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!


Harmony with Nature: Frank Lloyd Wright April 8, 2009

My fiancé and I took a day and a half trip up to Western Pennsylvania to stay at Nemacolin Resort and visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s FallingWater and Kentuck Knob.  Nemacolin was an interesting place:  a mishmash of a little bit of everything:  a world-class spa (which we enjoyed!), several different places to stay (A ‘château’, a ‘lodge’, and a 5 star resort:  Falling Rock, modeled after some of Wright’s design elements’).  It basically felt like an extremely rich person’s playground, except that for a fee, everyone else can play on it too!  This means two golf courses, ski slope, cross country skiing, snow tubing, pools, tennis, a shooting academy, a zoo, even a Hummer off roading course (yay?).

My post isn’t about Nemacolin, because while it was fun, it was too confusing to be a ‘cheery observation’.

I instead choose to write a bit about Wright’s Falling Water and Kentuck Knob homes.  Recently re-opened for the season, they were both stunning for different reasons.
Frank Lloyd Wright
Falling Water was a weekend home commissioned by the Kaufmann family (owner of the Kaufmann department store) at a time when Frank Lloyd Wright had few commissions:  it was like a fresh start to a slightly stale career (at that stage) and he truly took a risk and went all out.  The Kaufmanns had wanted a weekend home with a view of the waterfall.  Frank gave them a home on TOP of the waterfall.  Finished in 1937, Falling Water is a home that fits with nature.  Whatever is happening on the outside is felt in the home—there is really no barrier to the outside world.  The house is designed for clear views of the water and of the trees; if one wants to see the sky, they have to go outside. This visual effect makes being inside disorienting.
Falling Water
The home starts with a huge main living space with wall-to-wall windows and stairs down to the river and the first of many decks.  The living quarters were designed to be more separate—each room’s main function is to look at nature and each room has an outdoor ‘deck’ bigger than the room itself.  The ceilings in these rooms are low, designed to draw your eye out.  The use of space is spectacular:  small bathrooms tucked in nooks, bookshelves and built in desks.  Wright constructed the home from all local materials–when I think about all of the cement in the building and the lack of modern cement mixers, I am baffled!  Wright took a risk and created a one-of-a kind home, a home that is a National Historic Landmark and is on the list to become a World Heritage site.

Kentuck Knob was built about 20 years after Falling Water and is still a private residence.  Originally built for the Hagan family, the house is now owned by Lord Palumbo.  The house has unadulterated views into the surroundings woods and valleys.  The house is centered around a hexagon shaped kitchen, with small hallways leading to the living quarters and the huge main living space.  The ceilings are taller than Falling Water and the inside feels a bit like the inside of a yacht.  In my opinion, the most stunning aspect of Kentuck Knob is the deck that lines the entire back of the house:  the ceilings skylights are shaped in octagons allowing interesting patterns of light to come in; the deck allows for stunning views.
Kentuck Knob
Both homes are harmonious with nature and quite different from your ‘typical’ American home built today OR in that time period. While Falling Water is anything but typical, Kentuck Knob was built as a full time residence and was never meant to be overly extravagant.   When one is in either home, one feels a sense of peace, calm, and acceptance.  The homes force you to be a part of nature; this is so unlike the majority of my life, be it in my office or apartment building, where it’s easy to have no idea what the outside world is like! The interiors of Wright’s home are made from natural ingredients with a focus on need, not want.  Wright did not want excess closet space or storage space.  I admire this style of architecture and the focus on harmonious living with nature.  Falling Water was literally built on top of a waterfall; Kentuck Knob was built into the side of the hill:  a peaceful collaboration.


I’m in Love… February 16, 2009

Filed under: Local Interest and Travel,Uncategorized — meaghin @ 8:03 pm
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With this bike (fittingly a red one, so a very appropriate post-Valentine’s Day post!)


I am slowly starting to bike ride again.  There are several factors I am fighting against right now:  1)  I don’t have a bike of my own and 2) I can’t afford a bike of my own.  Luckily, Big Wheel Bikes rents them out, so I can’t complain too much.  However, eventually, I can picture myself riding this very bike around town.  I’m not sure what ‘town’ that is, as several pictures pop into my mind:  a fall day in New England; a busy NYC street; a DC bike trail on the way to Mount Vernon.  I’d be happy with any of those scenarios becoming areality!  Bike riding is invigorating:  the wind in your hair; being able to see scenery in a quicker way than walking (which I also enjoy) while not being trapped inside a car; stopping for a picnic along the way; exploring off the beaten path neighborhoods.


I found this bike from a link to another Velorbis bike from Megan’s Pink to Green Blog.

I’m thrilled I did, as it is now officially the bike I would love to save up for (provided that after I test ride it I still like it, of course!)

Why do I like this bike?  Let me count the ways 😉

1) Its Maker:  Velorbis of Copenhagen:  The fact that it’s Danish inspired (and Danish tested and Danish used and loved) might have really been the only thing necessary to win me over (I did do further research, however!).  It’s a Danish bike company (with the bikes being produced in Germany).

2)  Its functionality:  The bike has been reviewed as being very comfortable for long or short bike rides.  It also comes with a saddle bag and a basket.  Its upright design seems like it would work well for sight seeing and taking ‘it all in’.  It is also lightweight enough to move around easily.

3)  Its visual appeal:  a sturdy, sleek, and eye popping design.  The bike becomes more than an accessory.  I imagine this is how people feel about certain kinds of cars.


There is only one distributer in the US who sells this bike  (The Dutch Bicycle Company in Somerville, MA).  I am planning on giving it a test ride when I am up in the Boston area in April and I can’t wait!


Christmas in Denmark December 14, 2008

Filed under: Local Interest and Travel — meaghin @ 8:06 pm
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I studied abroad in Copenhagen during the Fall and early Winter of 2003 (So long ago!).  My thoughts and memories frequently stray to Denmark:  the main walking street (Stroget) and Hygge (the truly Danish concept of enjoying people’s company in a cozy environment, with drinks of course, and lasting for as long as possible.  This is a great description I found on Hygge House The Danish word hygge (hu-gah) is a feeling or mood that comes from taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary everyday things simply extraordinary. It’s about owning things you only truly love or that inspire, being present in yourself and your life, putting effort into your home without being Martha Stewart or buying a bed in a bag. Words like cosiness, security, familiarity, comfort, reassurance, fellowship, simpleness and living well are often used to describe the idea of Hygge.).

I also think happily about Tivoli, the water front and canals, and the numerous bicycles.  My last memory of Copenhagen was Denmark during the Christmas season.  In November, I spent 3 weeks traveling around Europe.  When I returned, it was the end of November and the holiday season was in full swing.  I have never felt the Christmas season or spirit more keenly than that month in Copenhagen.  Christmas in Denmark is a truly special time:  the decorations, the attitude, and most importantly, the traditions were prevalent and eye-opening.

As we are well into the Christmas season this year, I certainly don’t want to ignore the traditions and customs that I and my family have, like decorating the tree shortly after Thanksgiving, buying stocking stuffers, drinking mulled cider, and admiring the Christmas lights.  Those traditions are special to me.  I do find myself feeling overwhelmed by the consumer culture that surrounds me, living in the DC area.   Maybe it’s because D.C. operates in a bubble: the economy is pretty dreadful, but it’s hard to relate when there are throngs of people shopping in Georgetown and Tyson’s Corner.  I love shopping for others and I do get a special feeling from finding that ‘perfect’ present for someone.  But I am lacking something…a feeling of peace and contentment that I felt so prominently in Copenhagen.

When I was abroad, I lived with a host family who had two young sons (quite adorable!).  Christmas traditions that I remember included: elves all over the house, paper hearts, glogge, Royal Copenhagen and Georg Jensen plates and ornaments, and holiday parties that did not  focus on who was wearing the most expensive dress or bag but on genuine happiness to see another person.  The holiday parties (and all other parties) at my host family’s house were hour long affairs (7 plus hours sometimes) full of toasts and drinks and amazing food.  Even though I did not speak the language, except for a few phrases, I somehow, surprisingly felt included and swept up in the merriment.  When wandering around the city with friends or by myself and seeing the lights along the walking street, or going into Tivoli for the Christmas wonderland, I really felt the Christmas spirit.

Here are a few images that really evoke a Denmark Christmas :

Holiday Heart Ornaments from Huset:


Georg Jensen Christmas Ornaments:


Royal Copenhagen Christmas plates and ornament:



Paper Hearts:


Elves (Nisse):


Tivoli at Christmas:



Teaism October 29, 2008

Filed under: Local Interest and Travel — meaghin @ 8:28 pm
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Ahh, Teaism.  I love the idea of going to a ‘tea house’ that has a wonderful selection of quality tea (and food) and sitting down and chatting, without being worried about LOUD starbucks-y music or huge lines.  DC has a place just like this and that place is the subject 🙂

I especially like the Dupont Circle location:  it is 2 stories and full of wonderful smells, a fantastic selection of tea (to buy and drink) and tea-related drinks, as well as a creative menu of food.  I smelled and saw some absolutely incredible looking snowpea stir fry tonight!  Teaism is also home to some of the most comforting Chai-Tea I’ve ever tasted:  it’s really warming and soothing.

Selection of Tea products/tea pots

Selection of Tea products/tea pots