7 Tips from Kapnos’ George Pagonis for Cooking the Perfect Thanksgiving Feast

Stressed out about pulling off the perfect Thanksgiving dinner? The once-a-year, mess-it-up-and-everyone-hates you epic gobblefest instills fear in the hearts of cooks across the country, but it shouldn’t. George Pagonis, executive chef and partner of the modern-minded Greek restaurant Kapnos in Washington, D.C., knows how to do it and has been kind enough to share his tricks and techniques to ensure your feast goes flawlessly.

1. Think about the time and space required to store, prep, refrigerate, and cook every item on your menu. It helps to create a master shopping list and a timeline. That let’s you know what you need to do and when and don’t get caught with your proverbial pants down on the big day.

2. Make anything you can in advance. A lot of items, such as cranberry sauce, pies, and mac ‘n’ cheese, taste just as good if you make them a day or two beforehand and simply warm them up right before you serve them. Other dishes, like salads, can be prepped the day before by chopping all the vegetables and assembled just before the meal.

3. Only do recipes you know and have made before. If you screw up, you screw up on a large scale. You don’t want to ruin anyone’s Thanksgiving. If you do want to try something new, do a test run beforehand so you can figure out any issues and troubleshoot when there isn’t a table full of hungry people watching your every move.

4. Clean as you go. As soon as you’re done with something, wash it. Not only will your sink fill up quickly, but you’ll find that as the day goes on you’ll need a pot or a piece of equipment and not have one because it’s dirty. Also, it’s easier to clean pots when they’re still warm, because food will come off them easily.

5. Let the turkey sit for at least half an hour after it comes out of the oven before you carve it. Cut into it too soon and all the liquids inside will just come gushing out, which will dry out the meat.

6. Stuff your turkey with aromatics, such as fresh thyme, fresh bay leaves, and fresh oregano. Fresh herbs make all the difference. Don’t settle for dried ones. Halved oranges – or other citrus – or pomegranates also work well as aromatics.

7. Don’t overlook the “oysters,” the tastiest and most tender parts of the turkey. The pair of succulent morsels is located in the small hollows on either side of the backbone. Dig them out with your fingers and enjoy them as a treat for all your hard work.


A #Winning StayCay Getaway

Every family needs a break. Yes, it’s partially about powering down and resetting the hard drive, but it’s mostly about spending quality time together and treating everyone to a few simple pleasures. Given the cost of travel these days, not every vacation can involve a Caribbean island, Italian villa or a luxury hotel in the heart of Marrakesh. So my wife, two-year-old son and I often do a staycation weekend in the D.C. area to save money and time.

Over Fourth of July weekend, we were invited to spend two nights at the Marriott Wardman Park as a part of the hotel’s #StayDC Brand Influencer program. We arrived early Friday afternoon and simply picked up our key at the front desk, having already checked in using the handy dandy Marriott Mobile app (One very cool feature: it sends you an alert when your room is ready, so you can get into it early if it’s available). Our eighth floor executive suite was perfect for a family with a king-sized bed, plenty of space for running around, a fridge for snacks and a coffee maker (a must have for me). Another bonus of the hotel chain’s app is free Wi-Fi, which made staying connected cost-effective and convenient.

With our bags unloaded, we walked up to the zoo, only 15 minutes away. Of course, it was absolute mayhem. But that’s part of the deal on a holiday weekend.  I didn’t care. I don’t have enough opportunities to really get out into the District and explore its many attractions. That’s another reason I love staycations: they help you appreciate your hometown even more. The Reptile House was undoubtedly Zephyr’s favorite, since he’s obsessed with geckos, snakes and turtles, though the chipmunk that skittered across the path by the cheetah enclosure was a close second.

After returning to the hotel, so Zephyr could nap for a couple of hours, we headed to 2 Amys Neapolitan Pizzeria in Cathedral Heights for dinner, just a five-minute drive. Just harvested summer tomatoes and fresh ricotta drizzled with olive oil and a speckling of sea salt was a highlight complement to the five star zas. It was a wonderful way to end the first day of our staycay.

The next morning – Happy birthday, America! – we enjoyed the breakfast buffet on the 10th floor of the hotel with a view of Taft Bridge, upper Dupont Circle and the Capitol off in the muggy distance. A quick Metro ride got us to Penn Quarter to go to the Beach at the National Building Museum. The inventive installation takes up most of the building’s ground floor with a giant “ocean” of clear plastic balls (where the above photo was taken) and a “beach” packed with chairs and umbrellas. It was as fun for Zephyr to go “swimming” as it was for Poppa to “float” for a moment and relax.

There was a quick pit stop at Bakers & Baristas for an iced coffee before we headed down to the National Mall just in time to see a giant Smokey Bear floating over the parade. Then it was back to the hotel for a nap, followed by a barbeque at a friend’s house. That evening, we wound up on the couch at the hotel watching the fireworks on television. Sitting there oohing and aahing together over the colorful explosions was the perfect finale to our staycation weekend.

I’m happy to share a Marriott coupon code if your family could use a break, too. Save 15% on 2 or more nights at a DC-area Marriott this summer by clicking here.


Beer: The latest cash crop for Maryland farmers

Tom Barse’s 47-acre Stillpoint Farm in Mt. Airy, Maryland looks like an average agricultural operation. Its fields are rich with crops, while sheep and horses graze in the pastures. However, Barse’s most lucrative crop is actually beer.

In the summer of 2012, Barse opened the small-scale Milkhouse Brewery on a small hill near his house. Over the next six months, the longtime home brewer produced 80 barrels of beer using hops, wheat, barley, and other products grown on the farm. Just three years into the micro brewing operation, he expects to produce nearly 350 barrels – which are distributed in six counties and Baltimore – and he employs two full-time staff members and four part-timers. His tiny farmhouse brewery now accounts for 90% of his earnings. “It’s much bigger than I thought it would be,” he says. “It just exploded.”

Finish reading this story on the Fortune website now.


Why it’s not easy to be a dad in a mom’s world

Though there’s a seismic shift underway, the world of parenting is still ruled by mothers. So upon introducing myself to a mom in a child-focused environment, I try to quickly and gracefully communicate three things.

One: I am there with my child. “That’s my son Zephyr over there climbing up the slide.”

Two: I am married. “My wife is at Pilates, so I’m getting some quality father-son time in.”

Three: My family is my top priority. “Indie – that’s my wife – and I finally had the opportunity to enjoy our first date night of 2015 this last week. It was nice to be out, but we missed the little guy, so to make it up to him we’re all going to the National Museum of Natural History this weekend.”

Finish reading this story on the Washington Post‘s On Parenting blog now.


Meet Jessica Pociask, your tour guide for crazy destinations

Jessica Pociask always packs three things when she travels: a camera, a pillow and a black-and-tan Bedouin scarf from Jordan, which can be used as a blanket, hat, shirt, skirt or to tie something up. She jokes that it’s all she truly needs as she crisscrosses the globe. Pociask (pronounced POE-zee-ack) has been to more than 80 countries and every continent. Her latest passport was issued in 2011 and is 50 pages long — there are only three blank pages remaining in it.

As a tour operator for her boutique travel company, WANT Expeditions, Pociask, 34, takes her guests to some of the most remote corners of the world to see exotic wildlife. There are trips to see jaguars in Brazil’s Pantanal region, giant pandas in China and mountain chimpanzees in Congo.

The company’s trips are priced as all-inclusive (with the exception of international air fare and visas), usually last about two weeks and accommodate up to 16 guests, although most groups are in the eight-to-10 range. Trips cost anywhere from $3,500 up to a $45,000 Antarctic expedition that includes stops at rarely visited ports of call such as the Crozet Islands, Kerguelen Islands, Saint-Paul Island and Amsterdam Islands.

Finish reading this story now on the Washington Post website.


8 New Places To Eat Incredibly Well In The Washington, D.C., Area

Washington, D.C.’s vibrant restaurant scene has been growing at a dizzying pace for the past few years — and it shows no signs of slowing down, as big-name chefs and promising up-and-comers alike have unveiled a flurry of high-profile projects this spring. Here are eight notable new spots to check out in and around the nation’s capital.

1. Peter Chang
After being chased for years by chowhounds from restaurant to restaurant, and then opening eateries in southern Virginia and Atlanta, Peter Chang finally sets up shop in the D.C. area. Diners can feast on the specialties that made the once-elusive Szechuan chef a celebrated figure in contemporary Chinese cooking. Puffy scallion bubble pancakes, dry fried eggplant, mapo tofu and steamed pork buns all make an appearance. The dishes are often spicy, if not volcanic. So heed the chili-pepper icons on the menu, because the chef – thankfully! – doesn’t downgrade intense flavors for American palates. Chang fans have more to look forward to in the coming months, as he is set to open another casual restaurant in Rockville, Maryland, later this year, and there is also talk of a fine-dining restaurant in D.C.’s Navy Yard. 2503 N. Harrison St., Arlington, VA; peterchangarlington.com 

Finish reading this story on the Food Republic website now.


Are You Gonna Eat That? BLT Steak’s Foieffogato

The Dish: Foieffogato

Where to Get It: BLT Steak; 1625 I St. NW; (202) 689-8999; e2hospitality.com/blt-steak-washington-dc

Price: $13

What It Is: Perhaps the most decadent and unconventional affogato of all time. The ice cream mimics the flavor of buttery movie-style popcorn, while the silky, froth-topped coffee component combines reduced espresso, cream, milk, and caramelized foie gras accented with fresh thyme, allspice, mace, and nutmeg. “You have to find a delicate balance between the ingredients,” says executive chef Will Artley. “You want to taste the foie and have the mouthfeel from it, but it can’t be overwhelming. If it lingers on your palate, it’s not great, especially since you’re not following it with another course.”

Finish reading this story on the Washington City Paper website now.


Finding the right help, at the right time

Sometimes parents need a helping hand. It starts from the moment you see the plus sign appear in the little window on the pregnancy test and never stops. My wife, Indira, and I both wanted a doula be a part of her birthing experience. We felt that having an advocate in the room, who was familiar with the ins and outs of the process and meshed with our personalities would make my wife more comfortable – both emotionally and physically.

We extensively researched all the options available in the area by reading countless online reviews, asking for referrals from friends and acquaintances and getting advice from the team at Wisdom Midwifery at George Washington University Hospital. Eventually, we found a woman who appeared to be the perfect doula.

Finish reading this story on the Washington Post’s On Parenting blog.