we started with a hot and sour soup - the heat comes from the chili sauce and also the white pepper...beware. if it's too hot, add more water and a teaspoon of sugar. white vinegar, chicken stock, *white pepper, chili sauce, salt and beech mushrooms. the beech mushrooms look a lot of like the japanese enoki mushrooms. white pepper is key, black doesn't work. put all the ingredients into a pan and heat. at the end, stir in a tablespoon of cornflour to thicken, then add a beaten egg very slowly. garnish with chopped spring onions. the main course was fish in a brown butter sauce, with arroz poblano... the arroz poblano is a green rice (mexican) - cilantro being key. pudding was cheese from cowgirl creamery - an aged goat gouda and the most delicious cheese called red hawk. both highly recommended. bread from lyon bakery (of course).


here are some photos of the wisteria in the garden. there is another tree coming into bloom at the other end of the garden, this time it is foliage we will see how the blooms turn out. i suspect it's a different or perhaps much younger specimen... the potatoes are coming along are the carrots...everything is almost in bloom.

death by chocolate

this cake makes either a layered cake (use 2 pans) or one cake which is what i did. i used a silicon takes longer than a conventional metal tin - perhaps an extra 15 mins. so much easier to clean!! 8 oz (225 g) dark semisweet chocolate (40-50% cocoa) 2/3 cup (140 g) butter 1 cup (210 g) sugar 4 eggs 4 heaped tablespoons (1 dl) all-purpose flour 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder 1½ teaspoon baking powder or 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 4 tablespoons sour cream Preheat oven to 350 deg F (Gas mark 4 or 180 deg C). Line a circular 10 inch (25 cm) cake tin (3 inches tall) with grease proof or other non-stick paper and grease the tin. (Please note that the cake will rise to 3 inches and collapse somewhat when cooled. If your cake tin is less than 10 inches wide and 3 inches tall we recommend that you use two cake tins.) Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt it with butter over hot water. Beat the eggs with sugar, mix with flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and vanilla extract. Slowly fold in the melted butter and chocolate and the sour cream. Bake at 350 degrees until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, approximately 40 to 50 minutes (if using 2 cake tins 20-30 minutes may be sufficient). Cool the cake completely. When it has obtained room temperature place it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before removing the cake from the tin. Remove the crusted surface on the top of the cake, and cut in half, horizontally. Frosting Heat 2/3 cup of heavy cream or whipping cream in a sauce pan. Remove from heat, add 9 oz (260 g) of finely chopped dark semisweet chocolate, stir until smooth, and let it cool until in thickens. Use one 1/3 of the frosting between the two layers, 1/3 on top, and the rest around the cake. Put the cake into the fridge for one hour or more to harden the frosting. Serve the cake at room temperature (take it out of the fridge about 1hr before you want to serve it). i didn't halve or frost...i served it as is with whipped cream :-)

all u need to know about chocolate

from locolat, a chocolaterie (i just made that word up) in adams morgan: Nutrition Cocoa and chocolate are important sources of energy: with their concentration of calories in a small volume, cocoa and chocolate are among the most concentrated vegetable energy suppliers. That’s why they are one of sports peoples' favorite foodstuffs for recuperation after intense training. Chocolate contains a combination of sugars and fats that can make you feel good during and after consumption. Relevant scientific studies show increased feelings of satisfaction among the majority of consumers. Cocoa and dark chocolate contain no cholesterol. Milk chocolate and white chocolate contain only minimal quantities due to the added milk fats. Cocoa and chocolate provide a true treasury of minerals: copper, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, calcium. For example: 100g milk or white chocolate contains between 20 and 40% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of calcium. Certain polyphenols in cocoa and chocolate are thought to have an anti-oxidant effect, just like the polyphenols in red wine. Studies on this are proceeding apace and show promising results. For example the flavonoids present in cocoa may counteract the oxidation which turns good cholesterol (HDL) into bad cholesterol (LDL). Scientists even suggest that cocoa flavonoids might have a stronger anti-oxidant effect than the flavonoids found in red wine. Cocoa polyphenols may also protect the body against substances which damage the immune system, causing rheumatism and arthritis. Many of these studies were carried out in Japan, and additional research will be needed before definitive statements can be made. Scientific studies show that certain polyphenols in cocoa may render harmless the free radicals which affect DNA in body cells. In addition, they may neutralize other free radicals which cause cancer. Further research is needed into these scientific indications. Cocoa and chocolate contain stearic acid. This unique saturated fatty acid has a neutral effect on the production of LDL or “bad” cholesterol, even with daily moderate consumption. The same studies show that the stearic acid in chocolate can promote the production of moderate quantities of “good” cholesterol in some test subjects. Cocoa mass contains around 15% soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. Dietary fiber has an important function in supporting the passage of food through the gut and keep the gut and stomach walls clean. Milk chocolate and white chocolate can be regarded as important sources of calcium and proteins. Milk – one of the main sources of calcium in our diet – is declining in popularity among large numbers of growing children and adults. However, we need calcium to keep our teeth and bones strong. According to scientists, the use of chocolate and cocoa as natural flavorings for milk can play a role in countering this trend. Cocoa and chocolate contain very minimal quantities of caffeine and theobromine. Scientists believe these substances have a stimulating effect on the human body. The amounts found in cocoa and chocolate are so small, though, that there is still no consistent evidence for these effects. Regular, moderate consumption of chocolate fits perfectly into the context of a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle that combines taste with health. Storage of Chocolate Always store chocolate in a dry, dark place at a temperature of 12°C to 16°C. So: never in the fridge. Also avoid temperature shocks of more than 10°C: your chocolate might develop a white sheen. This does not affect the taste, but admit it: a dark, shiny and good looking praline or chocolate bar looks far more tempting. Never store chocolate alongside strong-smelling foodstuffs. Chocolate absorbs odors very easily and this could affect the sublime taste of your favorite treat. The best temperature to consume chocolate is at 18°C to 21°C. At this temperature, chocolate remains crunchy, yet is ready to fully release all of its flavors and aromas in your mouth. So always give chocolate the time to acclimatize from its storing temperature to room temperature. Quality cocoa, dark and milk chocolate have a long shelf life by nature. The cocoa polyphenols naturally present help to protect dark and milk chocolate from oxidation for long periods. They are natural preservatives. Types of Chocolate Dark Chocolate - contains cocoa mass (also called cocoa liquor), cocoa butter and sugar. The content of cocoa solids – that is the dried fraction of all cocoa substances – varies between 35 and 70% or more. The higher the cocoa content, the more bitterness you will experience. To real chocoholics, there is only one real chocolate: very dark, bitter chocolate with a very high cocoa content. Milk Chocolate - contains the same ingredients as dark chocolate, with milk powder added to give the chocolate a lighter brown color and a creamy texture and taste. White Chocolate - contains milk, sugar and cocoa butter but no cocoa liquor (cocoa mass). That explains the pale, ivory color of this sweet chocolate. Couverture - is a chocolate with a high fat content of at least 31% and mainly produced for bakers, pastry chefs and chocolatiers. This means at least 31% cocoa butter in dark chocolate, and 31% of cocoa butter and milk fat in milk chocolate. This gives the chocolate an extreme richness and “hardness”, and the ability to create astonishing pralines with a very thin yet crunchy chocolate layer. Chocolate & Health Source of energy for an active lifestyle - Because of the high concentration of calories in a relatively small volume and thanks to the positive relationship between sugars and fats, chocolate is an important source of direct energy. Chocolate also compensates very rapidly for the energy that the body expends during heavy physical or mental exertion. That's why chocolate is extremely popular with athletes, students and anyone who wants to restore their energy quickly after strenuous activity. In short, chocolate goes hand in hand with an active lifestyle. Polyphenols believed to counteract free radicals - Polyphenols are natural components found in healthy plants such as fruit and vegetables, and also in the cocoa plant. The polyphenols found in cocoa belong to the category of flavanoids, in particular the flavanols. Flavanols are particularly abundant in cocoa beans, even more than in red wine or green tea. Cocoa also contains unusually large amounts of more complex flavanols called procyanidins. These are powerful antioxidants protecting body cells against the effect of free radicals. According to research, free radicals accelerate the ageing process and are responsible for the degeneration of certain body functions, such as the ability to see or the nervous system. In addition, flavonoids appear to have positive cardiovascular effects, to strengthen the immune system, to lead to lower cholesterol/blood pressure and to improve the function of blood vessels. Low levels of cholesterol - In cocoa and chocolate, we also find a unique saturated fat which, according to recent research, has a neutral effect on the production of bad cholesterol and could possibly promote the creation of good cholesterol. Cocoa and dark chocolate are naturally cholesterol-free, and milk and white chocolate only contain a minimal amount of cholesterol, which comes from the milk used in these products. Sugar absorbed slowly by body, resulting in low Glycaemic Index - Before being turned into chocolate, cocoa beans contain very few natural sugars. The added sugar only causes the blood sugar to rise by a very slight degree, which results in a low Glycaemic Index. Thanks to the unique composition of chocolate, the sugar present is absorbed very slowly by the human body. Chocolate does not harm teeth. Eating chocolate can lead to a feeling of well-being and have a calming effect on one’s state of mind. Stimulating effect of theobromine and caffeine - Cocoa and chocolate also contain minimal levels of theobromine and caffeine. These substances have a stimulating effect on the central nervous system, the heartbeat and the relaxation of the respiratory muscles. Recent medical research indicates that theobromine and caffeine reduce fatigue and improve concentration. Essential calcium and proteins for young people - Children and young adults, for whom proteins and calcium are extremely important, adore milk chocolate and chocolate-flavored drinks. Furthermore, milk and white chocolate are themselves sources of calcium and proteins. Vitamins A and B12 support growth processes - Milk and white chocolate are rich first and foremost in vitamins A and B12, which, among other things, contribute to the growth of healthy teeth and bones, the absorption of calcium and phosphorous, the creation of red blood cells and the growth of muscles and tissues. B-complex, D and E vitamins - Cocoa and dark chocolate also contain many B-complex vitamins, needed for releasing energy and creating the body's building blocks. In addition, dark, milk and white chocolate all contain vitamins D and E. Minerals for proper functioning of the body - As well as being a source of vitamins, chocolate is also a source of those minerals vital to proper body functions. Dark chocolate is particularly rich in magnesium, important for robust brain function. It also contains copper, iron, manganese and zinc for the promotion of cell growth, the repair of tissue and the absorption of nutrients. Dietary fiber with cleaning effect on digestive system - Chocolate also has a beneficial effect on digestion. Cocoa mass contains around 15% of soluble and non-soluble dietary fiber. This fiber improves intestinal movements and keeps the intestinal and stomach walls clean.


so last night i attended a "dc fashion event". as a friend pointed out, the first of those three words are truly oxymoronic. i went anyway, despite serious misgivings about what to expect... it was called “Fashionably Fit: Style For Your Body on Your Budget” and was a lecture/talk given by the owner of Dupont boutique Terra. the owner is an elegant, thirty-something (i guess low thirties at most) woman. her store is a breath of fresh air in the city, style-wise. i suspect her hands are tied given the demographics - i would love to see her inventory if she were in nyc or london. appropriate is a word i use a lot when it comes to describing how women dress in dc. for example, it's a 6.30pm event on a tuesday evening, held in a restaurant...for women to learn the basics of creating a wardrobe. what would you wear? most would assume that at that time, one would come straight from work. it appeared that some had gone home early, put on their finest (read: most fashionable and in season) outfit and done a complete makeover. there is nothing wrong with this scenario - if one puts on event-appropriate clothing. it was an early evening event to talk about fashion. some were dressed as though we were at a wedding in miami. scary. pretty clothes, jewellery, shoes, just in the wrong place and wrong time. maybe it's just me, but being inappropriately dressed for an event screams trying too hard to be something you're not. if you just bought the latest 4inch heeled gladiator sandals - good on you (i am envious) - wear them at the appropriate event (if you're not sure, look at Vogue party pages)...or at least dress them down so you don't look as though you're attending a film premiere, a fashion show, or even worse that you copied your look straight out of a magazine without any thought to whom you will be hanging out with, the time of day or where - unless of course you are at a film premiere etc! if you have wonderful outfits, jewellery, accessories - there's no need to wear them all at once. less is more. elegance is simplicity - for most women. there are some who can get away with just about anything, but these souls are few and very far between, and it's a lot more to do with attitude and confidence than the clothes on their bodies. people complain that dc has crappy shops. true, there is little in terms of originality...but as Terra showed us last night, you can shop at Gap, Banana, J Crew and still look stylish. some great tips she gave (which really are givens) were to get a basic foundation closet - 10 core pieces...the usual stuff such as a pair of black dress trousers, black skirt, 1 black cashmere jumper etc...and only then build up the rest of your closet with fillers (vests, tshirts, accessories etc). key to the above items is to get them in good fabrics. it sounds a bit crazy, especially given the economy today, but a pair of well-made and designed trousers costing $400 will last years if you take care of them. same with the dress, skirt, white shirt, shoes etc...they cost more because the fabric is of a higher quality (wears better), the cut is better (more flattering) and tiny details are taken into account (darting, etc) that the cheaper versions do not pay attention to. if you're serious about building a core closet but funds are tight, wait for the sales and then buy. it is painfully hard to walk past the fun items, but it's worth it...and it's only until you have the core stuff. there are lots of books out there that contain all the above in much more detail. this is a good one by Nina Garcia - 100 pieces rather than 10, because it details all the other stuff in addition to your basics... if you walk to work - wear flat shoes. trainers/sneakers are for the gym or running. seriously.


one day very soon, when i am more organized, i will post the photos i took on saturday of the wisteria. it smells divine, looks very pretty, and is quite a show-stopper, with lots of people stopping to smell the flowers or take photos of it as they walk past the side of the house. i feel like a proud mother. sadly the blooms don't last long at all. i picked a bunch and put them in a tall glass vase - the scent isn't very strong at all, i suspect the lack of wind indoors doesn't help - it is needed to waft the fragrance around! the rest of the garden is coming up incredibly quickly - with one bout of rain, the plants have doubled and even quadrupled in size over just 2 or 3 days - incredible. it's summer time weather already - what happened to spring? every year it hints at its arrival for 2 or 3 days, then summer arrives and it's 90 degrees. hopefully it will be a few more weeks until the mosquitoes arrive...and i revert to dosing myself liberally in deet.

spaghetti with oil, garlic and chili

this has to be one of the simplest but tastiest dishes ever... a staple throughout college but these days it's a little fancier...extra virgin olive oil for one! bonus addition tonight was parsley grown in our garden. the first homegrown produce this year...hopefully not the last. spaghetti for 2 half a cup of extra virgin olive oil 6 garlic cloves, sliced not chopped pepperoncino - fresh if possible though we used dried chicken bouillon powder salt 2 sprigs of parsley, chopped 1. set a large pot of salted water to boil. when ready add the spaghetti. 2. in your largest, deepest frying pan, heat up the olive oil over a high heat. 3. when almost smoking, throw in the slice garlic. cook for 2 mins. 4. add the pepperoncino. if dried, crush them with your fingers and sprinkle over. if fresh they should be chopped first. 5. add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of chicken bouillon powder. stir well. 6. cook until the garlic is nicely brown and almost crispy. turn off the heat and cover. 7. your spaghetti should be almost ready. when done, drain and add the cooked pasta to your saucepan. 8. toss the spaghetti and oil mix until well combined. 9. plate the pasta and sprinkle freshly chopped parsley on top - serve.

the art of drinking cognac

how does one drink cognac "properly"? warm, room temperature, over ice? with or without water? is there indeed such a thing as the "proper" way?? see this article, written by Gary Regan, Special to San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, July 21, 2005 Americans tend to sip their Cognac neat, at room temperature, or warmed slightly by cupping the glass in the palm of the hand. It's an elegant postprandial potion. And those with a passion for classic cocktails take their Cognac with Cointreau and fresh lemon juice in the form of a sidecar, one of the world's most sophisticated mixed drinks. In France, though, where style is always the name of the game, those in the know drink their Cognac over ice in tall, slender glasses, mixed with all manner of juices and sodas. Are we missing out on something? You'd better believe we are. On a recent trip through the Cognac region of France, I visited most of the major Cognac houses and expected to be told that nothing should be added to the treasured elixir lest it become contaminated beyond recognition. I was gravely mistaken. I was treated to Cognac mixed with tonic water, ginger ale, club soda and even cranberry juice. The fact is that Cognac has so much character and flavor that it holds its own no matter what you add to it. In order to be called Cognac, this brandy must be made in a delimited area of France surrounding the Charente River, and the grapes used to make Cognac must be grown there, too. So although it can be said that "all Cognac is brandy," it's akin to blasphemy to say that all brandy is Cognac. The youngest Cognacs are labeled as V.S. -- Very Special -- and can legally be retrieved from the barrel after just 30 months of aging. But it's far more likely that the lion's share of Cognac in any given V.S. bottling has rested in barrels for around five years. These are the Cognacs the French recommend for use in tall drinks -- they sing "La Marseillaise" loud enough to be heard over the din of clinking ice and multiple blenders. V.S.O.P. bottlings must be aged for a minimum of 4 1/2 years, and Cognacs bearing the designations X.O. or Napoleon are guaranteed to be at least 6 years old, though it's good to bear in mind that the legal ages define only the youngest Cognacs used in the mix. The French wouldn't be happy to see any of these older Cognacs in tall drinks, though, so save them for the snifter, lest you offend. Colin Peter Field, head barman at the celebrated Hemingway Bar in the Ritz Paris hotel, and a transplanted Englishman, sells lots of variations on the classic Horse's Neck, which uses Cognac and ginger ale, yet he favors spirals of orange or Mandarin peel instead of the traditional garnish of a spiral of lemon zest. When he uses Hennessy Cognac and adds Angostura bitters to the mix, the drink becomes a Lutteur III Horse's Neck, named for a horse, owned by a member of the Hennessy family, which won Great Britain's Grand National race in 1909. Stephane Ciroux, bartender at the Scribe Hotel in Paris, marries Remy Martin with fresh lemonade for his guests. "It's my favorite long drink made with Cognac," says Jean-Baptiste Prot, a spokeperson for Remy Martin. Long drinks made with a Cognac base are not new creations by any stretch. Harry Johnson's "Bartenders' Manual," published in 1888, offers some very specific instructions as to how to make a seemingly simple brandy and ginger ale. A fan of Martell Cognac, Johnson wrote, "Mix well together; particular attention must be paid when pouring the ginger ale into the (Cognac), not to let the foam run over the glass, and it is proper to ask the customer whether he desires imported or domestic (ginger) ale." When spirits expert Cyril Ray published his book, "Cognac," in 1973, he, too, was a proponent of drinking this austere spirit over ice, suggesting that soda water or even orange juice made excellent companions in the glass. "(This) makes a fine aperitif," he wrote, "being made from the grape, it is not going to quarrel with one's dinner wine as whisky or gin or vodka can." Cognac and tonic water was another tall drink I was exposed to during my trip to France, but I found that this didn't work quite as well as many of the other mixtures I sampled; the tonic seemed to clash with the Cognac. However, after seeing a recipe for Courvoisier and bitter lemon soda -- a soda far more popular in Europe than here and that is, more or less, lemon-flavored tonic water -- I squeezed a couple of wedges of lemon into my glass of Cognac and tonic, and the drink suddenly came to life. I seem to have found yet another way to put Cognac into my system on a hot summer's day. On the last day of my trip I met Bernard Hine, the last surviving member of the Hine Cognac family and a wonderful, ever-so-slightly eccentric gentleman. His house, on the banks of the River Charente, was redesigned in 2002 by Russell Sage, a man touted as being "a talented designer with a very British style and ironic political sensibility." One hallway is festooned with old oil paintings of anonymous souls whose faces have been painted over with the heads of various breeds of cats and dogs. The hall led me to the salon, a room painted with what seemed to be a cross between seashells and balloons on all four walls. Hine's house may be eccentric; his Cognac is anything but. Asked why the French don't drink Cognac after dinner, Hine blamed the Allied troops who helped liberate France in 1944. "They brought whiskey with them," he said. "Now the French drink Cognac only in tall glasses filled with all sorts of mixers, and go for whiskey after dinner." Hine isn't available in a V.S. bottling -- the company concentrates more on vintages, and "early-landed Cognacs" that are distilled in France and aged in England -- so if you sample a long drink made with Hine, it's probably best that you don't let Bernard know about it. I suggest using Hine Rare V.S.O.P. here are 2 recipes.... Lutteur III Horse's Neck Adapted from a recipe created by Colin Peter Field, head barman at the Ritz Paris hotel. INGREDIENTS: 2 ounces Hennessy Cognac 4 ounces ginger ale 2-4 dashes Angostura bitters 1 orange-peel spiral, for garnish INSTRUCTIONS: Pour all of the ingredients into an ice-filled tall glass. Stir briefly, and add the garnish. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Amour Sanglant Adapted from a recipe by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel Du Cognac. INGREDIENTS: 2 ounces V.S. Cognac 1 ounce cherry brandy 1/2 ounce vanilla liqueur, such as Navan 3-4 ounces blood orange juice INSTRUCTIONS: Pour all of the ingredients into an ice-filled tall glass and stir briefly. my father is a big fan of cognac and would always have a selection of remy martins in the sitting room. on occasion he would warm up his glass over a steaming kettle, or swirl boiling water around a glass to warm it through. with him being chinese, and therefore a cognac connoisseur, i never questioned him...the chinese love their brandy. like the carrying of cash in one's shirt breast pocket, it's a cultural thing i swear.

she speaks!

as one might see from the photograph, agatha is a little on the rotund side, slightly bottom heavy. this is due to being "done" where she went from being petite and lightweight to a raccoon-bottomed lump almost overnight, and also her loathing of anything exercise-related. she was rescued at 2 weeks old, without mum or siblings, a true street cat, and she came to me aged around 6 weeks. another cat in the household graciously put aside any machismo he had in order to teach her how to bathe herself and hunt etc. all went well -- over time she stopped hiding everytime she heard herself breathe, and she even became accepting of being looked at. sort of. one thing she never developed was the ability to meow. she would open her mouth as wide as possible and omit silent meows. hilarious. in times of extreme pissiness she would occasionally let out a squeak, but that was all. we came to love her muteness and manic mouth movements -- and with several other felines in the household, it was actually quite a relief. the only sounds that were recognisably hers were the loud thuds as she stepped down from something. this past week, in an effort to rid her of some of her extra poundage, and introduce to her life the other side of the windows, we took advantage of the recent good weather to dump her outside in the garden. she was placed on the stairs, with the kitchen door out of her direct sight. within 2 seconds she started meowing... proper meowing, like a proper cat. i know this is utterly irrelevant and on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being akin to suicidal boredom, this would rate at 9.95, but it was pretty bloody amazing to moi. little fatty speaks!

citronelle to leave dc

the rumour is that Citronelle has plans to move to the Tysons Corner Ritz Carlton from its current Georgetown location. what a pain [she says living in dc with no intentions of driving all the way out there for dinner]. i have never got comfortable with the idea of dining in a shopping mall. call me weird but... the highly-rated restaurant had been caught up in a swirl of rumors amid the planned renovation of Hotel Latham resulting in the restaurant's scaled back hours. the deal has yet to be signed, so there is still the possibility that this could go pearshaped. regardless of where the restaurants ends up geographically, hopefully this won't be a 2 plus years "renovation" like Laboratorio del Galileo...

manila clams

originally from japan, these small clams were introduced to the usa in the 1920s. they are smaller and sweeter than regular clams. they live next door to the pacific littleneck clam, and while they can live up to 7yrs, these are farmed closer to 3yrs old and 1 to 2 inches in diameter. they only take 3 to 5 mins to steam - compared to the 10 to 12 mins for regular clams. they are perfect for soups! or as a starter (imagine a big bowl all to yourself). or serve them with pasta and a cream based sauce. here is a quick recipe from our chef friend, santi: steamed manila clams a large bowl of manila clams 6 garlic cloves, smashed white wine fish stock salt pepper flour smash the garlic and fry over high heat in olive oil, until the cloves are brown and slightly crispy. throw in the clams (washed). add the wine (around 1 cup) - high heat so it reduces slightly. add the fish stock - enough to just cover the clams. now throw in a large handful of flour and stir well, moving everything until it is mixed. if you get lumpy bits, use a small whisk...this should break down the lumps. if not, add a little bit more liquid and keep stirring. add salt and pepper to taste. cover the pot and reduce heat -- simmer for 3 mins. throw in a handful of parsley or coriander and you're good to go. discard any unopened clams.

chiles rellenos

2 large poblano peppers (one per person) 1 lb of *minced meat 1 medium onion, finely chopped 2 cloves of garlic, smashed salt pepper (black or white) chicken stock roast your peppers directly over an open flame until all sides are nicely charred and blackened. put the peppers into a ziplock bag and leave them to sweat for about 15-20 mins. in the meantime, mix your minced meat with the chopped onions. add chicken stock, salt and pepper to taste. fry the garlic cloves and add the meat. stir well and ensure all is cooked evenly. remove poblanos from ziplock and peel off the skin carefully. make a medium sized slit in the side of each pepper and stuff with the cooked meat mixture. sprinkle each pepper with a good handful of cheese and drizzle mexican cream on top. put into the oven (330 degs f) for about 15 mins until cheese is melted. enjoy! *you can use tuna instead of meat

garden overhaul

we picked up a truckload of plants this weekend from merrifield garden center in fairfax. having worked out which plants are definitely dead with no hope of resurrection, we counted up the number of new ones we would need...and got carried away once we got to the centre. no great surprise there... we spent the afternoon planting out our new purchases - in the 80s, perfect day for gardening - and have just a few left to do. lilac tree two pom pom topiary trees lots of periwinkle/vinca for ground and trellis cover two clematis another tree with tiny purple flowers ground cover with lots of white flowers i have the nametags but they're outside in the pouring rain... the hostas are coming back - slowly but surely. the giant allums were replanted into large pots, one for each of them - i had no idea they would be quite so massive. half of the carrots were transplanted (how many did i sow???) and the rest will stay where they are (no room anywhere else!), the pomodoros will be transplated next weekend when i have found where they will live but that's easier as they will be above ground... the maple tree is blossoming/blooming and promises to give us lots of much-needed shade this summer. the dutch tulips are coming to an end sadly but gave us lots of colour whilst they were in bloom. the japanese honeysuckle got a bit haircut but continues to spread herself all over the side and front gardens. the peonies are in bud. all in all the garden is very happy, and so are we. photos will come when the weather is more hospitable.

riding in the rain

i love this photo, it sums up bicycling in amsterdam. riding a bike is not about sports, it's a way of life.

Riding the It Factor

By DAVID COLMAN,, april 17 2009 The Great Downturn may have its first real status symbol. It has plenty in common with recent extravagances. Like the Range Rover or the Sub-Zero fridge, it has a solid frame designed for function. Like a Louis Vuitton trunk, it has a chic design and a patina of history stretching back to the 19th century. And like a bottle of San Pellegrino, it evokes that genteel way of life that Europeans are always going on about. This new It object is the glossy black Dutch bicycle, its design unchanged since World War II. Increasingly imported to the United States and starting to be seen on the streets of New York (and in the windows of at least one clothing store), it appears to have everything a good craze needs. That includes a hefty price tag — usually between $1,000 and $2,000 — and a charming back story about how the bikes have been an indispensable part of the picturesque Dutch cityscape for decades. But can New York revert to New Amsterdam? Can the bicycle, the urban answer to the wild mustang, slow down and put fenders on? Can the urban cyclist, he of the ragtag renegade clothes or shiny spandex, grow up and put on a tie? Serious obstacles stand in the way. Even as bicycle sales and ridership are up, even as the city becomes more bike friendly than ever, the extreme poles of bike culture are still in many ways hostile to biking as it is done in the Netherlands. There, where riding a bicycle to work in a suit and tie is as notable an act as drinking a cup of coffee, there is no bike culture — all culture includes the bike. The civilized pedigree of the Dutch bike is matched by its old-fashioned design: it comes with fenders, chain guard, generator and rack — standard, as they say in Detroit. With a bike kitted out like that, a man can wear almost anything he likes to work and not worry about getting grimy — no kamikaze messenger-wear required. Luckily, the new look of men’s wear, with its slimmed-down, sporty shapes (even in suits), is tailor-made for a bicycle commute. And since Dutch bikes are ridden upright, not hunched over, and you move at a safe, slow gait, sweating is not the issue it is when you’re careening on a road bike. So, with 170 miles of new bike lanes in New York, it makes sense that the Dutch Bike Co. in Seattle should be opening a branch in the city this summer, its third in the United States. Already, traditional bicycles with upright seats, fenders and chain guards — so-called city bikes — are the biggest growth area at stores like Bicycle Habitat in SoHo. Yet even with bicycle commuting up in New York by 35 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to the New York City Department of Transportation, there are still impediments to its being widely embraced by the city. These range from the obvious — like, how do you lock your bike so it won’t be stolen 30 seconds later? — to more slippery issues of style. How should you dress to bike to work? Which bike has an acceptable level of manliness? These are tricky questions. As the parade of 10-speeds, mountain bikes and, more recently, fixed-gear designs knocked the upright, old-school bicycle off the road, accouterments like fenders and chain guards came to be seen — by men, at least — as eccentric. If a guy is going to get on a bike, he wants to imagine he’s Lance Armstrong, not Pee-wee Herman. James Vicente, a court attorney at the Kings County Criminal Court in Brooklyn, knows the quandary. After a trip to Amsterdam five years ago, Mr. Vicente was inspired to ride to work in his suit and tie. (He converted his road bike to a fixed-gear bike, with detachable fenders.) “I liked the perversity of it,” he said. “I liked saying: ‘Anyone can do this. It’s normal.’ I never ride with a helmet either, even when people are telling me I’m an idiot. Riding a bike should be normal, and you shouldn’t have to wear a funny Styrofoam hat.” One day he collided with another rider, tearing a gash in his suit sleeve and another in his pride. Today his suits reside in an office closet, and he cycles to work in jeans and a polo shirt. Would he have gotten in the accident on a Dutch bike? He laughed. “Probably not,” he said. “I was riding with no hands, and the guy came out of the bike lane. If I’d been on one of those, I would probably have been going in more of a straight line.” The city government is addressing bikers’ practical concerns as fast as it can. The Department of Transportation has installed bike shelters, and is reviewing ideas for a bike-share program like the one introduced in Paris two years ago. A 2007 study by the Department of City Planning found that the foremost obstacles people cited for not commuting by bicycle was the fear of theft and lack of secure parking, a problem that is being addressed through two proposals now before the City Council. One, scheduled to come to a vote this month, mandates that all new commercial and residential buildings provide dedicated bike storage. The second aims to open up bicycle access in older buildings, many of which have been historically unfriendly to it. It must be said that the style world has hardly been a friend to the bicycle either. In a century of attempting to appear sportif, fashion has filched ideas from every sport: riding, hunting, sailing, polo, rugby, even motorcycling. Bicycling? Nothing but punch lines. So it’s nice to see bicycling get a nod of sorts, courtesy of Club Monaco. This month, as an unusual accessory to its line of stark urban clothes, Club Monaco is showing and selling bicycles from the century-old Royal Dutch Gazelle brand in seven of its stores (though it can be ordered in any of them). On vacation in England last summer, James Mills, a Club Monaco executive, spotted a cool-looking Londoner riding a Gazelle. Back home, he ordered one from the Netherlands. A few weeks later, he was proudly riding it to work. At a photo shoot, his ride was so popular it ended up in the shoot with models aboard. Enthused by the images, Mr. Mills and his colleagues found the Dutch Bicycle Company in Somerville, Mass., which imports the bicycles, and made a deal to distribute Gazelles at its shops. “We’ve sold a dozen,” Mr. Mills said, “and they’ve only been in the windows a week.” Hard-core cyclists might scoff at seeing a bike in a clothing boutique. But, as Mr. Vicente pointed out, the kiss of fashion may help people embrace the idea of a more practical bike. “Juxtapose that with the most fashionable bikes in New York now, the fixed-gear bikes, which are really impractical,” he said. Still, he concedes that the machismo of bike culture is hard to fight, adding: “The only person I know who has a Dutch bike is a girl.” George Bliss, who teaches at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and is the owner of Hub Station, a vintage bike shop in the West Village, believes the best P.R. for everyday biking comes from people outside the biking world, not inside. “I use to think that car culture was the problem, but now I think it’s bike culture,” he said. By that he meant that the discourse about city biking is dominated by cycling zealots who don’t have the desire, or the skill, to attract people who don’t see themselves as cyclists, just as people who ride a bike to work. That’s certainly how the Dutch-bikers think of themselves. Peter Moore, a contractor and developer, has ridden a Dutch WorkCycles bike in the city for years. He even takes his kids to school on it (one on the back, one on the seat, and he stands — so very Dutch). At the same time, he is aware of how important style is to New Yorkers. A onetime model and son of the late Nonnie Moore, a longtime fashion editor, Mr. Moore favors clothes that fit the look of the bicycle: preppy Steven Alan shirts, a necktie, a Ralph Lauren tweed sport coat, vintage army pants and a pair of sturdy lace-ups. “It’s all an ensemble,” he said. “I try and put it together with some style to honor the quality of the bike.” As good as it sounds, a Dutch bike is in some ways not perfect for New York. Large and heavy, it is not ideal for small spaces, tight corners and cramped elevators. Even if it isn’t San Francisco, the city has enough hills to make a lighter bike desirable. And given the price, a folding bicycle you can take inside, or a vintage model that won’t cost as much, may be a better choice, given the still-high incidence of theft. Even so, riding one is an unusual treat, and a fascinating lesson in bicycle geometry. The low seat and curved handlebars force you to sit up straight. The heavy frame and the angle of your legs to the pedals make it hard to get up much speed, and the wide handlebars make it a more stately, less agile ride — like driving a 1967 Lincoln Continental. You feel safer, more composed and, well, more grown-up. The rambunctious 8-year-old inside so many bikers doesn’t get traction. In short, you quickly understand why the Dutch don’t wear helmets — just one more style perk to top it all off.


my mother has the greenest fingers i've ever seen -- in the horticultural sense i mean. whatever she plants, no matter how much of a state it's in when presented to her (all my plants from college for example), she revives them with her attention and they grow and bloom as though they are a different plant altogether. if they could speak they'd be shouting "we're going to live with amy -- allelujah!". this started out as a regular sized camellia (around 12 inches in height). nowadays it's about to take over the shed... she likes to grow things from cuttings - my cuttings rot. every surface with access to a window is full of thriving potted plants. my potted plants go yellow or brown and then shrivel up. my father has many a time recoiled in horror at yet another plant appearing on a windowsill, making it almost impossible for him to be in a room that is foliage free. he thinks she is obsessed. i think he is right. the garden is beautiful. it's always bursting with colour and scent; even in the depths of winter there is greenery.

terra dc

after my somewhat scathing remarks about dc/fashion/style yesterday, this popped up in my inbox today. the event looks like it will be a lot of fun. terra is a lovely store in dupont, selling women's clothing (a lot is european and very un-dc), luxe accessories and some great jewellery. their stock is unusual, in that it's for the fashion brave and confident - i highly recommend this store. the owner and her mum are lovely.

models are back

at last, models are back on the cover of vogue (may 2009). it seems rare to find a model on the cover nowadays, too often it's a celebrity staring back at me - if i wanted to see a celeb i would buy style/glamour/people... i do not want to look like or have the life of reese witherspoon, i would rather look like liya kebede or anna jagodzinska thanks. i am silently rejoicing and hoping it remains this way...

the sartorialist

i came upon the sartorialist's blog about 2 years ago, surfing the web one day. i loved it - it was fresh and a great site to look through. i read it religiously every day. over the past few years it has grown enormously and scott schuman now has a huge fanbase and is doing great things sartorially wise all over the globe. i can't help feeling that this growth has led to the site losing a bit of its original attractiveness. back in the day, there were interviews with some seriously stylish people, along with their style profiles, an insight into their sartorial worlds, and also some snippets about the history of certain stores etc. these days it's all photographs. they are great, don't get me wrong, but i miss the bits of information that i couldn't/still can't find anywhere else. it's more like an upmarket version of the other numerous streetstyle blogs that have come about (because of scott schuman of course, but still...). i went to the opening of scott schuman's photography exhibit last summer in DC (totally over-rated, photos selling at laughably high prices, aircon off so people were literally sweating in their outfits). of course it was disappointing to see the "best of DC" fashion-wise that turned out for the event; this city can't do it. it tries but gets it very very wrong. it isn't even that people dress well/funkily/fashionably and it isn't appreciated here...the way they look, they would look wrong in manhattan too. is it because of the clothing stores in this city? is it because people who live and work in dc are naturally unstylish? i suspect it is the latter. if one has style, one can wear almost anything and carry it off. i would love nothing more than to see a streetstyle blog for dc - but those that have tried have given up - there's nothing to blog about that is worth reading.

Grow your own drugs

Grow your own drugs: a medicine cabinet in your garden Botanist James Wong raids the flowerbeds for cures to everyday ailments from coughs to eczema, march 2, 2009 On one bitterly cold day recently James Wong found himself walking home in a light coat. He's an optimist, he explains. But just to make sure he didn't get a cold, when he got home he made his granny's chicken soup, using echinacea root, goji berries and extreme quantities of ginger, chillies and garlic. “Well, I didn't get a cold,” he says. “It's something I make all the time. In Asia you don't have a big thick dividing line between food and medicine. That soup would be eaten as dinner even if you weren't feeling under the weather.” Wong's recipe for his Immune System Booster is in his book, Grow Your Own Drugs, a set of instructions for plant-based remedies and beauty products that accompanies the eponymous BBC Two series. The title may seem provocative but Wong is an engaging geek (the geek bit is his word) with a mission: he wants people in the West to start looking at plants not as soft furnishings but as chemical factories that are the source of elixirs for everything from insomnia to cystitis and head lice. Before you dismiss the idea of natural healthcare as flaky, he points out that many plants contain the same active ingredients as over-the-counter drugs. Aspirin, though now synthetic, was originally derived from sal acetic acid which is found in willow, meadowsweet and the shrub spirea. Morphine-based painkillers are based on opium from poppies, and the contraceptive pill was originally isolated from the Mexican wild yam. The World Health Organisation estimates that 80 per cent of the world's population relies on plant-based medicine as its key form of healthcare. “It's cultural. In Malaysia, where I spent a lot of my childhood, Western medicine came along and was considered useful, but as an adjunct to traditional medicine that never went away. In Northern Europe the Industrial Revolution meant that people were ripped out of the countryside, where they had this rich ethnobotanical knowledge, and popped into cities. Within a couple of generations all that knowledge is lost. There's very little methodology to pass on.” Wong is 27 and an ethnobotanist - a scientist who studies the use of plants. It was at his grandmother's home in Malaysia that he absorbed the idea that plants aren't just pretty, but that many of them can be functional. “We'd walk around my grandmother's back garden and she'd rip off a leaf of a palm tree and a couple of minutes of origami later she'd have a perfectly usable hat that would last for quite a long time,” he says. “The plant next to it was one they used to stitch injuries together during the Second World War. Not only was it fibrous but it had antiseptic qualities. It was magical to me as a kid that you could do so much with the things most people walk past. People have this idea that you have to hike to the depths of the Amazon to find the source of plant-based medicines, and that once you have got them you need a fully equipped pharmaceutical laboratory full of people in white coats preparing this stuff in really elaborate processes. “That's a myth. Plant-based medicines have evolved as a response to situations where people don't have a lot of time or money. When I was studying shamanic medicine in Ecuador, if a woman had eight kids and one of them had stomach ache, she had to find something in her immediate environment that she could cook up on the stove while taking care of her other seven children.” What about evidence that this stuff works? Where are the clinical trials to support the use of chicken soup as an immune system booster? They don't exist, of course, because drug companies don't invest in expensive trials unless they know they will get a return in sales. Wong is careful not to make claims that he can't back up, and his book includes a number of disclaimers - consult a doctor before trying natural remedies, and particularly if you are on any other medication, check for allergies, make sure you have identified the plants you use correctly, and so on. “We're not saying this headache remedy is clinically proven to cure headaches, but that the plants in it contain ingredients that have been demonstrated to have an effect. The chemicals in them demand as much respect as a conventional drug and can be considered a drug.” There is a Blue Peter-ish charm in Wong's message and it chimes well with the credit-crunch enthusiasm for anything homemade and economical. Many of the ingredients are easily available and you don't need specialist equipment to make them. Wong, who shares a house with fellow botanists in West London, recalls how one housemate spent £25 on echinacea tincture. “I said do you know what's in it? It's just echinacea chopped up and stuck in vodka for a couple of weeks. There's echinacea in the garden, and I've got bottles of vodka that people have left behind at parties. I don't drink it, I use it to make traditional remedies.” Grow Your Own Drugs, BBC Two. The book, by James Wong, is published by HarperCollins at £16.99. Available from Times BooksFirst for £15.29, free p&p. 0870 1608080, Sage honey for sore throat Pungent sage leaves (Salvia officinalis) contain antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and decongestant properties. The herb that it takes its name from the Latin verb “to save”. Combined with the antibacterial and healing properties of honey, this makes a great soother. Ingredients: 1 large bunch fresh sage leaves Enough runny honey (buy sage honey if you can) to cover the leaves Method: 1. Wash and dry the sage leaves and place in a small pan with enough honey to cover. Simmer gently for 1 hour. Allow to cool to a temperature you can handle. (Be careful; sugar solutions and honey can become very hot and cause scalding.) 2. Strain the honey into a sterilised jar containing a sprig of sage, if desired. Use: Take 1 tsp whenever needed to soothe a sore throat. You can also use to sweeten and medicate hot lemon drinks for colds and flu; take 3-4 times a day when needed. Goji Berry and Shitake Soup to boost your immune system In China, soups rather than teas are the traditional way of administering health-giving herbs. This one is packed with nutrients that help to boost immunity and generally ease the symptoms of colds and flu. Eat this soup as soon as you feel a cold coming on. Ingredients: 2 tbsp dried Echinacea root 200 ml water, freshly boiled 5 tbsp goji berries, fresh or dried 2 litres chicken stock (homemade or from stock cubes) 3 chicken thighs or drumsticks (preferably organic) 2 large onions, peeled and sliced 12 shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced 10 cm root ginger, peeled and shredded 2 fresh medium-sliced chillies, finely sliced 8 garlic cloves, chopped Extra sliced ginger and chillies, to serve Method: Combine the dried echinacea root with the water in a bowl to make a simple infusion. In another bowl, pour just enough cold water over the goji berries to cover, and leave to rehydrate. Set the echinacea and goji berries aside and leave to stand. Place the stock and chicken pieces in a large pan or slow cooker. Add the sliced onions, mushrooms, ginger and chillies and place around the chicken in the pan. On a very low heat, simmer gently for 1½ - 2 hours, or until the chicken is tender and falls apart. Take off the heat. Five minutes before serving, add the goji berries and chopped garlic. Finally, strain the Echinacea infusion and add this to the soup, reheating if necessary. Use: Serve by ladling into bowls and garnishing with sliced ginger and chilli for an extra kick. Where to buy fresh echinacea root (dried or fresh) if you're in the US? Falconridge Farms California

Gordon Ramsay Q&A

from, april 14 2009 The Times chef answers readers' questions on new trends, guilty pleasures and kitchen cock ups..... If you ever decided to have a career change, what would you do? Chris Baylis, London ‘I can’t imagine doing anything else. Perhaps a football coach, although my son Jack would have something to say about that. A couple of months ago, he missed what could have been a great goal and I screamed: “You should have gone to Specsavers!”. All the other dads glared at me.’ What’s your idea of food heaven and hell? Elaine Booth, Cannock, Staffordshire ‘Sea bass is the king of fish so my idea of food heaven would be a beautiful fillet, pan-fried with a light sorrel sauce; or served roasted with artichokes and a chive crème fraîche. My food hell is any ready meal. It’s so easy to prepare a quick meal using fresh produce, such as a simple stir-fry, but people still resort to ready meals that all taste exactly the same.’ Describe the last thing you cooked that went horribly wrong? Dawn Irvine, Milton Keynes ‘I can’t remember the last time something went really wrong. But right at the start of my career, I did a stint at a resort in the French Alps. One day the head chef asked me to put the fresh bouillabaisse (fish soup) outside in the freezing cold to chill it. By the evening it had festered and formed a thick froth on top. It was absolutely disgusting.’ If we were to explore your kitchen cupboards, what one ingredient would you be most embarrassed for us to find? Andrew Rutter, Stockton-on-Tees ‘You wouldn’t find any embarrassing ingredients. I try to cook as much as possible from fresh produce, plus we keep a good stock of dried goods in the house, such as pasta. We try to be very conscious of what we feed the kids and they’re only allowed pudding as a special treat. I’m the naughty one when it comes to sweets – I try to persuade Tana I’m putting them in the cupboard as a treat for the kids, but she sees straight through it.’ What do you think will be the next big food trend over the coming decade? Jennifer Gawler, Poole, Dorset ‘I think there’s going to be a return to Escoffier-inspired grill rooms. Expect dishes to be simpler, with the produce really speaking for itself, and looking less fussy. It’s something we’re really focusing on for the launch of The Savoy Grill later this year.’ When was the last time you indulged in a Pot Noodle, Ginsters, McDonald’s or other guilty pleasure? Kate Calder, London ‘I can’t remember, but not for a long time. I’d never touch a Pot Noodle and although I love a good burger, it wouldn’t be from McDonald’s. That said, I’m a sucker for some unhealthy treats – I love chocolate and can’t get enough of gummy sweets.’ Following the success of Kitchen Nightmares and your background as a professional footballer, have you considered a Football Nightmares programme, highlighting the dietary habits of professional footballers? Lynda Copson, Middlesex ‘I don’t think there’s a need. Many of the professional clubs have incredible dieticians to make sure that their teams’ diets maximise training and performance.’ Do the staff in your restaurants know in advance when you’ll pay a visit? Jacqueline Pye, Southampton ‘No, not generally. It’s good to keep them on their toes. Recently, I made an unannounced visit to Angela Hartnett’s Mayfair restaurant, Murano, following a long service. All the kitchen staff were clearing the restaurant down silently and thoroughly. That’s what I expect to see.’ Is there anything you think Tana cooks better than you? Dawn Irvine, Milton Keynes ‘No. Absolutely not!’ What’s the best advice someone has given you, and who gave it? Michelle Chase, New Brunswick, Canada ‘Never waste anything – that came from French chef, Guy Savoy. At the restaurants I’d been working at, we would use the best cuts of meat or the most favoured bit of the vegetable and throw away the rest. At Guy Savoy’s restaurant it was a different story. You would use the best bit of meat or veg for the main part of the dish but the other parts were used for sauces, mousses or stocks.’ If you had the power to wipe one food or dish off the face of the earth, what would it be? Marie Louise Quinn, Nottingham ‘Ready-made mashed potato. I’ve come across it at countless restaurants I’ve visited for Kitchen Nightmares and it’s vile.' This article appears in the May edition of Olive magazine.

easter picnic

family day in maryland at seneca park. lots of children, fun, eggs and sunshine.