Fishing — and making memories — with his dad in Costa Rica

“It wasn’t like this the last time I was here,” my father harrumphed as we cast our lines toward the shallows of Lake Arenal.

It was easy to believe him. We’d been fishing for more than two hours and there’d been nary a nibble. He had visited this lake in the northern reaches of Costa Rica nearly two decades earlier. His fond memories of bringing up more than his fair share of guapote, a cichlid fish with hypnotic spotting, and razor-toothed machaca had become one of his favorite tales to tell at family get-togethers, cocktail parties and anywhere else he could find an audience.

I didn’t mind that we hadn’t caught dinner yet. It was a sunny morning in early November of last year. A few wispy clouds punctuated the blue sky, and a slight breeze ruffled the lake, keeping us cool. At the far southeastern end, a wall of mist obscured Arenal Volcano, an active peak that had experienced its last major eruption in 1998.

I wasn’t sure that my father and I would ever have another day quite like this one. Although he’s the most active and adventurous 86-year-old I know, his hearing and eyesight have been slowly deteriorating in recent years, and he often gets dizzy spells — aftershocks from a decade-old stroke. Back home in Washington, my wife was eight months pregnant. Soon my responsibilities and schedule would change, making long trips like this one difficult.

“Let’s try trolling,” our guide, Sancho, suggested as he fired up the outboard motor at the end of his flat-bottomed johnboat.

He guided us away from the water’s edge until we were 100 yards out, then angled us parallel to the jungle-covered shoreline. As we cast our lines on opposite sides, I mentally crossed my fingers in the hope that we would catch something. I didn’t want this new adventure to end in disappointment for my father, who clearly wanted to add some new myths to his storytelling arsenal.

“I’ve got something!” I heard him exclaim behind me. Unfortunately, when he pulled in his line, he found an immature, six-inch machaca wriggling at the end of it.

Thankfully, his next strikes yielded a pair of two-pound fish that were tossed into an ice chest after a few quick smacks to the head. After another hour, I managed to add another to our haul. It wasn’t enough to brag about, but it would be enough for dinner.

Finish reading this story on the Washington Post website.

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Up to Snuff

Though D.C.’s restaurants and bars have been smoke-free since 2007, tobacco is still finding its way in. Chefs and mixologists are incorporating loose leaves to add a slight kick and a compelling dried-grass finish that works especially well with darker beverages like bourbon, coffee and black tea. “You get the flavor of a cigarette,” says Jack Rose bartender Amy Russell of the restaurant’s tobacco-infused cocktail, “without smelling like an ashtray after you drink it.” And although these tobacco-laced cocktails (and one dessert) are tempting enough to double up on, you won’t need to worry about developing a nicotine habit, as the amount in them is negligible.

Smoker’s Delight

PX, 728 King St., Alexandria; 703-299-8385, www.eamonnsdublinchipper.com/px. (Braddock Road)

A few years back, Restaurant Eve chef Cathal Armstrong was trying to quit smoking. His master mixologist, Todd Thrasher, decided to taunt him during his detox with a cigarette-inspired cocktail, the Smoker’s Delight ($13), which he featured on the menu at his nearby speakeasy, PX. Thrasher created a sweet “tea” out of sugar, water and a small amount of dried tobacco. “I change the type of tobacco all the time,” Thrasher says. “I started with a Virginia varietal, but I’ve used clove cigarettes and pipe tobacco.” He combines an eyedropper’s worth of this mixture, Woodford Reserve bourbon, a squeeze of fresh lemon and a little honey syrup and serves it up in a martini glass with a coil of lemon peel.

Finish reading this article on the Washington Post Express website now.

Photo courtesy of PX.

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Glaze of Glory – Doughnuts are rising in popularity as restaurants give them a gourmet twist

Biting into a freshly fried glazed doughnut is one of life’s true joys. The crispy brown exterior gives way to a fluffy center. It’s sweet, warm and oh-so-comforting—like the best parts of childhood rolled into one bite. We revel in the moment, knowing that soon, all that will remain is the sticky glaze on our fingertips.

We’re not talking about the boxed doughnuts that you’ll find at the grocery store, however. Nor do we mean those that have been sitting out for hours (if not days) at the bakery. The golden circlets we’re referring to have hit the big time—they’re the new cupcake—and are showing up with gourmet twists and international inspiration on dessert menus at area restaurants.

“A doughnut is like a burger or a pizza—there are a million different things you can do with it,” says Chris Mack, executive chef at Rockville’s Quench, which offers a doughnut dessert (seen above).

Here are seven spots where you can get delicious doughnuts that are sure to satisfy your inner Homer Simpson.

Cava Mezze Grill
4832 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda, 301-656-1772, cavagrill.com
The Greeks have given the world innumerable epicurean inventions—gyros, souvlaki and feta cheese are among their tastier creations. To that list we’d add loukoumades. These fried doughnut balls were traditionally served to Olympic champions in ancient Greece, but you can enjoy them today without hurling a javelin or running a marathon. Made to order at this mecca of Mediterranean food, these gold-medal desserts come in a paper bag with a snowfall of powdered sugar. Crackly on the outside and soft at the core, they’re best when eaten while still warm. Price: $3.50 per order.

Finish reading this story on the Bethesda Magazine website now.

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Founding Farmers Cookbook Signings in Washington, DC

I’m excited to announce a series of signings in the DC metro area to commemorate the publication of The Founding Farmers Cookbook: 100 Recipes for True Food & Drink from the Restaurant Owned by American Family Farmers. The restaurant’s executive chef, Joe Goetze, will be hand at all of these events to also autograph copies. Hope to see you there!

Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show – Cookbook Sale and Signing
Saturday November 2 from 12pm-3pm and Sunday November 3 from 11am-2pm
Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mt. Vernon Place, Washington, DC

Founding Farmers DC – Cookbook Release/Signing Event
Tuesday, November 5, 4-7pm
1924 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC
Guests who purchase two or more cookbooks at the event receive a $10 Be Our Guest Gift Card for Farmers Restaurant Group locations.

MoCo’s Founding Farmers – Cookbook Release/Signing Event
Wednesday, November 6, 4-7pm
12505 Park Potomac Ave., Potomac, MD
Guests who purchase two or more cookbooks at the event receive a $10 Be Our Guest Gift Card for Farmers Restaurant Group locations.

Farmers Fishers Bakers – Cookbook Release/Signing Event
Thursday, November 7, 5-8pm
3000 K Street NW / The Washington Harbour, Washington, DC
Guests who purchase two or more cookbooks at the event receive a $10 Be Our Guest Gift Card for Farmers Restaurant Group locations.

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Japanese Whiskey Teases U.S. Consumers By Playing Hard To Get

Scotland is the de facto king of whisky. But now an unlikely challenger — Japan — is making a name for its whiskey far beyond its borders. Unfortunately for Americans, this highly coveted Japanese whiskey is very hard to come by.

“I stock everything that’s currently available,” says Eddie Kim, beverage director at the Japanese izakaya Daikaya in Washington, D.C. “I’d take more [Japanese whiskey] if it was out there.” Currently, he has on hand two Nikka and four Suntory whiskies — two big Japanese producers and the only ones that export to the U.S.

Japanese distillers have tried to emulate Scotch whisky production, so the flavors are similar. But you’ll find that the whiskies from Japan are smoother and a tad sweeter than what you’ll get from Scotland.

So why won’t Japanese producers just send us more of their delightful spirit? For one, they aren’t all that confident that Americans will drink their whiskey the “right” way. “Japanese whiskey distillers are very protective of their product,” says Kim. “It’s a made for Japanese palates, so it needs context.”

Finish reading this story on NPR’s The Salt blog.

Photo courtesy of Suntory.

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Pied-à-Air

Forget the rickety little structures of our childhoods: Today’s tree houses are decidedly upscale

Look up in the trees this spring and you’re likely to spot more than birds, squirrels and the occasional lost balloon. All over the Bethesda area, people are branching out into their backyards by building tree houses. And these lofty abodes aren’t just a few leftover planks nailed together and lodged in the notch of an old maple, either. They’re handcrafted playhouses for kids—and occasionally adults—that can cost as much as a small car or more.

Homeowners looking to put up a treetop dwelling have three options: Do it themselves; hire a general contractor or yard design specialist, such as Fine Earth Landscape in Poolesville; or call in a tree house expert, such as Nelson Treehouse and Supply in Fall City, Wash., or Tree Top Builders of West Chester, Pa., both of which have worked on projects in the Bethesda area.

No matter who does the heavy lifting, builders say tree houses are a growing trend. “We’re getting more and more requests for them,” says Joel Hafner, 45, owner of Fine Earth Landscape. “I think it’s because people had—or wish they had—a tree house when they were kids, and now they want their children to experience one.”

So how does someone get into the business of building arboreal abodes?

“I had to create this job for myself,” says Pete Nelson, founder of Nelson Treehouse and Supply. “I thought that if I could set myself up as the tree house guy, it would be a neat way to do all the things I love—design, architecture, using my hands and traveling.”

Finish reading this story on the Bethesda Magazine website now.

Photo courtesy of Erick Gibson.

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Chefs’ Tests – When the experts dine out, critical thinking is the order of the day

There’s nothing wild about the kitchen at Bethesda’s Wildwood Kitchen during the lunchtime rush. Chef-owner Robert Wiedmaier presides over the quietly energetic operation like a conductor wearing an apron instead of a tuxedo.

As each dish comes to him, he studies it for a moment. He might add a drizzle of harissa oil or wipe a smidge of something off the plate’s edge. Sometimes he just gives a satisfied nod. Once he’s sure that every element is right, he sends the food out to the waiting diner.

“I’m a mistake finder,” he admits later, after he has stepped away from the kitchen. “I’m trained to look for problems.”

If you think you’re a picky diner, you should see a restaurant through chefs’ eyes. They’re always looking for imperfections from every possible angle. And they go out a lot to see what the competition is doing and to catch up with their industry friends.

“I study everything from the moment that I walk in,” says Wiedmaier, who dines out three times a week in between working in his six restaurants. “Are the windows clean? Are the lights working? Did somebody welcome me? Were they smiling?”

That initial impression is key, as well, for chef Joe Goetze of MoCo’s Founding Farmers in Potomac. “It’s all about the first 30 seconds for me,” he says. “I want a restaurant to stimulate my brain and be creative about it.”

Once they sit down, chefs survey their surroundings again. “I don’t like flowers on the table,” says Bryan Voltaggio, chef-owner of Range in Friendship Heights. “If their scent is too strong, it can overcome the aroma of the food.”

Finish reading this article on the Bethesda Magazine website now.

Photo courtesy of Bethesda Magazine.

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13 Mind-Blowing Bites & Sips From the 2013 Fancy Food Show

I’m back in D.C., but I’m still savoring my three days at the Fancy Food Show. Here are 13 bites and sips that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Maple Jelly by Northeast Kingdom Vermont Condiments

Why didn’t someone think of this sooner? If they have, I haven’t seen it. This is simply a mixture of maple syrup and a flavorless gelling agent, so the maple really pops. This and a pat of butter on an English muffin would be a great way to start any day.

Original Hot Pepper Sauce by Hot Diggidy Dog

Yowser! This stuff is damn hot, but damn good. Its creator, Simon Llewellyn, devised the recipe while he was stationed aboard nuclear submarines on months-long expeditions.

Cinnamon and Sakay Chocolate Bar by Madécasse

You can’t beat this sweet heat. The bar is dotted with bits of sakay peppers from Madagascar, which is where this company’s founders all served in the Peace Corps.

Mariachi Mac ‘n’ Cheese by Beecher’s

Mac ‘n’ cheese with a Mexican accent. Anaheim chilies add a little kick to the rich, gooey mass of penne and Beecher’s signature Flagship cheese.

Orange Blossom Champagne Vinegar by O Olive Oil

So delicate that you could sip it straight from the bottle, though it works well in martinis, too. I’m already plotting to use it in a spinach and walnut salad with citrus slivers.

1888 Dirtiest Martini Mix by Auryn Industries

Now you don’t have to cannibalize your jarred olives for their juice. Instead, top shelf Spanish olives are pressed, so their briny liquid can be bottled separately. If you’re wondering why the company is called 1888, it’s because that’s when the first martini recipe was published.

Pop Corn Pop Chocolate Bar by Chuao Chocolatier

This clever confection is spiked with house-made Pop Rocks, which add snap, crackle, and, well, pop. If only movie theater popcorn was this good, we wouldn’t mind getting gouged at the concession stand.

Sitka Spruce Tip Sea Salt by Alaska Pure Hand Crafted Sea Salt

Slightly woody, slightly coniferous, and totally winning. Great for cedar plank salmon or lightly sprinkled on French fries along with some rosemary (Dip those frites in some Sir Kensington’s spiced ketchup while you’re at it).

Espresso Coffee Soda by Manhattan Special

You can’t go wrong with the classics. This sweet, strong, super bubbly soda is the perfect pick-me-up at any time of day.

Just the Cheese Corn by G.H. Cretors

If I had a vending machine in my man cave, erm, basement, I’d stock it to the gills with this cheesy popcorn. Luckily, there’s an exercise bike down there, so I won’t feel too bad when I eat four bags of this in a single sitting.

Albacore Tuna Fillets in EVOO by Wild Planet

Tuna you can feel good about eating. Pole or troll caught, it’s 100% sustainable and 100% delicious.

Honey Aleppo Pepper Seasoning Mix by Victoria Gourmet

Smokey, sweet, and spicy, this seasoning mix hits all the right notes. Great for grilling, so fire up the Weber and get down to business.

Free Trade Certified Organic Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract by Nielsen-Massey

Vanilla with a conscience. An excellent addition to any pantry. 

Photo courtesy of Chuao Chocolatier.

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