The Life and Times of the Plastic Swizzle Stick

The tiki god glass nestled amidst the bottles of my home bar bristles with a fantastical array of plastic swizzle sticks. There’s the yellow putter from the Brae Burn Country Club, a red, lobster-topped relic from Hugo’s in Cohasset, Massachusetts and the see-through turquoise marlin emblazoned with Jimmy’s Harborside Restaurant. My favorite is a slender white stirrer topped with a miniature billboard reading “Memo: See you at the office.”

I inherited these relics from my late grandfather. He spent a lot of time out on the road in New England as a publisher’s sales rep in the mid-1950s and on through the end of the following decade. Whenever he stopped for a meal, he ordered a cocktail (or two), which usually arrived with swizzle stick jutting up from its depths. The idea was that patrons would take them home—like they would a book of matches—as a reminder of the bar or restaurant. For the establishments, the imprinted plastic utensils were branding tools.

The origins of these plastic stirrers, while muddled, have their roots in the Caribbean. The term “swizzle” begins appearing in literature in the 19th century, though it refers to a longstanding cocktail tradition—not a bartending implement. According to Edward Randolph Emerson’s Beverages, Past and Present: An Historical Sketch of Their Production (1908) a swizzle was a cocktail from St. Kitts “composed of six parts water to one of rum and an aromatic flavouring.”

Finish reading this story on Punch now.

Photo courtesy of Siddie Nam/Flickr.



The Ten: Unconventional Burgers That Will Blow Your Mind

So many choices, so little time. The Ten is your guide to the best of the best that D.C. has to offer.

Next time you go out to get your burger fix, think beyond the usual suspects. By playing around with peculiar proteins, tasty trimmings and bizarre buns, restaurants have come up with new spins on the iconic American favorite.

Wisconsin Grilled Cheeseburger
Just writing about this burger (seen above) from Farmers Fishers Bakers can cause a heart attack. Nearly half a pound of ground beef plus bacon, onions and tomatoes are crammed between two grilled cheese sandwiches.

Born To Be Wild
Thunder Burger loves to showcase unexpected beasts. Case in point is this boar burger with Havarti cheese, pineapple salsa and remoulade.

Yummy Bunny
Sorry, Bugs. The rabbit burger at Lincoln is dressed up wiht pickled white asparagus, lemon arugula and apricot mustard jam. It arrives on a carrot brioche bun, of course.

Big ‘n’ Beefy
Rí Rá Georgetown  believes that you can never have too much beef. That’s why they put shaved prime rib on top of their 202 Burger, plus Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and horseradish aioli.

Finish reading this post on CityEats’ Plate blog now.

Photo courtesy of Farmers Fishers Bakers.



Food Comics Turn ‘ZAP’ And ‘POW’ Into ‘Sizzle’ And ‘Bubble’

Comic book heroes don’t have to wear brightly colored spandex or possess superpowers to capture readers’ imaginations anymore. They can don toques and wield whisks instead.

A growing number of comic artists are focusing on what’s on their plates, rather than dreaming up intergalactic showdowns and caped crusader capers.

So less ZAP, BOOM, POW. More sizzle, crackle, bubble.

On one end of the spectrum, you can find a mash-up of Dungeons & Dragons and a Top Chef Quickfire Challenge in Eric Feurstein’s webcomic and comic book Rutabaga: Adventure Chef. It follows the fantasy styled exploits of its titular hero and his miniature cauldron sidekick named Pot.

In between the slaying of dragons and questing for magical treasure, the duo whips up dishes, complete with recipes, both real (chicken kebabs with peanut sauce) and imaginary (stuffed monster meat rolls).

Personal stories about food have also found their way into comics, giving readers a bit of art to enjoy alongside a narrative. There’s the popular webcomic “Sauceome” in which creator Sarah Becan affectionately details her love of food and drink, along with her body image issues. And visual memoirist Mike Freiheit chronicles his time as a chef at a primate sanctuary in South Africa in his comic book Monkey Chef.

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

Art courtesy of Eric Feurstein’s Rutabaga: Adventure Chef.


Pancakes from scratch: Experiments in flapjacks even a kid would love

“Pancakes or waffles?” That’s what my father asked me almost every Saturday morning of my childhood.

I usually voted for the pancakes. They weren’t fancy: Dad simply added water, and sometimes an egg, to a few cups of Hansmann’s Mills buckwheat mix. If he was feeling particularly inspired, he would dot the griddled rounds with fresh blueberries or slivered strawberries. But I didn’t care what he put in or on them. His pancakes were just an excuse for me to drown my plate in maple syrup (the real deal, not the fake stuff in the aunt-shaped bottle).

It’s been a long time since my father manned the stove and cooked me breakfast. The spatula has been passed, and I’m now cooking for my 1-year-old son, Zephyr. I wanted to share my family’s pancake tradition with him, but I didn’t want my flapjacks to come out of a box.

Finish reading this story on the Washington Post website now.


Victor Albisu Grills Guac (Really!), Juggles Two Restaurants and Impresses His Mom (Sometimes)

Food and cooking have always been a central part of Victor Albisu’s life. He grew up outside Washington, D.C., the son of a restaurateur Cuban father and a Peruvian mother who owned a Latin market. After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu School in Paris, he scored a job at L’Arpege before returning home to work at a series of top-tier establishments, including Marcel’s and BLT Steak.

This spring he opened the fast-casual taqueria Taco Bamba and the white tablecloth South American steakhouse Del Campo, which Esquire recently named one of the year’s best new restaurants. While taking a break from tending the flames, Albisu told tell us how the heck he is able to grill guacamole, why he loves sausage, and who his favorite VIP diner has been.

Read the Q&A on Plate‘s website now (free registration required).

Photo courtesy of Greg Powers.


How One Chef Keeps the Focus on the Farm–While Opening More Restaurants – Q&A with Joe Goetze of Founding Farmers

Joe Goetze’s official title at Founding Farmers is executive chef, but everyone simply calls him “Chef Joe.” He presides over the kitchen at Founding Farmers, a farm-to-table concept in Washington, D.C. owned by the North Dakota Farmers Union. The restaurant is grounded in a philosophy of sustainable operations, natural ingredients, and regional sourcing (except for the Durham wheat, which comes straight from North Dakota).

Goetze oversees a menu that focuses on continental comfort food. It’s made from scratch daily, so there are no freezers—except to keep ice cream frozen and glasses chilled behind the bar. Many of his most popular dishes are represented in the restaurant’s first foray into publishing, The Founding Farmers Cookbook: 100 Recipes for True Food & Drink from the Restaurant Owned by American Family Farmers, which Andrews McMeel published at the end of October.

The restaurant group currently owns three eateries, including another location of Founding Farmers in Park Potomac, Md. and Farmers Fishers Bakers, which is situated down in D.C.’s Georgetown Waterfront. Goetze will have one more restaurant to keep tabs on next year, when the group opens its third Founding Farmers in Tyson’s Corner, Va. Goetze found time to chat with his about all of his impending projects and more.

Read the Q&A on Plate‘s website now (free registration required).

Photo courtesy of Founding Farmers.



Homemade baby food: Can it help you raise an adventurous eater?

Late last year, my pregnant wife and I were out for one of our last dinners together before we became parents. As a family with a pair of preschoolers sat down at the table next to us at 2 Amys, a part of me happily thought, “That could be us in a few years.”

When the waiter arrived to take their order, the mother put down the menu. “Could the kitchen make something for the kids? Maybe some buttered noodles or chicken nuggets? They won’t eat anything else.”

“I hope that isn’t us in a few years!” I thought.

I’m a food writer, so my diet spans the globe. One day I might be eating Ghanaian stew on a ball of fufu for lunch, then sushi for dinner; the next might include dim sum in the morning and roasted duck breast with orange marmalade at night. Don’t get me wrong: Chicken nuggets and buttered noodles aren’t inherently bad; I’ve enjoyed both. However, the thought of my child exclusively eating the so-called “beige diet” — fried foods and carbs — made my stomach churn.

So what could my wife, Indira, and I do to ensure that didn’t happen? Could we raise an adventurous eater?

As it turns out, my wife’s dinner that very night (anchovy crostini, burrata drizzled with olive oil, and prosciutto-topped Neapolitan pizza) was already stimulating and shaping our child’s tastes. So was the vegetable burrito, drenched in hot sauce, she had eaten for lunch.

“Learning about food occurs long before the first taste of food,” says Julie Mennella, a biopsychologist at the Monell Center in Philadelphia, where she studies how we learn and accept flavors. “The flavors of the mother’s diet get into the amniotic fluid.”

The same thing happens when the mother breast-feeds, she said. We had already decided that Indira would, and because her diet is nearly as varied as my own, she’d expose our child to a panoply of cuisines.

Born in early January, Zephyr was a healthy little boy with a full head of chestnut hair, a cute button nose and a ravenous hunger. The next few months were a happy blur, and it wasn’t long before we were talking about adding solid foods to his diet.

Though I have a set of rudimentary cooking skills, I’m no culinary maestro. Before Zephyr was born, Indira did most of the cooking, but now the opposite was true. Because I work from home, I had more time to spend in the kitchen.

Still, I needed help crafting the purees that Zephyr would like now and that could be the bridge to more complex solids. After consulting our pediatrician on a flurry of questions, I reached out to Tucker Yoder, executive chef of the Clifton Inn in Charlottesville and father of 11-year-old Ella, 9-year-old Joshua, 7-year-old Gabriel and 2-year-old Hannah. He agreed to come and teach me a few tricks.

Finish reading this article on the Washington Post website now.


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.