DC Faves: Union Market

union market // sweetsonian

union market // sweetsonian

One of my favorite spots in DC is Union Market — a perfectly collection of artisan food vendors, ranging from cheese and charcuterie to knife specialty shops to Salt & Sundry, which happens to be my own personal heaven. The market site itself dates back over a hundred years, but Union Market as we know it today opened in 2012. Back then, I happened to be living just three blocks away from it, so I was able to check it out before vendors really started to occupy it. Even then, we knew that the empty tables wouldn’t be empty for long.

I don’t make it out there as often as I would like to these days, but it’s still a great spot for a photo shoot, with its warm interior and long wall of windows. These photos are actually from a Good Food Awards morning event last weekend, so while I struggled from one too many drinks the night before, I had a spicy bloody Mary from Gina Chersevani to nurse me back to life. And, if you’re there in the summer for Crafty Bastards, well, it’s DC’s once-a-year version of Artists & Fleas, and the source of almost all of my jewelry.

Read a bit about my five favorite Union Market spots below. And if you have some favorites, feel free to leave a note in the comments!

union market // sweetsonian

union market // sweetsonian

Takorean — Korean barbeque style tacos; the brick-and-mortar shop for my favorite DC food truck (and one of the few truck-to-shop success stories in DC). My usual order? Three tacos. One bulgogi beef, one chicken, one tofu, all with the romaine slaw, lime crema, and sriracha. To die for.

Buffalo & Bergen — one hell of a bagel. If I’m there in the evening, you’ll find me at the bar with a beer.

Peregrine Espresso — a favorite DC coffee shop. Open counters, so you can see exactly what they’re doing when they make your caffeine order. Very photogenic.

union market // sweetsonian

DC Mediterranean — I used to come here, purchase za’atar, fresh labneh, and homemade pita bread… and, to practice my broken Arabic. It’s so fresh, it brings me back to my days being the adopted child in UCSB’s Lebanese Club, when all of my Lebanese friends would bring giant bags of mana’eesh for me, straight from their mothers’ kitchens. Swoon.

Salt & Sundry — think Anthropologie-style kitchen collections, but all with a personal, artisan, local touch. When I first moved to DC, one of the first food blogs I found was written by Amanda McClements, so naturally, I was smitten when her shop opened. It’s hard for me to leave that store without a new addition to my kitchen, be it a cook book, Guatemalan table linens, or porcelain salt and pepper bowls shaped like skillets.

union market // sweetsonian

union market // sweetsonian

union market // sweetsonian

Snow Dusting, and Snowflake Cookies

I complained a lot about last winter.  I really did.
In retrospect, I would take it all back.  That’s not to say that it hasn’t been horribly cold for the past few days.  The cold bites.  It chills me to the bone, and I walk to and from work every day.  But I’d take this, any day, over a DC summer.  I am elated to not be sweating in front of my air conditioner amidst extreme humidity (for four, arguably five, months).  I revel in actually needing my down comforter.  And I’m wild about snow.
But for as much as I love and appreciate winter, I’ve never been a huge fan of what we know as the “Christmas spirit.”  I grew up in one of those neighborhoods that over-decorates, and is ridden with cars and teenagers selling hot chocolate on the street, with children hanging out of SUV windows in gridlock as they drove by my parents’ minimally decorated ranch-style home.  I’m actually not a fan of Christmas decorations, most holiday songs, or shopping.  I shudder at the thought of buying a Christmas tree as a young adult, for which my friends call me a Grinch.  But the holidays are worth so much more — spending time with the people you care about, and new beginnings.  Well, maybe the new beginnings aspect is unique from my perspective, considering it was around the holiday season last year when I began to feel settled in Washington.  The holidays are about what cold weather makes us want to do: stay warm, inside, with our friends and family.

While I was in college, my family decided to cut back on the presents aspect of Christmas.  For the young kids, it was okay to get gifts upon gifts, but for the adults, it was pointless and just too extravagant.  We set a $10 limit on Christmas presents, which basically turned the Gerrity Christmases into giant wine exchanges (fine by me).  Even with the little kids, the big presents never seemed to be their favorites; a couple of years ago, I bought my little brother, who is now six years old, a blinking red reindeer nose.  It cost me two dollars, and won the prize for best gift overall.  Kevin refused to take off the nose for days and days after Christmas, which keeps reminding me that gift-giving isn’t about getting what you want — it’s about finding ways to make the people around you feel loved.
Yesterday, we got a little bit of snow in Washington.  Nothing big, just a little dusting.  I was in my kitchen, of course, when I noticed it outside — the light pollution in my neighborhood gives the sky a seductive violet glow, and the falling snow just settles itself onto the balcony, the railing, and my bike.  With the clothes dryer and the oven going, our window panes fog up along the ceiling.  It was just charming. 

Since this is just my second winter, I stood in my kitchen and compared it to last winter.  And after I baked these snowflake cookies, I watched the snow fall outside my bedroom window as I read a book.  I felt at home.  Winter is finally here, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Almond and Honey Granola

I never realized how beautiful my balcony floor boards are.  Look!  That muted wood just turns out beautifully in photos.
Discovering new things in the house I’ve lived in for a year now is something I look forward to every time the seasons change.  The nutty aromas that seep through walls take me back exactly one year, when I was just moving into this house in Washington.  Some people say that smells hold the strongest memories.  It’s the one-year anniversary of moving in, so it seems natural that those smells are bringing me back… as the humidity recedes, the moisture in the house must be drying up, changing the character of the house itself.  It sounds, smells, and feels even more like the house I moved into last October, for reasons I can and can’t describe. Then the other morning, I walked to work, and actually grabbed a sweater (it feels like ages since I’ve been able to do that, outside of my trip to Bogotá).  Then I walked outside.  It was more than a crisp cardigan morning — I really should have grabbed a trench coat, which got me thinking about the pending fall.
Trench coats.  Boots.  Jeans.  Winter coats.  Snow!  Am I actually missing winter?  Yes, I am excited about summer’s end, because I thought I hated winter until I experienced a Washington summer.  In winter, I can go running and biking, and have the choice to spend my days and nights either inside or out.  Whereas during summer, I spent most of my time sweating in front of an air conditioner and dreading the thought of going outside, or even moving at all.  Not fun.
And with the cooler weather comes the ability to use my oven.  I mean, to actually use my oven.  The cookies and baked dinners are coming back to my blog, and my life — how I’ve missed them!  I did go through a summer of eating mostly raw vegetables, which worked wonders on my metabolism and overall demeanor, but that’s why I run in the winter anyway.  It was just too hot to cook these past few months.  But these days, a little warmth in the kitchen will take me a long way, and I know it will keep my house happy even on the dreariest of days towards February’s end and March’s beginning, which is another one of those other seasonal transitions that seems unnecessarily fickle, as if the Earth couldn’t decide if it wanted to be winter or spring, summer or fall.  The latter finds a way to win in the end.
Homemade Almond and Honey Granola
WHAT YOU NEED:
3 cups rolled oats (the same kind used for oatmeal raisin cookies)
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup raisins
WHAT TO DO:
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees, and line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, almonds, and salt.  Melt the butter, and then pour both the butter and honey into the bowl with the dry ingredients.  Stir until the ingredients are mixed well; they’ll form little clusters.  Spread evenly onto the foiled cookie sheet, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.  About halfway through, stir the granola around to ensure even baking — you’ll notice the oats on the edges starting to brown.  Towards the end of the 30 minutes, make sure to keep an eye on the granola, which can burn quickly at this time (and we don’t want to ruin a batch of perfectly good granola).
When it’s finished, make sure to spoon some warm granola in a bowl of milk or yogurt — there really isn’t anything like warm, fresh granola.  And it will leave your kitchen smelling wonderful.  I will never buy store-bought granola again.

Salted Caramels

I ate chicken feet today.  Well, chicken foot.  I only had one — but I would eat them (it) again.  I was at dim sum; the food kept coming, and I really just couldn’t eat that much.
I hate to admit that I was one of those little kids that hated vegetables.  My parents still made me eat them, and I hated every minute of it.  I was never one to throw fits; just a child who understood the difference between happiness and discomfort.  It took a while, but I guess we all grow up at some point.  And I eat vegetables almost every day. Love them.  So, years later, I find myself all grown up, without any food fears.
Is that too bold of a statement? Should I be doubtful when I say something like that?  I’ll try most things at least once.  And I’d eat chicken feet again — I’m just not too thrilled by the act of spitting bones out while sitting at a table filled with people.
On a more appealing note, I made salted caramels this weekend.  I’m slightly obsessed with the combination of sweet and salty (or just salty).  I made a salted chocolate cake for a friend’s birthday this summer, which was demolished at a party; today I thought I’d just stick to the candy itself.  Needless to say, I can’t stop eating them (and about twenty of them disappeared from my counter on Saturday night). They are coming to work with me.  I can’t have these in my house when I’m supposed to be training for a half marathon. 

The recipe was derived from David Lebovitz.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I don’t think I took a single breath at work on Friday morning, between 9 AM and 3 PM.

It wasn’t the first time that happened at my new job, but it was literally a rush until we had things wrapped up.  So naturally, I left the office and stuffed my face at We the Pizza on Capitol Hill.  And then I remembered how much I want to move to that neighborhood (sorry roomies, it’s true).  I like rustic neighborhoods — there’s a certain pretentiousness about neighborhoods in Northwest.  I know it’s more about the people than the hoods, but I’m ready for a change anyway.  I also realized that exactly a year ago on Friday, I moved to Washington and never looked back.

Since my blog is almost a year old, I took some time to look back upon what I’ve written.  More sweet food than savory (after all, this is Sweetsonian), lots of writing on California, even more about Washington, and pages upon pages of commentary on the weather, which has decidedly cooled down.

I’ve learned that DC weather is not at all what I had expected.  I left sunny, breezy, not-humid Los Angeles, while everyone in Washington reassured me that the weather is mild, that the snow rarely sticks to the ground, and that the summer humidity doesn’t really hit until July.  What I ultimately experienced was a record breaking blizzard-filled winter, followed by a record-breaking hot summer, during which, my Dad called me to tell me that Los Angeles was having an unusually mild summer.  I must have upset some version of weather gods at some point in my life, because the winter and summer made me feel like I had a metaphysical storm cloud following me around the country.

But the transitions between summer and winter are what I ultimately spend all of February and August looking forward to.  The perfect running weather, picnics on the National Mall, and environmental shift away from months of the extremes.  The tulips (my favorites) pop up in spring and everything becomes unseemingly green, while the fall leaves make my heart race with excitement — partially because the colors and the aromas of this coast in the fall bring back the excitement I felt a year ago, when I moved here.

Speaking of change, I spent the last holiday weekend at a friend’s beautiful house in Virginia; what part, I’m unsure.  But it was stunning.  And the family owned eight dachshunds and one golden retriever.  Needless to say, I was in heaven.  I exchanged these cookies for tanning, volleyball games,  night swimming with watermelons, and a great group of my DC friends.  And these cookies will always remind me of that much-needed break from the city.  It’s such a simple recipe too — I got it off the Quaker Oats container.  Sometimes the best recipes are left unaltered, to bask in their commercial utility.  Like the tollhouse recipe: not my favorite, but still reliably good.

WHAT YOU NEED:

(recipe taken from Quaker Oats)

1/2  cup (1 stick) plus 6 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4  cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2  cup granulated sugar
2  eggs
1  teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2  cups all-purpose flour
1  teaspoon baking soda
1  teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2  teaspoon salt (optional)
3  cups oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1  cup raisins
WHAT TO DO:
Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Add oats and raisins; mix well.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.

Pizza Bianca

Everyone grew up with pizza, right? Sleepovers, elementary school pizza parties, Book-its (remember those?)… pizza took up some sort of memory in American households in the 80s and 90s.  After all, our parents were workaholics, and not everyone could have been blessed with home-cooked meals every single living day of their lives.  It was always that special treat we got as kids, like soda and ice cream, if and when dinner turned to disaster or the amount of effort required to feed a pool party exceeded the time and patience available in the kitchen.  Birthday parties and movie nights were filled with pizzas in my childhood.

After spending last weekend in New York, and the week prior in Louisiana and Mississippi, I was on a veggie detox.  Never have I eaten such vast amounts of unhealthy food and drink.  I’ve done my fair share of attempting to visit New York without having a slice of pizza, but it just doesn’t work.  Ever.  I don’t know what it is, but that city’s reputation for pizza aligned with my absolute love for all foods orgasmic Italian will probably contribute to the end of me, in 80 years, insha’allah.  We stumbled across Rocky’s pizzeria in Manhattan, and I had “Grandma’s pizza,” loaded with fresh, minced roasted garlic and some sort of pureed bruschetta-like sauce.  My inquiry regarding the types of tomatoes or any other ingredients was respectfully denied, and replaced with a plate of chocolate mousse.  To diefor.  I’ll dream about that pizza until I figure out how to clone its recipe.  And then I won’t tell anyone, simply requiring your presence to witness how amazing it really is.  I don’t know exactly when or how I fell in love with food and hosting dinners, but as you can see via this blog, this lustful romance has taken over my life.

A number of friends are in Washington this weekend, en route from cities all over the world. Naturally, my town house looks like a tornado swept through, dropping off traveling goods from India, Bolivia, and other American cities that my friends have been through — I really am lucky to have friends all over the world. I am, after all, visiting one in Bogota this summer.

Will I take my pizza recipes to South America? It honestly depends on how much time I spend salsa dancing. I’d rather be salsa dancing than anything else — that’s one of the downsides of living in Washington. The salsa dancing scene sucks. I guess I do miss one thing from Los Angeles — Third Street Promenade street salsa Sunday evenings. If Washington had something similar, my life would feel slightly more complete.

Anyway, I made two different types of white pizza for my visitors, who have, consequently, been eating non-stop for the past 48 hours: broccoli-feta-mozzarella, and a zucchini/goat cheese and lemon pizza. They make a really easy and impressive quick fix for having more than enough guests to enjoy a balcony brunch on a breezy, beautiful Saturday morning.

WHAT YOU NEED:

for the zucchini pizza:

Pizza dough.  For the sake of time, I used Trader Joe’s ready-made, one dollar pizza dough.
1 fresh zucchini
Lots of goat cheese
1 lemon, or 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
Fresh, cracked pepper
Olive oil, for working with the pizza dough

for the broccoli pizza:

(More) pizza dough
2 to 3 cups fresh broccoli, tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper
1 cup feta cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
Olive oil

WHAT TO DO:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Making pizza is pretty self-explanatory, and I’m positive that you understand the idea.  I like to keep my pizza crusts thin and even: no one likes biting into a doughy crust that could have used another five minutes in the oven.  So play it safe, and spread the crust to be extra thin (but don’t puncture it).

I don’t use sauces on my white pizzas, although, alfredo or some other white cheese sauce would be to die for.  Or even pesto — yes, I often use pesto on my pizzas instead of tomato sauce.  For the zucchini pizza, I used my fingers to spread a soft goat cheese evenly on the crust, and then used a vegetable peeler to slice the zucchini.  I like having the zucchini extra thin on pizzas because it bakes to a crisp and just looks beautiful.  After dressing the pizza with the zucchini, use a pepper mill to grind fresh pepper to your liking, and squeeze some fresh lemon juice all over the pizza, to get a nice tangy flavor in each slice of zucchini.

The broccoli pizza is easy — simply toss the broccoli, feta, and mozzarella together in a bowl, and evenly spread the toppings over your crust.  Sometimes I like to add a little basil or marjoram to the mix.  For both pizzas, bake for 12 to 17 minutes.  To roast the vegetables, I turned the heat of the oven up to about 400 degrees for the last few minutes.

Fireworks Cupcakes

Fondant is surprisingly easy to make, but also surprisingly difficult to work with.  It’s sticky, takes incredible clay-sculpting skills, and patience.  It took me about an hour to decorate seven or eight cupcakes.  This chiffon cake is also one of my favorite recipes because it’s a light, moist cake — and I tend to dislike cakes (but love frosting).  So the lack of my favorite thing in the world — thick, buttercream frosting — can attest to how good this chiffon cake really is.  Because I love it.  To death.  The only thing keeping me from devouring these cupcakes is the fact that I spent so much time decorating them with fondant.

Someone recently sent me a youtube video of Buddhist monks working on mandalas, the beautiful sand paintings that they famously perfect for hours only to wipe away their masterpieces upon completion.  This demonstrates their ability to detach from material goods and their lack of some sort of selfish pride in their artwork.  In making these cupcakes, I find myself in a completely separate mindset than the monks.  Perhaps, after mastering the art of fondant cake decorations, I will be able to let go of my creations.  But for now, I can sit and admire my fireworks and star-spangled banner bikini cupcakes — until someone asks if they can eat one.  It’s a dilemma in my head, naturally, of pride and personal satisfaction: I obviously adore the appearance of the cupcakes, but the fact that my friends see them, love them, taste them, and then love the taste in addition to all of that adoration?  It’s what keeps me in the kitchen.

It’s a busy weekend — lots of people are coming into town to celebrate the Fourth of July at my happy home in Washington.  Hope everyone has a fabulous holiday!  This is, after all, my second-favorite holiday of the year :)

WHAT YOU NEED:

For the chiffon cupcakes:

5 eggs, separated
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup sugar

For the fondant:

16 ounces mini marshmallows
1-2 tablespoons water
2 pounds powdered sugar

WHAT TO DO:

For the cupcakes:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Then, combine the egg yolks, milk, vanilla, and butter (the butter must be cooled, or else the egg yolks will cook… yuck!)

In a separate bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients: flour, 1 cup of the sugar, salt, and baking powder.  Slowly add the dry ingredients to the egg combination, and beat with an electric mixer until even.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar.  Fold about 1 cup of the initial batter into the egg white meringue, to lighten the batter.  Then, combine the rest of the batter with the meringue, and gently fold until the batters are evenly mixed.  Pour into cupcake molds, about 2/3 full.  Bake for 15 minutes, or until the tops of the cupcakes are a nice golden brown.

To make the fondant, combine the marshmallows in a microwavable bowl with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.  Microwave at 30 second intervals until marshmallows are completely melted.   Then, gradually combine the powdered sugar, kneading until a thick fondant dough is formed.  This gets messy, and the fondant is unbelievably sticky — use crisco on your hands to keep the fondant from adhering to your fingertips.

Roll the fondant on a piece of waxed paper dusted with powdered sugar, and use cutters to decorate and form the shapes that you like.  Enjoy!

Engagement Cupcakes

Life has been busy and exciting — and the food has been delicious, as always. Here are some cupcakes I made for a friend who just got engaged.  I’ve never been a big fan of cupcakes, but she obsessed over them (and a cupcake truck in DC), so I thought I’d give a special recipe a try: sponge cake with fondant icing.  Success.  I’ve never had a better cupcake in my life — and some people hate frosting, but the marshmallow fondant fixed that problem.
Have I mentioned how wonderful jazz in the sculpture garden is?