A Picnic at Wolf Trap

What better way to spend a summer evening than a nice picnic at an outdoor concert? Last night, Brant, Eric and I enjoyed a lovely picnic dinner at Wolf Trap in Virginia with music courtesy of one of our favorite singer-songwriters, Dar Williams. Here’s a picture of Dar and me at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis, Maryland back in August 2009 – isn’t she adorable?

When you’re like me and your musical tastes vary away from the mainstream (my roommate says I listen to “suicidal lesbian music” – thanks Scotty!) it’s nice to have friends that like the same kind of music that you do. Eric and Brant are also eager eaters, so they are fun to cook for, and delightful to spend time with in many ways. We kept the menu simple: BLTs with goat cheese on toasted french bread, sesame noodles (recipe below), and Ina Garten’s Ultimate Ginger Cookies.

Sesame Noodles

Cook according to package directions:

  • 1 lb Whole Wheat Spaghetti

While pasta is cooking, whisk together the sauce ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp Sriracha (more or less to taste)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 3 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted (reserve some for garnish if desired)

Drain the pasta and toss it thoroughly with the sauce ingredients while still warm. When it is cool, toss it with the following veggies:

  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
  • 1/2 cup sugar snap peas, trimmed and steamed
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 english cucumber, chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped (reserve some for garnish if desired)
  • 3 or 4 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced (reserve some for garnish if desired)

Chill and serve. Serves 8 – 12.

We finished up with a sweet treat, Ina Garten’s Ultimate Ginger Cookies, recipe here:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/ultimate-ginger-cookie-recipe/index.html

Since I’m unable to resist the urge to mess with a good recipe, I had to add cashews to Ina’s recipe. I must say, the results were fantastic. I added a cup of whole, roasted, salted cashews at the end of the mixing. The mixing broke the nuts up a bit but they stayed pretty big and added some nice crunch and flavor to the cookies. I highly recommend this recipe with or without the cashews.

I’m a huge Ina Garten fan, and I have this fantasy where I somehow get invited to one of her parties in the Hamptons. If you ever watch her show, you know she’s flanked by more gay men than Lady GaGa, so I can’t help but think this fantasy could someday come true. A boy can dream… Anyway, in true Ina fashion, I even put the cookies into “glassine bags and tied them with ribbon” just like I saw on her TV show (I know, I’m a total freak). But before you judge me, I should tell you that when I originally planned this, I thought Brant’s daughters were joining us for the concert, and I was planning this special touch to impress them. I was also going to serve the noodle salad in festive Chinese take-out containers but I stopped short when I found out the kids weren’t coming. I’m coo-coo, but not THAT coo-coo.

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SpiceBoy’s Take 5

Okay, y’all – here are five quick, exciting things I wanted to share with you, in no particular order of coolness.

1. The Delicious Gelato and Sorbet at Pitango.

http://www.pitangogelato.com/

With appearances at local farmers markets and storefront locations in the metro DC area, Pitango offers some serious gelato. I must say I haven’t tasted anything like this since I was in Sirmione, Italy – no lie! I tried two flavors: Crema (vanilla custard) and Hazelnut (made from imported Italian nuts), and they were both absolutely heavenly. More good news – free samples on those tiny plastic spoons! Other flavors I sampled included the sublime white grapefruit and dark chocolate orange. $4.95 for two scoops (up to two flavors) and $6.50 for three scoops (up to three flavors). It’s also a really nice, friendly atmosphere – and how do they keep all that stainless steel so clean and shiny?

2. Singer-Songwriter Jennifer Haase

Super-talented and super-cute songstress Jennifer Haasse (rhymes with “classy”) is hard at work on her second album, “No More Invitations,” the follow-up to her fantastic debut “The Listening Chair.” Roseanne Cash says: “Jennifer Haase is a unique and gifted songwriter with the voice of an angel. I highly recommend her.” Well! Far be it from me to argue with the likes of Ms. Cash! “No More Invitations” is slated for release in the fall, and Jennifer has arranged a fundraiser to drum up the last few dollars for the release of the album so friends and fans can take part in the process – and she’s offering lots of fun prizes for those who participate. (Yours truly will appearing in the liner notes, y’all!) “New Pink Sweater” is the first single, and it’s perfect for a steamy summer afternoon. Give it a listen – it’s guaranteed to have you taking the top down on the Cabriolet and flirting with all the boys on the corner (or girls, if you’re into that kind of thing):

I highly recommend this folk-pop diva. Visit her on the web www.rhymeswithclassy.com. Also, you can (and should) buy her music on iTunes.

3. The Travelzoo Top 20

So much cheap travel, so little vacation time. No shizzit, Travelzoo has it all in one place, having combed all the bargain travel sites and distilling it into one weekly email. You can subscribe here:

www.travelzoo.com

Tree and I are going to Guatemala in November and we only paid…wait for it…$399 each. That’s four nights, including airfare, folks. With prices so low it sounds like a scam, I can only tell you that the majority of my vacations from the past five years have come from the Travelzoo Top 20, and while they haven’t been the lap of luxury, the deals have been incredible. You’ve got to check it out.

4. Trailer Park Queen Jolene Sugarbaker

On of my very favorite web personalities in the whole wide world is Jolene Sugarbaker, the Trailer Park Queen. When I’m stressed out at work, all I need to do is click on a Jolene Sugarbaker cooking video and I’m instantly transported to the trailer park and all my troubles are behind me. My day is immediately transformed, and I just know that Jolene loves me! Try it sometime. Here, you can watch Jolene make shrimp dip in a plastic ashtray!

Jolene’s blog – http://trailerparktestkitchen.com/ – has lots of great videos, recipes, and a fun store with tons of trailer park fashions. You’re gonna love her!

5. The Summer Menu at 1789 Restaurant

http://www.1789restaurant.com/main/index.shtml

1789 Restaurant in Georgetown (1226 36th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007, 202.965.1789), chosen as one of Gourmet Magazine’s Top Tables in America, is a real gem. In an historic, Federal period house, their dark wood walls, fine antiques, and fancy table settings make give the impression that 1789 is cost-prohibitive, but the menu is surprisingly reasonable, with small dishes ranging from $9 – 20. And did you know that they have a fabulous summer menu coupon you can print from their website, offering three courses for $35.00? (Offer expires September 15, 2010.) I tried the summer special with my dear friends Matt, Mac, and Christopher (pictured below, right, with little ol’ me). To say the least, we were not disappointed. We tried several of Chef Daniel Giusti’s thoughtful, summery offerings using only the freshest local ingredients, including the selection of country terrines (pictured, below), Wianno oyster gratin, soft-shell crab (pictured, above), crispy pork belly (with a wonderful shaved fennel salad), and day boat scallops (with roasted beets and rich Hudson Valley fois gras). For dessert, the cherry lattice and the icebox cake (pictured, below) were standouts. Be warned, jackets are required. You’ll have fun making a special night of it – we did!

The Gayest Salad in the History of the World

What we’re exploring: Dupont Circle Farmers Market

What we Found: Edible flowers

Cost: Minimal

Why use them: They’re tasty and they look fancy!

Uses: In salads; as a tasty garnish for meat or fish dishes; as a dramatic topping for soups

What do they taste like: Nasturtium flowers – peppery (like arugula); Chive blossoms – oniony (think chives times five)

Wow. To say I’ve outdone myself would be an understatement. I have single-handledly and accidentally created The Gayest Salad in the History of the World. I went to the Dupont Circle Farmers Market again this week, with the innocent idea of grabbing some salad greens, and just look what happened. Here’s how it all came together:

  • Mesclun Mix (including radicchio)
  • Arugula
  • Nasturtium Flowers
  • Chive Blossoms
  • Blueberries
  • Hazelnuts
  • Goat Cheese

The resulting salad has some peppery flavors from the arugula, radicchio and nasturtium, as well as some sweet-tartness from the blueberries and the vinaigrette. The hazelnuts give an earthy crunch and the chive flowers lend a nice oniony hit. The mild creaminess of the goat cheese is a nice foil for the base salad’s sharpness. The dressing is a blueberry-balsamic vinaigrette, using some blueberry-balsamic vinegar I picked up on my last trip to Maine. (The recipe follows; regular balsamic will work just fine.) Just look at the colors – purple from the radicchio, blueberries and chive flowers, orange and yellow from the nasturtiums. As you can see from the photo, the resulting salad, while both tasty and pretty, is without a doubt The Gayest Salad in the History of the World. It needs its own theme music. In fact, I fail to see how you can even eat it without wearing a tiara.

I posted the photo on my Facebook page and here were some of the comments:

Cielo P. show me the flower power…hehehe

Ivan F. Gayer than a clutch purse

John M. Serious LOL

Brant B. It looks delicious, though!

Matt D. Delicious salad Matthew! And it’s so gay, straight men will take 2 bites and switch teams… which is why I am making you prepare it for me as my secret conversion weapon.

Few great things in life are created alone. My friend Matt D. was with me when I made the salad (for our lunch), and he helped to choose hazelnuts as the crunchy element. (The other option was Marcona almonds – hazelnuts were a good choice, Matt!) Also deserving some credit here is Becky, the super-charming Lettuce Lady from the farmers market, who threw in an extra handful of nasturtium flowers with the mesclun mix at my request, even though the boss lady said no. What can I say? I guess I’m charming, too.

Blueberry-Balsamic Vinaigrette

2 teaspoons minced chives

2 teaspoons minced shallot

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 Cup blueberry-balsamic vinegar (or regular balsamic vinegar)

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon blueberries

Whisk together all ingredients except olive oil and blueberries. Slowly whisk in olive oil to emulsify. Stir in blueberries. Allow dressing to sit for at least 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. Mix again before serving. And remember, the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice (see photo – Yes, Micah is actually wearing a t-shirt that says this.)

Later in the day I brought some of this salad to Micah’s birthday barbecue at Seth and Ben’s place. I couldn’t help but notice, even though a few people ate a bit of the salad (what my Mom would call a “no-thank-you helping”), most of the guests simply gawked at it. The one straight male guest actually looked a little terrified when I unveiled it. His girlfriend confessed she was not a fan of goat cheese but politely enjoyed some of the blueberries (Thank you, Terri).

When it came time to leave, Seth asked if I wanted to take my platter, which still had at least half of the salad on it. Thinking back, it sounded rather like a plea. Noting that I would be back next week for another party, I said I would just get the platter then.

Seth agreed, and mentioned that next week I shouldn’t trouble myself to bring anything.

“Just bring yourself,” he said.

I’m not quite sure how to take this.