Tell bread to rise and it ignores you. It will rise of its own accord. You can’t make it rise faster. It often requires work, and lots of it. Baking bread is a contact sport, and you must give it your hands, arms, and heart. In all these ways, it is a holy act. It is an act of patience, belief, and faith.
Lately the only thing that makes me feel better is cooking and baking, and baking bread most of all. I can’t write or read or multi-task while I bake bread. It helps me to pause, be quiet, and reflect. It demands my mind, my hands, and my attention for a certain amount of time, and then it demands I leave it alone for a good long while.
So if you’re feeling lost or disillusioned or confused, even angry or sad or disappointed, I suggest stocking your cupboard with the magic combination of flour, salt, and yeast. Add some water, tuck it away for a while in a warm, cozy place, and magical things will begin to happen. It will rise. And you will rise with it.
Ever wonder what it’s like to be a competitor on the Food Network show Chopped? Wonder no more. Today is my first installment of the “Behind the Scenes” segments for the Breaking Bread Podcast and I’m talking to Chef Demetrio Zavala, Executive Chef at DC’s Lincoln, Declaration, and Teddy and the Bull Bar. He became a Chopped Champion in October 2016. Chef Demetrio tells me what it’s like to be on Chopped. We talked about his love for his work, his business, his team, and most of all, his guests. I visited him at Lincoln to give you a full sense of the fun and festive atmosphere that he creates in all of his restaurants. Let’s listen in…
“I fell in love with my work and dedicated my life to it.” ~Jiro Ono
A friend of mine recommended I watch the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It’s about Jiro Ono. 85-years-old, he is considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. (Yes, the finest food can be found in a subway station!)
Humble and unassuming in appearance, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious three-star Michelin Guide rating. Sushi fan from all over the world repeatedly visit and make reservations months in advance. Jiro is completely unimpressed with himself. At 85, he says he is still searching for perfection, still trying to get better every minute of every day. He is also a fierce advocate for greater environmental regulations to protect the oceans and wildlife.
His dedication, passion, and commitment to his work is without equal. I enjoy my work but I don’t have what he has. It gave me something to aspire to, to search for. I’m looking.
If you’re election weary, here’s my uplifting podcast episode featuring Food & Friends, one of my favorite organizations in D.C. Please feel free to spread this good news far and wide! Food & Friends provides one million specialized nutritious meals a year in the greater D.C. area to individuals and families who are undergoing treatment for HIV / AIDS and cancer, and those who are in hospice care. It’s a mission I’m proud to support as a volunteer and as a donor. This year I’m spending Thanksgiving volunteering at Food & Friends to send out 600 prepared Thanksgiving dinners to help their clients celebrate this wonderful holiday.
To learn more about Food & Friends and how you can support this incredible work, visit their website at foodandfriends.org.
I am so excited to let you know that The Breaking Bread Podcast launches today. Check out my interview with the Capital Area Food Bank and learn about all of the incredible work they do to support 444 food-based organizations in the D.C. area who in turn help hundreds of thousands of our neighbors every year who face food insecurity on a daily basis. It’s an inspiring story about food as a social justice issue, the fight to end hunger, and our ability to help our city grow stronger and healthier together.
Today I’m heading over to Food & Friends, one of my favorite D.C. charities, to talk about the work they do, the role of collaboration in alleviating hunger, food equity, and nutrition as a key driver of improved health. This is the first traveling segment of the Breaking Bread Podcast and I’m so excited to highlight an organization that gives so much to our neighbors who need our care and support. Stay tuned!
Yesterday I had a great time getting a tour of the hydroponic garden on top of Union Market. The garden is owned, run, and used by the restaurant Bidwell. It inspired me to think about how I might do something like this once I buy my own apartment. It’s possible to farm just about anywhere now thanks to technology. The Breaking Bread podcast might soon be recording surrounded by the food that’s about to be served.
Here are some pictures from the roof garden at Union Market!
I watched a segment on CBS Sunday morning about agrihoods, housing developments that have a farm as their anchor. This isn’t community gardening; this is a true working farm, run by professional farmers who make their livelihood from the sale of its fruits and vegetables that are purchased by people who live within a few miles of the farm. We spend all this time and money building developments that have pools, retail space, and other glitzy amenities. Why not have healthy, local food and job creation be an amenity? Couldn’t D.C. do that?
On a crowded corner of Plaza Vieja in Old Havana, you’ll find the best ice cream you’ve ever had. Coco Glace is nothing more than coconut milk, coconut water, and pieces of coconut served in a half coconut shell and it’s incredible. I devoured it with my new friends on our last day in Cuba under a brutal sun and sky-high humidity.
Alex, the maker of Coco Glace, is pleased to tell you that he loves Madonna and Beyoncé, hates Taylor Swift, loves America, hates Chris Brown, loves being gay, and will see you on Broadway as soon as he sells enough Coco Glace to get himself out of Cuba. He calls himself the Beyoncé of ice cream, and in my humble opinion he isn’t exaggerating. Coco Glace is incredible. I’ve been dreaming about it ever since eating that first marvelous spoonful.
Cuba was full of simple pleasures like Coco Glace. Nothing there is extravagant, but it’s honest, pure, and real. There are no additives – in the food, in the people, or in their way of life. There are no pretenses. People and things are exactly what they appear to be, and in this day and age that is a triumph.
After finishing my ice cream, I made my way back to Alex and told him how amazing his ice cream is.
“Mami, ju don’t know how happy you just made me,” said Alex. I love ju. I love America. I’ll see you there soon! Look for me. Tell Beyoncé!” I just smiled and said I would. So Beyoncé, consider yourself told that you have a Cuban compatriot who puts on a show for all his customers and he is fabulous.
I hope someday I’m strolling down the Great White Way and that I look up and see Alex’s joyful smile and unapologetic moxie plastered all over a giant marquee. And I hope Coco Glace is one of the many things we exchange with our Cuban neighbors. Maybe Beyoncé could make both those dreams come true.
On Friday night, I joined a meetup group to get a behind-the-scenes tour and tasting at Union Market. That area of northeast DC had been a bustling area of the city for a century before it fell into decay in the 1960s. About 10 years ago, just as I was leaving the city to go to grad school at UVA, this area started to be revitalized and Union Market is now a magnet for residents, visitors, and businesses alike.
The premise of Union Market is a food incubator, allowing enterprising people to launch a food-based business for a fraction of the price it usually costs to enter the market. These startups are varied and thriving—from brothers who own a knife sharpening business to bakeries to a 1950s-style soda shop to spice vendors to seafood to BBQ—Union Market is showcasing the very best of DC’s future food scene.
The aromas and visuals were stunning, though what really got me was the energy, the spirit of the place. Customers were smiling, laughing, and chatting. Business owners were happily cooking and serving up love on many plates and in many glasses. Union Market is a place rich in possibility, and that is a wonderful thing.