The Linen Lunch

I enjoy a nice lunch. It's my thing. I am so very over shoving a fast salad into my mouth, at my desk, while simultaneously answering e-mails. At my former job, I would be mid-bite when Melissa would scream from down the hall in thick Brooklynese, "LSD!! Get in here!" I'd grab a napkin, make sure there was no romaine in my teeth and scramble to the fit room to see what she was screaming about.

"Where did this pant originate?"

"It's from the Alyssa pant, which used to be the Norell pant with cuffs and a 1" waistband, which I believe came from the Eileen Black Label pant. Pattern CH31. "

"Awesome, you rock, thanks"

You see, that was the problem with having an insane memory in a work environment where research just takes too long. Why look through the history notes of a Product Development Manager tech sheet when LSD knows exactly what you need? Who cares if she's in the middle of lunch?

That was when I'd decided to actually take my lunch hour out of the office. When I decided no more would I sit praying for uninterrupted silence in hopes of proper digestion. I would take my behind to a proper restaurant with proper linen napkins and Jack's became my spot of choice. It's a great little place right in the heart of the fashion district with a pretty diverse menu. There are regulars who frequent the restaurant for lunch and bartenders John and Liam know exactly what you like and remember everytime. My favourite there was the tuna burger that I would order without the bun, but with extra ginger-mustard glaze. I'm pretty sure this menu option was a blatant bite from the famous tuna burger served at Union Square Cafe. I've recreated this burger with a good degree of success and I suggest you try it too, but today, we're talking about something else. My new favourite. 701 Club on Pennsylvania Avenue.

When I first started working at the Smithsonian, I was at a loss for what to do at lunch. I'd accustomed myself to eating pretty well and I just couldn't go to Subway and sit in a rank plastic booth to enjoy my lunch hour. I'm a Libra, I need delicious cuisine, a good glass of wine, and ambiance to boot. When I asked my new colleagues where they went, I was shocked at how frequently I got, "there's a McDonalds right down the street!". Clearly, we wouldn't be enjoying our lunch hours together. It's a bit of a walk, but I started heading to the best place I knew in Penn Quarter. I know that area pretty well since my Dad's office is right there, so I walked into my favourite downtown lunch spot, 701. It's owned by a guy named Ashouk who owns a few choice spots in DC. They know me there (via my pops) so it felt comfortable and I felt welcome. Sometimes I become a creature of habit, so I found myself at the 701 bar several days out of the week. One day last week, I decided to deviate from my usual and try the black bass on the menu. It was heavenly. The portion was perfect and whatever sauce they used was divine. I started picking around to see where the flavors were coming from and found a delightful array of random ingredients that worked wonders together. It looked as if the black bass still had the skin and was sitting atop a bed of french lentils. Haricot verts, artichoke hearts, roasted peppers and grapes rounded out the mix and it was all topped with this mysterious, light and frothy cream sauce. I decided then and there that I had to try to recreate this dish at home. I knew I could recreate the fish and the vegetables, but I hadn't a clue as to how to attempt the sauce. After a few attempts at the sauce, it was obvious I'd need a bit more instruction, so I followed the advice of my dear friend Shannon. You don't ask and you don't get. So I marched right into 701 and was greeted by Will, the sommelier. He's a fan of LSD so didn't mind a bit giving up the details of the delicious dish.

So I tried tried again. This time to wonderous success. Only one catch. I ommitted the artichoke hearts because, well, they just aren't my favourite.

So here's what went down. I started making my meez by preparing all ingredients. I took a red pepper and charred it right on my stove burner on all sides. I peeled it, sliced it and set about a quarter of it aside for immediate use. I decided I'd prepare the green beans for steaming since I knew my fat content would be increased with the delicious emulsion with which I'd finish off the dish, so I definitely didn't want to sautee them. I sliced a quarter cup of green beans into julienne strips and set aside. I took about 6 or 8 red grapes, sliced those in half and set aside then measured about 1/4 cup of french lentils and set those aside as well. Lentils only take about 20 minutes to cook, so I started boiling 3/4 cup of vegetable stock and added the lentils when the stock came to an active simmer. I set up my "steamer" (all clad double boiler works just as well) and waited for the water to boil. The green beans and grapes would steam while the lentils simmered for their last 5 minutes.

Now for the fish. I took a 5oz filet of black bass and seasoned lightly with salt and pepper then sauteed on both sides with a tiny bit of olive oil. Easy, right?

Here's a tip: buy a travel size spray bottle and fill with olive oil. Use this to coat the pan instead of pouring straight from the bottle. It's like cooking spray without that weird chemical that propels the oil from the can.

OK, here's where you have to make a true, grown up decision. I am going to give you the recipe for the emulsion, but it is at your own risk. The basis of it is cream and butter, ensuring it's deliciousness, but increasing your fat intake. I used half of this emulsion on my bass, but if I can get myself down to a quarter, I will loudly proclaim that I, indeed, rock a party.

Gather together in a sauce pan 2 tablespoons of cream, a tablespoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of white port and 1/2 tablespoon of champagne vinegar. Combine over low heat, then emusify if you have the appliance or beat with a whisk until frothy.

I tried to plate this dish just the way they did at 701, so I took a shallow bowl and placed my cooked lentils at the bottom then added the haricot verts, the grapes and the roasted peppers. On top, I placed the black bass. Then poured my deliciously creamy, delectably sinful sauce right on top of the fish and let the veggies catch the goodness. I want to try this dish with an Arneis, but my insticts tell me a subtle Chardonnay is probably the way to go. I enjoyed with a lovely Chablis (chablis is actually a chardonnay, who knew?) because the typical buttery, oakey, Chardonnay is not my favourite, but by all means, experiment with what you like.

Bon Appetit!

The Deal (with sauce):
Calories: 398; Fat: 16g; Carbs: 22g; Protein: 38g
(without sauce)
Calories: 272; Fat: 5g; Carbs: 20g; Protein: 38g


The Salad Standby

OK, so let me tell you about my personal trainer. His name is AC and he rocks my fitness right now. I work out at a gym called Balance here in D.C. It's not your average Life Circuit rotation gym, it's hardcore. A bunch of rugby players own the place and there is nothing cute about it except for, well, the rugby players. At my first session, he had me push a sand bag across the basketball court, benchpress my own body weight, and run while he held me back with the rubber band wrapped around my waist. Not to mention the chinups, pushups, and skipping rope. All exercises at which I'm not particularly stellar. All with the exception of skipping rope. Every girl is a pro at that one. AC works just about every muscle in my body without me even knowing it. The day after, I am always a little stiff, but it's not so bad. It doesn't get brutal until the day after that.

I can't lie, the best part of the workout is the salad after. When I was working in New York City, the salad I ate everyday came from Metro Cafe on 7th Avenue. It was my own freaked out, pared down combination of a Caesar, Cobb, and Tuna Nicoise. "May I have a small mixed greens with tuna, hard boiled egg, parmesan, and extra croutons, please? Caesar dressing on the side, thank you."

I swear, it was like a mantra.

When I was courting the Godfather, I ate this salad almost everyday and it totally worked for me. The protein boost in the early afternoon was exactly what I needed in order to walk back into Ralph Lauren and keep up that insane, Fashion Avenue, Devil Wears Prada pace without morphing into a complete bitch.

A few years back, a friend of a friend opened Chopt. They basically expanded on the idea that is one of many stations in establishments like Metro all over NYC. Chopt offers the same "make your own" salad concept, but takes a mezzaluna to your salad so that scarfing seems charming.

So that's where I head after the gym for my freaked out Cobbsar Nicoise. It's like the Red after the J (a nod, Sarah). I'm already high from the incredible workout and that protein packed salad makes me feel as strong as some of those cute rugby boys.

The salad is probably one of the easiest salads to put together. Grab about three generous handfuls of mixed greens, drained and flaked canned tuna (one can will suffice), two chopped hard boiled eggs, two tablespoons of grated or shaved parmesan and a handful of croutons. Have your dressing on the side. You can make your own dressing, if you are so inclined, or just choose your favourite. I find that when I have my salad dressing on he side, I end up consuming really no more than a teaspoon or so. It's a good deal.

The Deal:

Calories: 378; Fat: 21g; Carbs: 14g; Protein: 34g


The Fall of Modern Convenience

I'm embarrassed for America. There. I said it.

Let me give you some background...

I do believe my 34th was the best birthday I have ever had. I just got back from an amazing experience in Africa. I visited a very dear friend of 28 years who teaches in Moshi, Tanzania. We did all the things old friends do when they haven't seen one another in a while... We laughed over white wine, reminisced about past shenanigans over red, and stayed up way too late for chicas in their mid thirties... She took me all around Moshi where I met her students and her newest friends. When my birthday rolled around, we took a 2 day safari to Tarangire. It was sort of spur of the moment, but the minute I lifted myself through the Land Rover's sunroof, I realized I was probably embarking on the best leg of the trip. I was in the Garden of Eden. Literally.

Zebras, Elephants, Giraffes, Lions, Leopards all living together in accordance to the natural order of things. Was the Lion the king of the jungle (plain)? After the kill of an unsuspecting gazelle that day, it may have been. Although we did get into it with an Elephant protecting its child and a couple of Monkeys that performed a flawless bait and switch to steal some snack packs and juice boxes from a few amateur lunchers in the park (I wish I had gotten a polaroid of that, it was absolutely hilarious). The kill was the talk of the day. The lion plucked up the gazelle, most likely sickly or slow and separated (ejected?) from its pack, validating the notion that only the strongest survive. After the Lion had his fill and other carniverous animals had feasted from the remains, in came the vultures to pick the carcass clean. I know it sounds
brutal, but it's all a days work. As natural as it seems, not all animals strolling the plains would partake in the feast. The giraffes were totally content digging on their tree leaves.

After a glorious game ride, we went back to our lodge where we were greeted by people from the Maasai tribe. We stayed in a tented lodge armed with flashlights, while Elephants and Leopards leisurely made their way past our tent. Needless to say, there were plenty of instructions to follow while staying there and it was advised that civilians not leave their tents alone. If you wanted to go to the main lodge, a Maasai warrior would have to lead the way.

You see, the Maasai live amongst the Leopards, Elephants and Zebras and have done so for thousands of years. They are well versed in protecting themselves and live in complete harmony with their wildllife friends. They are reluctant to assimilate into a modern (read: Western) way of life. Their traditional diet is meat, milk and blood, but as of late, there is less meat and more grain. Basically, they live in accordance to the natural order and are healthy because of it. The average Maasai runner is Olympic ready. There is no excess here. There is no waste. There is no carbon footprint.

Driving back to Arusha, I start to notice the disheartening influence of Western culture. The plastic bottles and plastic bags strewn on the side of the street. The Coca Cola bottles and Fanta bottles casually discarded. I smell the garbage being burned in small fires and notice all the western signs for beer, potato chips and other processed "foods". I'm slowly beginning to miss Tarangire and suddenly want to be called Eve and bitch about my banishment from paradise. However, within all the cultural confusion, I also witness people walking two miles with buckets to get their water for the day. Men dragging carts of heavy crates in wooden wheelbarrows uphill for hours in the African sun. Women with grains, vegetables and fruits on their heads to feed their families. Little girls walking miles on the supple dirt roads amongst the greenest of banana trees to go to school for half day.

Now, I have never had to endure any of this. I've never had to wait for water or sweat for food. My guess is, neither have you. Sarah and I had a lively debate on the fine line between helping and imposing that began with Maasai children asking for candy from the Muzungu driving by in their Land Rovers. Why do we give them candy? Because we are bringing something from our culture to make up for the fact that we view theirs as limited? What's the candy going to do besides rot their teeth? Yes, in America there are certain conveniences that make our daily lives easier. Certain amenities that allow us to focus on non-immediate needs. However, at the end of the day, does this help or hinder? And, may I ask, whom?

Upon our return, Sarah and I had dinner with her African family in Moshi. Mama had prepared a traditional Tanzanian dish of meat and bananas over rice, coconut beans, spinach (that I should have investigated further, as it wasn't the spinach I was used to albeit utterly delicious). She had undoubtedly cooked for a good amount of time to welcome me to Tanzania. Baba had killed a rooster for the feast and had not let us see. There was no easy way out. No convenience that made the effort less than what it should be. I was humbled that they had gone to such lengths to welcome me to their home. Needless to say, the meal was incredible and made me feel at home, somewhere I would return shortly thereafter.

I got off the plane at Dulles and was appalled at the difference. One of my questions in Africa had been answered. Our conveniences have bred an apathetic and lazy people. There were obese people everywhere, huffing and puffing to get to their gates. Being driven by those beeping carts that seem to almost run you over at any given airport. The only food options being fast and fried. Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, Chick Fil A, Five Guys. A six year old, way too big for her age, was being pushed in a stroller, while her chubby legs and feet dragged on the ground. Note to readers: If you have an overweight child whose feet drag on the ground from her stroller, that is a HUGE sign that she doesn't need to be in that stroller. She needs to WALK. Run, actually.

I was born in 1975. I grew up in the 80s and 90s. I can remember when microwaves were new and my grandfather was insistent that I not stand in front of it because the rays would kill me. I can remember when takeout was rare and fast food was something little kids got after a morning of intense exercise. It was not dinner on a Tuesday.

As I watch my fellow Americans gorge themselves on krispy kreme cheeseburgers and microwave meals, I am disgusted. We've become so jaded and so apathetic that we can't even recognize decent, honest food anymore. There is a commercial out that touts real, true, chinese takeout in less than 10 minutes from your microwave. Seriously? If you think you are too busy to go down to the Fung Wah for some takout lo mein, then you need to re-evaluate your priorities. You just aren't that slammed, I refuse to believe that you are. You may be tired, yes, you may be so fucking exhausted that the very thought of opening your refrigerator to chop anything seems like moving a mountain, but you are not too busy. In the time it takes to heat up that non nutritional, glorified bowl of ramen, you can make yourself a healthy meal. So can we please stop complaining, explaining and making up ridiculous excuses? We all know the problem and it is totally up to us to solve it.

There is a horrible reality show (another product of our useless societal norm) that's basically The Bachelor but for "real people". Since when did "real people" translate to "fat people"? There is nothing normal about eating processed chemicals made to taste like food, gorging yourself until you can't walk and then calling yourself a real American. Then again, maybe there is.

Is this what we're trying to teach the rest of the globe? How much better life can be with the conveniences of the Western world? It makes me sick and honestly, it's making everyone sick. Literally. Yeah, I'm talking about the guy who eats at Carl's Jr because it's fast and cheap. The same guy who's rationale is that the fast food is cheaper than the fresh food, making it easier for him to pay for his Diabetes prescriptions. Seriously? That's the biggest circle jerk I've ever heard. Eat the fresh food, you won't have diabetes. I'm a Democrat and believe that everyone in this rich ass country deserves decent health care, however, I'm quickly changing my tune. Why should you deserve the best health care when you can't even be bothered to meet your health care provider halfway?

Get it together people. Take care of yourselves. I'm not telling everyone to live like the Maasai. I'm not telling you to walk two miles a day to retrieve water for the day. I'm just asking you to take a step back and evaluate the way you live your life. Asking you to take a look at they way others live their lives. Take back some control and be mindful of what is put into your body. Just because it's fast doesn't make it good. Just because it tastes good doesn't make it good for you.