Friday, November 8, 2013

Celebration cookies

Happy to report that there's been a lot of reason to celebrate around these parts lately. Halloween: the holy high day of the year. Diwali: the new year. My birthday: only 32, which means I still have a year until my Jesus year. Desmond's half birthday: I have an eighteen month old who laughs, plays games, hides everything I find useful in the house, and finally, FINALLY, calls me Mama. And a new job: a pretty great gig in higher education policy that I'm very excited to start next week.

And, delight of all delights, some of our closest friends from graduate school gathered this past weekend to celebrate the fact that two of our friends are expecting a baby in a few months. This particular mama-to-be introduced me to the evil eye a few years ago, a practically universally understood superstition--one we call dhusta in Marathi--but one that my Turkish friend informed me could be symbolized through a blue glass charm with an eye painted on it to ward off the evil eye that you could catch from someone else’s jealous compliment or envy. 

So when we were going to get together and shower our friends with love this past weekend, I thought it would be fun to make sure there were some evil eyes around. Not because any of our friends would be sending any negative energy their way, but because a superstition for superstition sake is what you do when you wish only positive, wonderful things for your friends. 

And since my glass-blowing skills are rusty, I decided to make some edible eyes. Making a sugar cookie with the right consistency that not only holds up to shape-cutting, but also stays nice and chewy for the shortbread-averse among us has been somewhat of my white whale. And don't even get me started on icing that allowed multi-colored, non-bleeding designs that a layered evil eye requires. But worry no longer! Alton Brown to the rescue. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Furloughed? Eat for free at Z burger!

Well, it happened. The government has shut down, meaning those hacks on the hill were unable to reach an agreement on how to actually fund federal agencies and set spending priorities. One party, let's call them the effing Republicans, is being run by infantile asshats in the House and they've decided to take the American people hostage because they don't like a law that was already democratically passed. An extremist by any other name would smell as sour.

My husband is still at work, not because he was deemed essential (heaven forbid someone working in diplomacy, not just defense, be considered to work in the interests of our national security and be exempt from this shutdown), but because some federal workers have been told that they must continue to work until the money literally runs out. When will that be exactly? Not sure. Yeah, wrap your head around that. 

The silver lining in all of this mess is how the District is responding. Mayor Gray has already said that he will declare all of city services "essential," which is a brilliant and subversive way to keep our city open. But we apparently have $144 million in funds to use for these purposes, which will last only a couple of weeks. After that, who knows what happens. 

And this isn't to say anything about the important services nationwide that are coming to a halt. The Women, Infants and Children program, which helps pregnant women and new moms buy healthy food is being cut off by the Department of Agriculture. Local housing authorities are not going to get additional money for housing vouchers. And we're looking at incredible revenue loss that will hit our economic growth, when we're not still stable in our post-recession recovery. The local economy around the District itself is projected to lose $200 million for EACH DAY that the government is shut down. 

In the midst of all this despair, there are some glimmers of hope coming from the area's eateries. While some restaurants and bars are responding with happy hours to encourage federal employees to spend their precious dollars drinking away their sorrows, others are reaching out to appreciate the workers who are being played like pawns by those aforementioned asshats and help them save their funds. 

Z burger, for instance, is pledging to give free burgers to federal employees daily during the shutdown, from 11am-1pm. If you haven't eaten here, it's the local answer to the Five Guys' craze, and, IMHO, a superior one. Even if you're not furloughed, stop by, patronize the place, and show thanks for an establishment that cares for our public servants. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

If you are a federal employee household, like we are, the potential government shutdown is probably also on your mind. Thanks to a number of children (and not the good kind, but those cavechildren you see in public, climbing furniture, eating paste, and pulling hair out of baby dolls' heads) that some people in this country saw fit to elect as their distinguished representatives, our debt ceiling and the world economy are being held hostage by House Republicans. I can't go on about it because I get all rage-y when I think about their callousness for 1.2 million federal employees' families who, wonder of all wonders, might need something as silly as a paycheck to help them subsist.

Well, stressful times call for relaxing recipes. I'm thinking easy marination, one-pot-dishes, and unattended oven time that also happens to heat your home as the fall chill approaches in the evening. Bonus points for ones that happen to use ingredients you already have in your fridge, since we're talking about saving money after all, and are easily amenable to your fridge's quirky constitution instead of mine. Enter my Asian interpretation of roasted chicken and root vegetables.

Spicy Miso Chicken Thighs

  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoon ginger, minced
  • 3 tablespoons miso paste
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame chili oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sambal oelek
  • 1 pound carrots
  • sea salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Combine the garlic, ginger, miso, lemon zest, vegetable oil, sesame chili oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and sambal oelek and marinate the chicken thighs in the mixture for at least an hour, but preferably overnight.

Peel the carrots, slice them on the bias, and toss them with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and some sea salt. Spread them out on the bottom of a baking dish and top with the chicken.

Bake for 30 minutes, flipping chicken once halfway through the cooking time. Broiling for 3-4 minutes is optional to brown the thighs. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes and then serve it up.

If you look really closely, you can see 1.2 million workers giving the bird to the House GOP.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A few years ago, while menu-tasting for our wedding in the DC metro area, I tasted what continues to be my favorite appetizer, hands down: crispy palak (spinach) chaat. I won't mention the name of the Indian restaurant in the Virginia suburbs, despite the wondrousness they caused in my mouth, because they were completely unethical and I want no part in driving business towards their establishment. But once every few months my mind wanders back to that tasting and I find myself involuntarily smacking my lips in memory of the light, crispy, almost airy quality of the starter. It doesn't hurt that the following conversation occurred at the table when the dish was introduced, causing my sister to almost lose her shit on a complete stranger, when it's hard enough to convince her to accompany us to Indian restaurants for exactly this reason:
Manager: And this is our palak chaat.
Me: Does this have any gram flour in it? My sister (sitting across from me) is deathly allergic to it, if so.
Manager: Absolutely no gram flour.
Me: Really? Because it looks like it's been slightly battered in it.
Manager: Nope. No gram flour whatsoever.
Me: (making the rest of the table uncomfortable at this point) Are you absolutely sure? Because my sister will have an awful allergic reaction to this dish if it even has as much as a dusting of besan (gram flour). 
Manager: Oh, there is a LOT of besan in it.
In any case, the dish was delicious but we decided we couldn't reliably serve it at the wedding because we needed practical starters that could withstand delays and crowds. One of the reasons this dish was truly spectacular was because its light crunch necessitated the intimacy of making it "to order"--something that would be difficult at our three hundred person affair.

Once again, my favorite restaurant in the district doesn't disappoint, as it is also famous for the same dish (albeit made differently by flash frying entire leaves of baby spinach instead of the thin ribbons of the leafy green I tasted at The Restaurant That Shall Not Be Named). I haven't actually tasted it at Rasika, however, since I've only been with my sister and I usually try to avoid choosing dishes that will send her into severe anaphylactic shock (see above). But the interwebs are rife with diners who have tasted the starter at Rasika and are haunted months, if not years, later, desperately trying to copycat the recipe in their own kitchens.

Fast forward a few years from the first time I tasted this dish to this past week when I brought a new member of the family into our home. I bought a two pound bag of kale at the store, thinking--hey, I love kale, I haven't really cooked with it much in the past few months, and I always feel like greens cook down into oblivion, so why not go big with the large bag? HAVE YOU EVER SEEN TWO POUNDS OF TIGHTLY PACKED KALE? I seriously think Desmond would take up less room in our fridge. This bag is endless and it does not cook down. I have already made five dishes with it and it looks like I haven't even made a dent. 

Not that I'm complaining--kale is a sought-after superfood and has really been pretty trendy in the U.S. (if not France, as a NYT piece sure to enrage fellow freelancers explained this weekend). I had it at Craft a few months ago, seemingly sauted with onions in nothing but a bit of rice wine and butter. It's hearty and healthy--what's not to love?

As I was staring in wonder at this bag this past weekend, I saw some "tips" (essentially on how to get rid of this ridiculous amount of greens, as though they knew) for helpful ways to use kale. One of them suggested replacing it for any recipe that calls for spinach. [note: this is not true when it comes to raw spinach salads, since raw kale really needs acidity to soften it up--rice wine vinegar or soy works nicely.] 

Spinach! Palak Chaat! As anyone who's made kale chips knows, that delicate, light crunch is pretty easy to obtain with this green. So I set about making my own "palak" chaat for some friends who were coming over for dinner. Owing to the deep fryer incident of 2009, I chose to avoid this horrendous appliance in favor of baking the crispy chaat--just as I would for kale chips.

Crispy "Palak" Chaat

  • five cups of kale, ripped off the stem and ribboned
  • quarter cup gram flour (besan)
  • three tablespoons rice flour
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • sea salt, to taste
  • olive oil 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Massage or spray the kale with olive oil. Spread it out in an even layer on a wire rack over baking sheets, trying to avoid as much overlap as possible. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a sifter and sift over the kale.

Place the sheets in the oven on the lowest rack possible for about 10-12 minutes, stirring a bit once in the middle to ensure that all of the kale crisps evenly. The kale is ready when it is crispy to touch and the light appearance of the flour has mostly disappeared. 

Plate immediately and top with a mixture (to taste) of yoghurt, tamarind paste and pureed roasted garlic. Additional chopped tomatoes, onions and cilantro are optional. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Don't hold your breath for ramen burgers to hit the district

Today I'm sharing a recipe that my sister mastered: the coveted ramen burger, the hipster dish still noticeably absent on the district's food scene, despite having already traveled from its hometown Brooklyn all the way out west to California, and even back again. My sister just moved from the district up to the center of foodie fads, New York City, and since she a) is a broke medical student, b) is a recently self-trained excellent cook, and c) has the eating habits of a six year old you would imagine living in a fraternity house, she immediately decided to make the ramen burger in her own kitchen.

DC gets a bad rap when it comes to food, and while I'll be the first to defend its growing culinary options, it does seem like fads hit us late and stay long enough to die a slow, painful death. Why, for example, are cupcakes still so damn popular? I like them just fine, but perhaps I overdosed because they were ALWAYS around my old office--the end of staff meetings, birthdays, anniversaries... by the end I swear it felt like Mondays and Wednesdays just for the hell of it. And, call me old fashioned, but I'd actually like my mini-cakes to cost less than, well, cakes. 

I digress. Point is, the ramen burger isn't even served up at the district's ramen Mecca, Toki Underground yet. And this is doing nothing to ameliorate the severe foodie insecurity Washingtonians feel towards their northern counterparts. If you don't believe me, just google "Where can I get NY-style pizza in DC?" and get back to me after you spend the next three days wading through the results. [Incidentally, as someone who has scoured through all of the hits more than once, and spent a good deal of time traveling around the city testing the advice out, a gift from me to you: Italian Pizza Kitchen (either their Van Ness or Woodley Park location). Get their thin crust, with extra sauce. It's smaller than a New York slice, but otherwise the basics are there. You're welcome.] 

The ramen burger was originally created by New York's noodle master, Keizo Shimamoto, at Brooklyn's Smorgasburg. This self-described "food flea market" hits two locations on the weekends, DUMBO and Williamsburg, to serve up some great hipster flare. And the burger is no exception. It is made exactly as it sounds--a burger pattie sandwiched between buns made out of ramen. The ramen crisps up to give a nice crunch to the bun on the outside, but allows noodles to stay soft, warm and crumbly on the inside. You can get creative with the seasoning of the buns, burger and sauce, but my sister tried to stay true to Shimamoto's "special sauce." Here's her take on the authentic RB:

The Ramen Burger

makes 6-8 servings

  • 2 packets ramen noodles
  • 1 packet of ramen noodle seasoning packet
  • 1 large egg
  • butter, for searing

Cook two packets worth of ramen noodles in boiling water and then drain all the water. Add only one packet of the chicken flavoring for two packages of noodles, or the buns will be too salty.  Let cool, then add one large egg to noodles and stir to make sure all noodles are coated evenly.  Divide the noodles into 6-8 piles. Add one pile to a ramekin or a bowl, and cover with saran wrap. Use another bowl to flatten into a flat disc, then pop out the ramen disc, cover it fully in saran wrap, and put it in freezer for 20 minutes. Repeat for all 6-8 buns. After 20 minutes, sear ramen buns on a greased pan until golden brown on each side.

  • 2 pounds of ground beef (80/20 fat composition works well to retain moisture in patties, but it's really up to you)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh garlic
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 packet of ramen noodle seasoning packet
  • 2 chilies, diced

While the buns are in the freezer, prepare your patties. Combine the ground beef, onion, ginger, garlic, cheese, ramen noodle seasoning packet and chilies. Shape into patties and sear on a stovetop or grill, reserving some drippings if possible. 

  • 1 teaspoon sri racha
  • 1 teaspoon spicy brown mustard
  • 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon teriyaki sauce
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • some leftover drippings from searing the burgers

Combine sauce ingredients with some of the drippings from searing the burgers and mix well. Adjust sauce ingredients to taste. Layer fresh arugula on the bottom ramen bun, place the burger on top, lather with the sauce, and top with the second bun. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


A few notable things happened this past week. I got sick, I got better, and now I'm sick again. The chef at my favorite restaurant in the district asked to take home some of my burfi from our Ganapati celebrations this weekend (yeah, I'm not even going to pretend that's a humblebrag). And my son stopped calling me Purple. In the midst of all this excitement, I also happened to refine a recipe for kebabs that pleased both full sized and mini members of our family all at once. 


  • 1 pound ground meat of your choice (I used beef)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 3 cups spinach, packed
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 2 large shallots
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven at 375 degrees. Saute the spinach and shallots in the oil until the shallots are soft. Add the mixture to the rest of the ingredients and knead well. 

Place a mounded spoonful in a nifty mini-muffin pan, because square kebabs are just so darn cute. 

Pop them in the oven for 30 minutes and enjoy.

Kebabs are a great menu item to have on hand. They're versatile, they can mask all sorts of healthy additions (from vegetables to flax seed), they freeze well, and you can even pop them in some curry if you prefer sauce to the grill. Use them to experiment and experiment often-- you won't be sorry.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Ganapati removing obstacles for women?

India has been on my mind lately. We're right in the middle of one of the biggest festivals of the year: the ten-day Ganapati festival. Millions of Indians across the world will be visiting one another in homes to pay homage to elaborate arrangements surrounding the idol of Ganesh, the god of auspiciousness, the remover of obstacles. Dictated by the lunar calendar, this festival usually hits during monsoons in India, and I remember getting soaked to the bone hopping from one home to the other as we made our way through taking darshan (literally, sight) of relatives and friends' Ganapati. The host would welcome us, give us some prasad (literally, a gracious gift), which was always in the form of a sweet, we'd stay for some pleasantries, and then we'd put our sopping sandals back on and be on our way to the next stop. Morning to evening, for ten days.

We're celebrating out at my folks' place this weekend, and I wanted to bring some sweets to share. I started out with plans to make a couple of different burfis, an Indian equivalent of fudge. I planned on coconut and pistachio, two popular and personal favorites. But the best laid plans... well, let's just say that burfi is a very forgiving dessert. And since India's flag is such a simple triad of colors, it can make for a very nationalistic one as well. 

Coconut and Pistachio Burfi

  • 4-5 cups of unsweetened shredded coconut 
  • 2 14 oz. cans of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios, plus a handful reserved to crush for garnish
  • pat of butter, for greasing the pan

Blanch the shelled pistachios by immersing in boiling water for two minutes; then just rub between your fingers to remove the remaining peels. 

Grind into a paste, using some water if necessary.

In one pot, dry roast the coconut until it is fragrant (do not allow it to become brown). Remove one cup and add to another pot, with the pistachio paste. Add one can of the condensed milk to the coconut-only pot, and stir continuously over medium heat until the mixture begins to incorporate the milk and the coconut becomes clumpy and less sticky. Add the ground cardamom. Remove from heat. Repeat with the coconut-pistachio mixture in the other pot with the second can of condensed milk, sans cardamom. 

Layer the pistachio burfi on the bottom of the greased pan and pack it in tight. 

Next, divide the coconut-only batch into two halves. Now, if you have saffron, you're a better person than I am and you should soak a bit in some warm water and add the essence to one half of the coconut-only mixture until you reach the desired flag-orange color. If you don't, use some food coloring--I won't tell. 

Layer the white mixture on top of the green. 

And top it off with the orange mixture, remembering to pack both layers tightly. Finally, crush some pistachios for garnish and press onto the orange layer. 

Chill this pan in the fridge for at least one hour, then use a greased butter knife to slice.


Why else is India on my mind? The four defendants in the brutal New Delhi gang rape case have been on trial, which ended with a guilty verdict, followed by today's sentencing condemning them to death by hanging. It's difficult to read about the gleeful reactions to the verdict--not because even any small part of me thinks these monsters deserve life, but because these episodes offer relief in the form of temporary moments of vindictive vengeance. They distract from the larger problem of violence against women and the institutional and societal failures that allow women to continue to be vulnerable to such heinous behavior. And, after all, they're unlikely to even die this way. There are 477 people on death row in India, yet only three have been executed in the last nine years, due to an appeals process that can travel up several levels of bureaucracy and a severely backlogged justice system. 

I would like to think that the public outcry in response to this case will not end here, with this symbolic sentence. I would like to think that the bodies that poured into the streets after the brutal rape will continue to band together, to say such violence against women has always been and continues to be one of the fundamental flaws of human societies. I would like to see millions of Indians take to the streets again, saying that this doesn't end with this verdict and sentence.

Millions of Indians in the streets? That's actually not hard. Particularly during Ganapati because the ten days culminate in public processions through the streets that march to the water and immerse their family idols in the sea. Not the most environmentally sound tradition, I know, and I have family members who are starting to refrain from this practice (our NoVa version included), but it does bring millions of Indians out into those streets. 

One of India's greatest freedom fighters, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, actually gave the festival a distinctly political face in the late 1800s. He brought families into the streets for this procession, who until then had celebrated Ganesh in privacy of their homes, and made Ganapati a public vehicle for protest against British colonial reign. 

Wouldn't it be something if millions of Indians took the tenth day this year, next Wednesday the 18th, to march on our behalf and demand that obstacles be removed for the women of India, and, let's face it, the world. That's assuming that you, like me, don't agree that patriarchy is dead.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Got crabs?

A few months ago I stumbled upon one of the best dining establishments in the district: Hot N Juicy. That's right-- that place nestled in the strip of not-so-great restaurants along Connecticut Avenue in Woodley Park, that place where people who want to gorge on crawfish go, that place with plastic tablecloths and tin buckets on the tables.

Forget for a moment that I *am* that person who will go somewhere specifically for the crawfish (have you been to Ghost Street in Beijing, where you can have hot pots and buckets of crawfish at four in the morning?). More importantly to me, Hot N Juicy has CRABS--blue, dungeness, snow, yum.

Even with crabs on the menu it takes some cajoling to get me to sit down at one of these places, given that the crabs are so much more expensive than the crabs you can get fresh and by the bushel down at the southwest waterfront wharf. And the regional Old Bay seasoning is nice, don't get me wrong, but sometimes you want your crabs simmering in a pot of juicy sauce. My community in India calls our variation khadkhale (the best example of onomatopoeia I've ever heard, named for the spitter spatter the frying garlic makes as it hits the hot oil and spices in a pan). My family will pick apart dozens of khadkhale chimboree (crabs) for hours upon hours, until the table is completely covered in delicate opaque membranes and broken shells. Bombay-folk know how to work over their seafood.

But when we moved to this area, the ease and convenience of Old Bay smothered freshly steamed bushels started to replace the hard work involved in a making a chimboree curry from scratch (no judging, Mom!). So you can imagine my heart's delight when I met up with some friends to try Hot N Juicy for the first time and discovered that they have their own khadkhale! They use a cajun spice, but it's the same, unmistakable blend of garlic, oil, and spices. They have five flavors--Lousiana Style, Juicy Cajun, Garlic Butter, Lemon Pepper, and, my favorite, the Hot N Juicy Special. I've tried them all, and you should too.

The aesthetic that matters here is taste, so if you're looking for white linen tablecloths you should move on. In fact, the crabs/crawfish/shrimp are delightfully served in plastic bags so you get plenty of the sauce and don't forget to order a side of rice or rolls to sop it all up! The best part is that utensils are on special order, so eating the rice, sauce and crabs by hand reminds me even more of our family dinners. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

DC carousels

I've always been somewhat obsessed with carousels. The shellacked animals, the strung lightbulbs, the mesmerizing carnival music. And now that I have a little person in my life who still can't quite climb all over a jungle gym but has, quite frankly, mastered the art of sitting, these are perfect weekend destinations. Lucky for me, the DC metro area is chock-full of some beautiful, historic, refurbished carousels that cost next to nothing to ride.

The National Zoo has the Speedwell Conservation Carousel, with 58 different species to ride. The Smithsonian Carousel sits on the Mall, with some of the best people/tourist-watching views around. And Clemyjontri Park has one as the epicenter of its playground (though I can't vouch for anything but how adorable it is, since the operator is not one of those souls who would wait twenty seconds to start the last ride of the day for a mother running full speed for the carousel-entrance with her twenty-one pound boss on her hip in the 95 degree heat). 

But I think one of the more hidden gems in this area is Glen Echo Park's carousel.

After its inception in 1891 as a National Chautauqua Assembly, which taught the sciences, art, languages and literature, GEP became a full-fledged amusement park in the early 1900s. After a successful sit-in by student civil rights activists in 1963, the park ended its policy of segregation in 1964 until it ultimately shut down in 1968. In 1971 the federal government obtained the land, and the National Park Service tried to collaborate with local arts organizations to return to its original Chautauqua spirit. Today it's managed by the Glen Echo Partnership for Arts and Culture and hosts various classes, from pottery to calligraphy to glass blowing. 

It's hard to wander around the grounds and not feel as though you've stepped out of a time machine into the past. For starters, the park's buildings are all charmingly Art Deco, from the cafe signs to the first aid clinic.

But then there are the children squealing in delight on the playground, against the backdrop of carousel music that literally comes out of a restored organ.  Seriously, look at this organ. It's a Wurlitzer Style 165 Military Band Organ, which sounds full of gravitas, but all I could think of the entire time watching it play was that eery boardwalk where Zoltar the fortune telling machine made David Moscow turn into Tom Hanks overnight.

Anyway, one of the old centerpieces of the park that they haven't restored is the bumper cars arcade under an open-air pavilion. Bumper cars! You may be able to take the girl out of Jersey, but you can't take the Jersey out of the girl. Who do we need to talk to to get this feature reinstalled at Glen Echo? Chris Christie himself?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Have a friend who just had a baby?

second baby

Yeah, me too. And others too! Four people told me this past week that they're expecting first or second children and the first of my friends to have their second child delivered last week. Welcome to the world, IMH!

While you're counting back nine months to see what was in the air, let me share a recipe that will make your friends look forward to your visit, even if you weren't going to gladly take on baby-holding duty while they do, well, anything else. When I found out my friend was being induced, I started to think about what we could bring over there once the family is settled back at home and we go over to meet the new addition. A good friend of mine from my bizarre time in a castle in Manchester was coming over for dinner last week, so I set about experimenting with the meal to see what might work as an easily transportable, tasty and nutritious meal for four. And maybe my brain was addled from the intense DC heat outside and trying to get me to think of cold-weather meals to cool off, but I couldn't stop thinking about meatloaf.

The key to meatloaf, in my opinion, is figuring out the fine balance between it being moist enough to not live up to its horrid name, but having enough structure so that it doesn't crumble when you try to slice and serve. I found my happy place with yesterday's loaf. And the best part is that the oats are great for lactation! I remember becoming so damn tired of oatmeal for breakfast when I was breastfeeding that I gladly welcomed it in new forms--cookies, baked "fried" chicken, you name it.


Mushroom and Spinach Meatloaf

  • 1 pound ground beef/pork/veal combo
  • 1 large shallot
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 8 ounces button mushrooms
  • splash of dry white wine
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • splash of whole milk
  • 1 cup steamed spinach
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning 
  • 1/2 cup of quick cooking oats
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Chop the mushrooms and shallots. Mince the garlic. 


Heat the butter, add the mushroom, shallots and garlic. Saute until the mixture soften. Add the wine and reduce. Combine the mushroom mixture and steamed spinach with the ground meat, egg, cheese, seasoning, milk, and oats. 

Pack it into a lightly greased loaf pan.

meatloaf 1 
Bake for roughly 60 minutes until it's golden brown on top. Broiling it an additional 5 minutes for a darker crust is optional.

meatloaf 2

Meatloaf is the quintessential kitchen-sink meal. Have leftover veggies that are cusping? Throw 'em in. Have a couple tablespoons of sauce leftover from a curry that you just couldn't bear to throw away? Mix it in for flavor. 

The Atlantic did a great piece on the history and social relevance of meatloaf a couple years back that traced the dish back to the innovation of the meat grinder at the end of the 1800s. A few decades later this invention and the meatloaf it enabled families to consume was a boon to Americans experiencing the Great Depression. Meatloaf gussied up tough cuts of meat, required little of it, and camouflaged fillers like crackers, cereal or tapioca. 

While meatloaf never really went out of style in American homes, it's become a conduit for fusion inspiration-- chili paste, tahini, soy sauce--anything that adds to the flavor profile of the basic meat and filler combo. I'm partial to mushrooms and shallots reduced in wine. Feel free to suggest your favorite ingredients!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Packing muffins with a punch

retro muffin meme If your house is anything like ours is right now, your cooking revolves around the very finicky tastebuds and moods of a mini-dictator. Yes, he has adorable wispy curls and his gap-toothed smile makes you find new corners in your heart for jack-o-lanterns, but, man, he is stubborn at meal time. So we have to get really creative, by which I mean crafty and manipulative.

Besides playing around with tastes and textures, I thought it could be fun to make some bite size treats. And, wonder upon wonder, I found a fantastic, heavy-duty non-stick mini-muffin pan at Sur la Table. Yes, I love SLT, but I don't love having to pay $35 for a piece of kitchen equipment that's, let's face it, completely superfluous. It doesn't help that it's almost impossible not to feel like a pretentious ass just saying the store's name. South Park gets it right: 

But that store is like crack to a cooking addict. And so imagine my delight when I found the perfect pan in the clearance section for just over $10!

mini muffin tin
Ben used it to make some banana-yogurt muffins this weekend, and they turned out predictably adorable and bite-sized. The recipe is inspired by Chobani's greek yogurt recipe, but he just used regular whole milk yogurt since we have cartons of the stuff on hand for said picky child.


Banana-Yogurt Muffins

banana yogurt muffins
  • 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt
  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 c whole wheat flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t baking powder
  • ½ t ground cinnamon
  • ¼ t salt
  • 4 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 c packed light brown sugar
  • ½ c canola oil
  • 1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease your muffin tin, unless it's amazing and non-stick like the one above. Whisk the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, beat the rest of the ingredients with an electric mixer. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing on low until combined. Pour batter into the muffin cups and bake until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

These fared well with our 21 pound boss for about a day, and then he figured out what we'd been up to. This morning we chased him around with some muffin bits in hand, until we finally called them "bread" and he about-turned, snatched them up, and stuffed them in his mouth. Your guess is as good as mine.

Are All New Mothers Endowed Equally?

(this piece was originally published on, as a contribution to "Moms Get Real About Race in America: A Blog Carnival in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.") teen pregnancy
There could be a lot of reasons I see everything through a race lens. I have a biracial son, for instance, and I know I’m going to get questions about why a whole lot of folks who look like his mother seem to live differently than the folks who look like his father. I’m also a political scientist who focuses on race politics, so it’s my basically my job to see race everywhere.
Or maybe I see race everywhere because it really is everywhere. In the world of public policy, practically any issue you can think of can be challenged to demonstrate racial equity: education, healthcare, employment, climate change, you name it.  Racial disparities are real and impact the opportunities that children of color, for instance, have compared to their white counterparts.
After having my first child last year, I started working on a book that looks at the politics of pregnancy. For the first time I thought I’d not have to apply the race lens. I’m completely consumed in the world of restrictions and regulations on women’s bodies: Can you choose whether you have a doctor or midwife? Can you try for a vaginal birth after having a cesarean section? Can you eat salami? Can you continue your anti-depressants? I thought, if anything, the world of epidurals, midwives, and soft cheese wouldn’t trigger questions about equity.
Turns out I was wrong. As I read debates, pored over legislative history, and talked to dozens of friends and acquaintances who have been pregnant themselves, my race lens has followed me. I quickly saw I couldn’t escape it because a pregnant woman’s race can play an important part of her pregnancy— different races have different access to prenatal treatment, quality hospitals, and safety, for instance.
Yes, some people concern themselves with whether they can eat deli meats during pregnancy while others worry about being victims of violence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ranking what I think to be valid concerns—trust me, as someone with cult-like affection for Potbelly’s, I am not judging and it most certainly was on my list of concerns. But what makes the latter group more troubling to me is that it is composed disproportionately of women of color.
Research on intimate partner violence (IPV), for instance, has shown that black women report higher rates during pregnancy (Hispanics report slightly lower rates, and enough research hasn’t been done on Asian or multiracial women).  It doesn’t seem to require a study to show that violence is decidedly bad on a pregnancy, but, yes, we have research on this too:  surprise, surprise, the majority of women who experience abuse experience it multiple times during pregnancy, and they are more likely not to receive prenatal care until the third trimester. There are odd details in there too, like most of the injuries occur to the head. And then race appears again—this time concerning white women, for whom the “frequency and severity of abuse and potential danger of homicide [is] appreciably worse.”
And then there were the rates of teen pregnancy that also differ by race and ethnicity. Here too, young women of color experience pregnancy at disproportionately high rates. See the chart below.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010.
Pregnancy at such a young age influences whether new mothers will stay in school and finish the education that will eventually offer better job opportunities at higher wages in the workforce. As any parent knows, being pregnant and then raising a child will certainly make finishing school at the same time feel impossible. And so we have the dropout rates that we have—when young women get pregnant, school supports are rare (though they are wonderful when they DO exist!) and new mothers end up dropping out. And this precipitates a cascade of negative effects: without a high school diploma, women become economically insecure members of the workforce.
I fortunately did not have to worry on either of these fronts during my pregnancy. I have the good fortune to be in a supportive, healthy relationship with my partner who believes that parenting is just as much a father’s responsibility (and joy!) as it is a mother’s. I am also, woefully, one of the overeducated—the ones who prove that the education-as-it-correlates-to-income curve is, in fact, curvilinear. At some point more education (like a Ph.D.) seems to reduce wages, as many of my underemployed friends will tell you.
But, particularly on the anniversary of the March on Washington, it is important for me as I reflect on the politics of pregnancy and parenthood to think about how all mothers are not endowed equally. When Dr. King described his ideal society, presumably he meant a world where women, of any race, were enabled to lead healthy pregnancies.
When my son asks us inevitable questions about race, my husband and I are going to be honest with him and talk about race and class and the continued segregation that makes these categories determine the level of opportunities available to children. It would be great if the rest of the country could try and do the same.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Union Market

Do you ever feel like you never have time to actually take advantage of where you live? In the district, it's common to hear transplants to the city who now call it home express regret that they don't take advantage of the Smithsonian's (free!) museum system. I'll be the first one to admit that it's fantastic to be able to walk down the street and through the National Zoo to see one ape or a couple of elephants and then beeline home without feeling like you need to get your money's worth. Seems like a no-brainer. DC does museums well--people travel across the country to see them, set among regal, marble monuments with waterfront views. 

The food scene, however, is less known and this is a shame. There are new young restauranteurs emerging throughout the city and some of them are committing to the renewal of district neighborhoods. At the heart of one such neighborhood is Union Market. 

union market

The Union Terminal Market opened in 1931, with airy indoor stalls for 700 vendors and remained open to the public six days a week. But in 1962, the district banned the outdoor sale of eggs and meat, so Union took some time, regrouped and eventually opened again in 1967 as a new indoor market. Unfortunately, merchants began to leave the area in the 1980s as this industrial space started to show wear and tear. 

But today Union Market is back and it's trying to be an engine of entrepreneurial spirit and economic growth. The bricks are no longer crumbling--they're painted! And the pipes are no longer rusty--they're shiny (or also painted--come to think, is there anything a nice thick coat of white paint can't make look all industrial-chic?)!

If you're local to DC, go here as soon as you can. There are delicious food vendors, not-too-tony brunch counters, farmers' market produce, and spacious halls were children can be children without annoying the dining crowds. 

union market map

Cordial will let you taste wine, 12-3pm on both Saturdays and Sundays. Free wine!


Food trucks will feed you outdoors.

food truck dc

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Why I'm glad I'm not a panda

The district is elated over the birth of its newest panda resident, a cub born yesterday to the National Zoo's female giant panda, Mei Xiang. This new cub reminds us of Mei Xiang's loss back in September, when she gave birth to a four ounce cub that died only six days later, due to underdeveloped lungs that led to lung problems. But this baby is looking healthy, so let's hope everything goes well.

I'm not going to pretend that I've ever known much about the animal kingdom, except learning far too late in life from my friend Robyn that you should avoid (not seek, as I thought) eye contact with animals that seem hostile. But the more I read about Mei Xiang's planned pregnancy, birth, and post-birth treatment, the horror grows.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Leftovers for life

Do you ever make a dish specifically to enjoy its leftovers for the next few days? I find myself doing this with roast chicken, which makes a wicked curried chicken salad that is perfect in this summer heat (recipe coming soon!). Curries are also better the longer they sit, allowing the spices and flavors to really seep into the meats and vegetables. But one of my favorite repurposings of leftovers has to be the frankie.


The frankie is my favorite street food from my childhood summers in Bombay. Right next to the McDonald's down the street from my grandparents' flat, there was a frankie stand. You would pay a guy a few rupees and he would give you a small coin that signaled either chicken, mutton or veggie to the man you handed it to through a small hole in the wall. A moment later a hand would emerge and give you the most delectable snack-- spicy (always mutton for me) filling wrapped up in a tawa-fried, egg-coated roti. My cousins and I would eat them on our walk back home along Linking Road, with juices running down our elbows, and quickly mop our faces before adults could figure out what we'd been up to.

I wasn't really allowed to have frankies. One, I was of a weak Western constitution, and two, well, did you hear about the hole in the wall? But it didn't really matter. I ate them so often that I figured after the first dozen or so, I'd beaten the odds.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

We should all Expect Better, and then ask some more questions

Yes, I know about Emily Oster's new book released today that questions conventional pregnancy wisdom.

Yes, I think her work is quality and that a social scientist's interpretation of the data around pregnancy restrictions and recommendations is much needed in our discourse about women's health.

Yes, I agree with a number of her conclusions--namely, that moderation is key.  One of my favorite lines is "It isn't that complicated: drink like a European adult, not a fraternity brother."  I think the most important conclusion that I share in common with Oster is that neither of us is actually making recommendations for other women's pregnancies--we both study, research and investigate common pregnancy do's and don'ts to navigate our own pregnancies and make our own decisions. In the end, though, readers should be left to their own decision-making mechanisms. In the case of my work, at least, I just hope they're armed with enough information to make a decision based on knowledge and not fear.

Yes, Joe Scarborough makes my head hurt:

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Do I think Oster's work scooped my own project on the politics of pregnancy? No.

After a couple of weeks of indigestion, I calmed down and realized that the major do's and don'ts that Oster tackles in her work are typically about ingestion and exposure to a long list of substances traditionally banned from pregnant women's diets and lifestyles: alcohol, caffeine, raw milk cheese, hair dye, exercise, etc. She applies an economist's eyes to the randomized trials and peer-reviewed research out there on these topics and comes to her own conclusions about the restrictions that seem hysterical and those that seem reasonable and evidence-based. Applying reason to pregnancy? Kudos to her.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Considering child care

Alissa Quart has a piece in The New York Times today that looks at the financial burden, and often impossibility, of child care on American families. Given that one of my chapters tackles exactly this topic, it piqued my interest. Why would a book on the politics of pregnancy discuss post-birth child care? Because we put our son on a daycare waitlist five months into our pregnancy—twenty months later, our number (a pessimistic 35) has not budged.

If parents are lucky enough to gain admission for their children, Quart discusses the crushing costs. Citing research from University of Massachusetts at Amherst sociologist Joya Misra, she writes that the cost of center-based day care surpasses one year of tuition at a public college in thirty-five states, as well as DC. 

But it's not only the price tag that has parents in despair. Despite resounding evidence that investing in young children’s care reaps huge social benefits, the United States is currently suffering from a severe scarcity of decent day care facilities.  A survey conducted by the National Institute Child Health Development deemed only ten percent of facilities to be “high-care” nationwide and a recent cover story for The New Republic by Jonathan Cohn described the overall quality of day care in our country as “wildly uneven and barely monitored, and, at the lower end, Dickensian.” 

An expose like this, on the dismal state of American child care, surfaces once every year or so. In general, comparisons are made to other industrialized nations, where states invest heavily in quality child care facilities and parents are even offered tax incentives if they stay home to take care of their own children, given that it is considered to save the state a huge sum of money. 

Pamela Druckerman also discusses the American day care dilemma in her comparison between parenting in France and the United States, Bringing Up Bebe. As an American expat in Paris, she compares the quality of care that her first daughter receives from state run crèches with day care back home in the States. 

At least half of any crèche’s workers, Druckerman writes, must pass rigorous tests in reasoning, reading comprehension, math, human biology, and psychological reasoning. Another quarter must have degrees in health, leisure or social work.

But what really wins Druckerman over with her own daughter’s experience in the crèche is its dining experience. Again, the rumored four course meal: “a cold vegetable starter, a main dish with a side of grains or cooked vegetables, a different cheese each day; and a dessert of fresh fruit or fruit puree.” Lunch is prepared by an in-house cook from scratch each day. Soon Druckerman admits to thinking of her daughters’ caregivers as the “Rhodes Scholars of baby care.”

The first day cares were established during the Industrial Revolution in both countries, because women simply had no choice but to leave their homes and enter the workforce. Horror stories of children being tied to bedposts all day while their mothers worked in factories became so common that the crèche was established in France in the mid 1800s. News of this arrangement spread to States soon thereafter.  In France this child care system was seen as a state investment in helping create responsible new members of society, and enabled mothers to participate in the workforce with confidence that their children were in good hands. 

In the U.S., however, born more out of necessity and continued for dubious reasons such as “Americanizing” the children of immigrants, child care never developed as an institution that could help socialize children into well-adjusted, independent and developmentally advanced individuals, as it did in other industrialized nations.

We do ourselves a disservice if we just think that this set of circumstances that conspire to disproportionately punish women in the workforce are happenstance. American day care is so dismal because the state has long seen the care of children outside of the home as inferior to a mother’s care—the proper place for a woman is in the home, tending to her children’s needs, so significant state subsidies have been nearly unimaginable for the majority of our country’s history. 

Let's not even deign to discuss the wild possibility that a father might also be considered a parent. When the government collects data on parents and work life balance, for instance, the mother is termed the "designated parent" and the father is a "childcare arrangement." Yes, you read that right. 

How might things have evolved differently in this country had our government established an agency that oversaw child care facilities, similar to the Mother and Infant Protection service that the French state formed after World War II? What might it take to convince our state that child care is a responsible investment, given the huge social benefits to not only children, but their working parents and the economy as a whole? 

I'm not quite sure what my husband and I would have done had we not had an amazing network of family to care for Desmond while we both worked full time. He really hates bedposts.