly scan the recipe and b) they are usually no longer than 5 steps and so the entire hands on time is quite minimal.

I wanted to post a few of my ‘go-to’s’, either for weeknights or when I’m cooking for others:these always reliable!

Chicken Curry in a Hurry:
It packs a slight amount of heat: the moist chicken combined with the curry powder is a great way to spice up a basic chicken and rice meal.


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained (optional)
  • 1 rotisserie chicken
  • 2 cups cooked white rice (optional)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes. Sprinkle with the curry powder and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the yogurt and cream and simmer gently for 3 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper, and tomatoes (if using). Remove from heat.

Slice or shred the chicken, discarding the skin and bones. Divide the rice (if using) and chicken among individual bowls, spoon the sauce over the top, and sprinkle with the cilantro.

Makes 4 to 8 servings

Parmesan Pasta with Chicken and Rosemary:
The first time my fiancee had this he went ‘mmm’ after every bite! (Sometimes without even being aware he was doing this!)It’s one of the simplest meals I’ve ever made, but the combination of the broth and rosemary with some delicious fresh pasta is unbeatable.

  • 12 ounces (3 cups) orecchiette pasta
  • 1 3 1/2- to 4-pound rotisserie chicken
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • Kosher salt and pepper

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Shred the chicken, using a fork or your fingers, while the pasta cooks. Discard the skin and bones.
Drain the pasta, reserving 1 1/4 cups of the water. Return the pasta to the pot.

Add the reserved pasta water, chicken, rosemary, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to the pot. Stir over medium-low heat until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 2 minutes.

Divide among individual bowls and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.

Tip: Using water reserved from the pasta pot is a classic cook’s trick. Starchy and salted, it makes a light, flavorful sauce when tossed with cheese and herbs. It’s also great for thinning pestos and marinaras.

Makes 4 servings

Pesto Pasta with Green Beans and Potatoes:

This is hearty, meatless meal. Crisp green beans and fresh potatoes and parmesan make this meal healthy and delicious. Whole Foods sells wonderful fresh pesto (of course you can make your own!): good pesto is the key ingredient in making this into a satisfying dinner.


  • 1 1-pound box linguine or spaghetti
  • 8 ounces Yukon gold potatoes (peeled if desired)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 10 ounces green beans, ends trimmed
  • 1 cup store-bought pesto
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (optional)

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, place the potatoes and salt in a large saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are almost but not quite tender, about 15 minutes. Add the beans and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain the potatoes and green beans in a colander. Let cool slightly. Cut the potatoes into a 1/2-inch dice and cut the green beans into 1-inch pieces.

Place the pasta in a large bowl and add the potatoes, green beans, pesto, Parmesan, and pine nuts (if using). Toss to combine.

Tip: There’s no need to peel thin-skinned potatoes like Yukon golds. But be sure to scrub them.

Makes 4 servings


Punkin Ale! September 12, 2008

Filed under: food and recipes — meaghin @ 9:44 pm
Tags: , ,

There are certain things that will get the same reaction from me, without fail, no matter the situation, time, mood I’m in, or (usually!) even the people present.

These things include (but are not limited to): westie, scottie, and fox terrier puppies/dogs, fall leaves, cupcakes, and anything, absolutely ANYTHING, pumpkin related.

Dogfish Head released their Punkin Ale recently and I am pumped!!  I’m enjoying a glass of it right now but thought I’d post some adoring pictures of it for this blog. Dogfish Head is a great brewery both for the quality of beer and bottle designs.