Washington, D.C.

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Ringing in the new year

Written by Chaz on 23 March 2012

After Christmas in New Mexico, I winged over to Washington for New Years with my friends Joanna, Seth, George and Ben. The visit had two culinary highlights, an authentic Szechuan feast and a great brunch, but one of our first activities was a chilly picnic at Gravelly Point Park right next to National Airport.

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Our Szechuan feast was at Sichuan Pavilion in Rockville, Md., though it has apparently since changed its name to Sichuan Jin River. It was unsurprisingly a recommendation from the ever-reliable Tyler Cowen, who started it all. It was my first Szechuan food since our Szechuan meal in Hong Kong, and I was curious to see how the two compared, as our Hong Kong meal was unlike anything I’ve had or seen in the United States. It was much, much spicier and generally more willing to experiment with very strong flavors.

We began the meal with four terrific appetizers: dan dan noodles, which were extremely spicy in an unusual and different way; jelly noodles, also very spicy and of a texture I have never before encountered; dumplings; and Chinese pizza, which was actually delicious even if the scallion pancakes were the most vanilla thing on the table. The two noodle dishes were really the highlight of the visit, though. Both were recommendations from Tyler and he did not mislead us.

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Our entrees were equally impressive. We had a ginger pork with crispy rice cakes that was phenomenal both in its flavor and its textures, a chicken dish that was thankfully not as spicy as the dish it most closely resembled in Hong Kong, an eggplant dish that Emmy would have loved, and and a duck dish that came with these Michelin-man-like puffy buns.

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The food was really fantastic, and I say that as someone who is very disillusioned with eating Chinese food in the U.S. It had distinct flavors, textures and combinations that I’ve never had before at a mainstream Chinese restaurant. This was the real deal, and it was great.

Our brunch was at Kramerbooks, the Dupont Circle institution known for its hybrid excellent bookstore and excellent restaurant. Between us, we had a crab quesadilla (great and surprisingly large), eggs Benedict, a lox and egg scramble, and oatmeal.

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Though not nearly as exciting and adventurous as our trip to Rockville, it was still a great brunch. And, of course, it was great to welcome the new year with my friends in D.C.!

What I’m thankful for

Written by Chaz on 8 January 2012

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The family, the food, the fun — I really like the ritual of it all, and I especially like that, unlike most other holidays, there’s an actual reason for the celebration that people remember and care about. I love the energy of people gathering from all over the country to spend the holiday together.

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One of my only hesitations about studying abroad in the fall was missing Thanksgiving in the U.S., but since there were many more reasons not to go in the spring, I did it anyway. My friends Gene and Joanna ended up coming to visit me in Stockholm for the Thanksgiving week. Along with some of my friends from my program, we made a Thanksgiving dinner consisting of a small turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, and Stove Top stuffing that Gene and Joanna had to bring with them from Providence.

We cooked in the home of one of my friend’s host families. In Sweden, Thanksgiving is, of course, just another Thursday. So when my friend’s hosts got home from work, a feast was ready for them in their kitchen. We sat down at their dining room table and explained the tradition of going around the table for everyone to say what they’re thankful for. All of us had a lot to be thankful for that Thanksgiving, and I will never forget the experience of sharing the tradition of Thanksgiving with the Swedish family, my friends from abroad, and my friends from Brown.

This year, I spent Thanksgiving in Bethesda, Md., just outside Washington, with some of my family’s oldest friends. At this Thanksgiving, the tradition is for everyone to make one dish. My mother, who is a master chef, did more than her share, handling the turkey, gravy and stuffing. In response to popular demand from people who have had her turkey, she had written up a Thanksgiving memo that details the steps to prepare her recipe, starting the day before and going right up to the moment the food is served. So she was slaving away starting Wednesday evening when we arrived.

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On Thursday, my mother began to cook the turkey itself. After stuffing the turkey, buttering it, and covering it, it was ready for the oven.

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After a few hours, it was ready to come out. But this proved easier said than done.

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After the turkey was safely extricated, my mother turned her attention to the gravy. Using the roasting pan from the turkey, she added a few secret ingredients and began cooking it down.

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Meanwhile, all over the kitchen and even the house, others were working on pulling together their own contributions to the Thanksgiving dinner. I was on mashed potatoes duty, which is a pretty last-minute operation. As soon as the turkey came out of the oven, though, it was immediately filled with other dishes — rolls, sweet potatoes, green beans, brussel sprouts, spinach, pies and more.

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Before long, it was time to carve the turkey and assemble the various dishes for people to claim their first plates. In a matter of minutes, a shockingly large buffet materialized.

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Once dinner was on the table and served, it was time for firsts, seconds and thirds. My mother outdid herself again with the turkey, and everyone else’s dishes were delicious as well. I had to restrain myself from having more of the dinner to save room for pie.

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It was a wonderful holiday with terrific friends, family and food. Only eleven months until the next one!

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A northeastern interlude

Written by Chaz on 7 September 2011

After I got back from Maine, I headed down to our nation’s capital for a few days to visit friends. Highlights included a birthday dinner at Blue Duck Tavern with Diana’s family, a delicious Thai meal at Elephant Jumps in Falls Church — I survived ordering my entree “Thai spicy,” their highest level — and a trip to the Udvar-Hazy Center annex of the Air and Space Museum, out by Dulles Airport, where Joanna and I saw a Concorde and a Space Shuttle.

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My friend Diana and I left Washington together and took a bus to the Jersey shore, where we had one beautiful day and one stormy day on the beach. I also had a great photo shoot with her adorable little brother Jack.

After I got back to Philadelphia, Joanna came up to join me for a couple days of camping in Ricketts Glen State Park, one of the gems of Pennsylvania’s state park system. Ricketts Glen is known for the Falls Trail, a loop through a series of beautiful waterfalls. We had a great time roughing it, if you can call car camping roughing it.

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Both great trips with wonderful people!