My Year: Sharon Jones

2013 was supposed to be Sharon Jones’s year. She and The Dap-Kings had just finished recording their fifth album, a stirring amalgam of soul, funk, blues and torch balladry entitled Give the People What They Want. It was a decidedly uplifting album, a reaction to a brutal period of emotional bruising in her life. She had lost her mother to cancer two years earlier, while Dap-Kings tenor saxophonist Neal Sugarman’s brother had passed around the same time, so both musicians were hoping to put their pain behind them. Though Jones didn’t know it, there was still more suffering to come.

In early May of 2013, the then-57-year-old singer was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous tumor. After doctors removed it in June using an arduous seven-hour Whipple procedure surgery, they had more bad news for her: she had stage II pancreatic cancer. Jones immediately began a vigorous chemotherapy regimen. “When I went to sleep that night, I thought I was going to die,” she says. “I thought people would never get to hear me play live again.”

Then, with a guttural laugh, she adds morbidly, “On the upside, I’d probably then sell a million albums.”

Finish reading this story on the FLOOD website.


The Third Wave Coffee Shop Adopts Cocktails

Amble into Washington, D.C.’s Slipstream during the morning hours and you’ll be met with a small army of baristas lined up behind the dark wood bar, ready to pull an espresso or fire up the Seraphin automatic pour-over machine. The menu features a few surprises—a house-made soda flavored with dried coffee cherries and an espresso tonic—but the place offers everything you’d expect from a craft coffeehouse. That is, until you notice the shelving behind the countertop. Instead of neatly arrayed bags of MadCap beans, there are rows of liquor bottles—a not-so-subtle clue that the coffee shop enjoys something of a double life.

Slipstream is one of a growing number of hybrid coffee-cocktail bars across the country—from the Octane micro-chain in Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama to Phoenix’s Lux Central and NYC’s The Randolph at Broome—where you can do shots of espresso at breakfast and come back for a Manhattan during happy hour.

The duality of concepts leads to an unusual mixture of customers. “We’ll have a room full of high schoolers in study groups and adults by the fireplace drinking cocktails,” says Lori Chandler, owner of Take Five Coffee + Bar in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. “From a social aspect, this has been going on forever in Europe. I’m surprised it didn’t happen over here sooner.”

Finish reading this story on the Punch website now.


Take A Bite Out Of Ringo: Giant Cookies Honor Pop Culture Icons

Chocolate chip. Oatmeal raisin. Snickerdoodle.

When it comes to cookies, these are the classics. They aren’t the prettiest confections in the bakery case, but you don’t feel guilty about gobbling them until only crumbs remain.

You will probably hesitate, however, about nibbling on an edge of one of the artfully decorated sugar cookies from Snickety Snacks.

Twenty-nine-year-old Brittanie Reed and her mother, Wendy Fitt, 51, are the self-taught pastry pros behind a catering company based in Lovettsville, Va., that specializes in hand-painted sugar cookies of musicians and pop culture icons. Among their inspirations? Calvin and Hobbes, the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine and poppy emo rockers Fall Out Boy.

The venture began as a hobby for Reed in 2008. Four years later, her mother came on board, and Snickety Snacks became a licensed business (they also make customized cakes, cupcakes and cake bites). Forget Ace of Cakes. These ladies are the Queens of Cookies.

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


Ten Tips for Cooking with Little Chefs

My latest cookbook is It’s So Good: 100 Real Food Recipes for Kids, which encourages little chefs to spend time in the kitchen (under the supervision of an adult, of course). The recipes are simple, quick to make and incorporate a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, which I hope you’ll pick up at your local farmer’s market. However, I know parents can feel hesitant about tackling cooking projects with their children. Don’t worry mom and dad – it’s easier than you think. Here are 10 tips to make your time together fun, interactive and educational.

1. Plan ahead. To make kitchen projects as fuss-free as possible, make sure you have all the necessary ingredients and equipment on hand before you start.

2. Clean is cool. Everyone should wear an apron and clothes they don’t mind getting dirty, and don’t forget to clean your hands thoroughly before starting to work. 

3. Get ready to learn. Use your time cooking together to tell your children where your food comes from, how it’s grown and raised and the benefits it has for your bodies. 

4. Give clear instructions. Walk children through what you want them to do and how it helps create the finished dish.

5. Kids can cut. Give them a small plastic knife with a rounded edge to cut through herbs, peeled fruits and soft vegetables, like strawberries and tomatoes.

6. Tasting isn’t just okay, it’s encouraged. Try a small nibble of the ingredients that are safe to eat and test the dish along the way to make sure it’s seasoned properly. 

7. Ask their opinions. Find out what your children think about what you’re making, how you’re making it and what it tastes like.  

8. Be generous in your praise. A little encouragement can go a long way in building confidence in little chefs, which will get them excited to cook again in the future.

9. A mess will be made. Set aside time at the end of your work for everyone to clean up the kitchen together.

10. Above all, cooking with your children should be fun. So breathe deeply, laugh often and relax.

Now go get cooking!


Instagramming Food Porn For Restaurants? That’s A Real Job.

Society Fair’s butcher and self-described “curd nerd,” Justin Owens, is spooning out quenelles of pistachio-studded pâté. He’s placing them onto a butcher’s block adorned with artfully displayed rounds of Genoa ham, ribbony piles of Serrano ham, and triangular pork rillettes. While he creates the charcuterie platter, Vina Sananikone darts around him with her iPhone, trying to snap the perfect picture.

Wearing a carrot-colored sweater over a lace sundress and cowboy boots, she could never be mistaken for a member of the kitchen crew. Rather, she’s actually a multimedia maven—“that’s what it says on my business card,” she says.

Unhappy with the shot she got, Sananikone asks Owens to stop for a moment and pick up the twine he uses to ensure the meats are in perfectly straight lines. She checks her screen. “Hold it right there,” she instructs, and then takes the photograph. “Got it.”

Later that afternoon, the well-composed shot will appear on Society Fair’s Twitter and Instagram feeds. In the meantime, Sananikone heads into the back room of the upscale food emporium in Alexandria, where she works most days. On an elevated pub table, her laptop is set up—a sticker of a juice box coyly framing the glowing Apple logo—next to a pro-grade Canon camera and a flurry of papers. The space is framed by shelving on three sides jammed full of gear for the market: coffee filters, cupcake towers, and wooden berry baskets.

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


10 Perfect Gifts for Foodies

What do you get the food lover in your life that isn’t simply a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant? Here are ten far more creative suggestions to make their hearts sing and their taste buds zing.

Sriracha Wherever You Go

If you’re addicted to sriracha like I am, you want to put it on everything. There’s only one problem: it’s not always available. Thankfully, there’s now a solution. Just fill up this handy dandy travel-sized bottle ($7 each, Sriracha2Go) and clip it on to your keychain, backpack or purse. You are now free to continue indulging your addiction.

Sheep Shaped Lid Lifters

Allow your pots to blow off some steam with these ridiculously cute sheep shaped lid lifters ($6.99 each, Container Store). The black and white lambs can do double service as figurines in your nativity scene.

DIY Barrel Aged Gin

Add a new depth of flavor to your G&T with the barrel aged gin kit ($20, The Homemade Gin Kit). Lime wedge and highball glass not included.

Breakfast Sandwich Ornament

One of the greatest flavor combinations in the world is egg, cheese and Canadian bacon on an English muffin. Now that glorious A.M. kickoff is immortalized as a Christmas ornament ($13.96, Sur La Table).

Truffled Salt

Salt is good. Truffled salt is better ($19.96-44.95, Williams Sonoma). Way, way better. Pimp out your eggs, popcorn and mashed potatoes with a quick sprinkle of this umami-rich seasoning.

Pie Loving Tea Towel

‘Tis the season to bake pies galore. Add a little flair to your kitchen milieu with this darling tea towel from über-talented illustrator Elizabeth Graeber ($22, Etsy).

Peppermint Chocolate Fantasticness

The taste of Christmas in candy bar form ($8, Fleurir Chocolate). That means dark chocolate infused with peppermint oil populated with plenty of toasted cocoa nibs. I won’t tattle if you eat it all and don’t leave any out for Santa.

Chili Sauce Gift Set

Spice is nice. This beautifully packaged box included five bottles of small batch hot sauce: Thai Chili Sauce, Thai Basil Aji, Coconut Harissa, Pumpkin Panang and Ghost Vindaloo ($36, Apinya Thai Food Co.).

Books Books Books

This past year, I spent a lot of my spare time reading. Two of my favorite food-related books come from D.C. authors who I love and respect. Cathy Barrow delivered Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving ($23.96, Amazon), a beautifully packaged tome on pickling, jamming, making stocks and much, much more. Meanwhile, Jim Webster partnered up with this little-known chef named Mario Batali to write America – Farm to Table: Simple, Delicious Recipes Celebrating Local Farmers ($22.49, Amazon). Not to be forgotten is Matt Teacher’s The Spirit of Gin: A Stirring Miscellany of the New Gin Revival ($18.17, Amazon), which I recommend highly.

Yummy Greeting Cards

I can’t say enough awesome things about Grey Moggie, who produce some of the finest cards available right now. The epicurious crowd will especially love “Smile: Coffee Exists,” “Have You Tried It With Bacon?” and “Will You Go To the Farmer’s Market with Me?” ($5 each, Etsy).


Red Truck is rolling out another bakery — and thousands of holiday baked goods

It’s 5 a.m. on a dark, rainy November in the Rockwell-worthy hamlet of Warrenton, Va. Buttery yellow light shines through the garage-door windows of what was once an Esso gas station, refracting off the downpour. Though the day hasn’t begun for most people, Red Truck Bakery is already humming.

The cozy kitchen is rich with the aroma of maple syrup and toasting pecans, which dot the pumpkin muffins almost ready to come out of the oven. Just-baked croissants, scones and muffins cool on racks, while a batch of dough for sunflower wheat bread rises in a plastic bin. A rustic mix of classic country and vintage rock, including Johnny Cash and Neil Young, pours out of small speakers.

At the center worktable, Brian Noyes, his apron dusted with flour, rolls out pie crusts and sets them into pans.

Finish reading this story on the Washington Post website now.


Five Reasons I’m Switching from Whole Foods to Relay Foods

I don’t normally blog about stuff like this, but Relay Foods has made such a positive impact on my family’s weekly provisioning routine I feel compelled to write about them. Here are five great reasons why they’re better than Whole Foods, which has been my go-to grocery store for years.

1. Charlottesville-based Relay Foods makes a strong effort to showcase producers from the Capital Region, such as Growl, Moorenko’sCava Mezze and dozens of other local businesses.

2. It’s Whole Foods quality, but you won’t spend your whole paycheck shopping with Relay Foods.

3. It’s easy to fill the virtual shopping basket over the course of the week. I submit our order only after the selections have been double-checked and I’m sure we’re within our budget.

4. The pickup locations are easy to access and there’s a robust schedule, which means it’s stress-free getting groceries on any weekday (you can also pay an additional fee to have your order delivered to your home).

5. Setting up recurring orders to ensure we always get the staples – Trickling Springs organic whole milk, eggs from Nature’s Yoke and organic bananas – is just the click of a virtual button.

Bonus: No waiting in long lines at the checkout or jockeying for a parking space!

If you want to give this fantastic grocery service a try, just follow this link to get $30 off your first order of $50 or more (full disclosure, I’ll get a $30 credit as well).