Friday, October 14, 2016

The White House Kitchen Garden, Washington, D.C.

Charles and Thomas overlooking the South Lawn
Last week, Charles and I visited Mrs. Obama's White House Kitchen Garden.

As foodies and food bloggers, we have been following the Garden activities since its inception, which dates back to when I was in 5th grade. It was such an honor to see it up close.

                                                                                                       Come along as we share this
extraordinary experience          with you.  
After we passed through security, we walked up the steep South Lawn hill towards the East Wing of the White House. I soon realized that I seriously underestimated its size: the space between the White House and the nearest avenue resembles a park. 

Jacqueline Kennedy Garden

According to the White House Garden Tour book, the grounds were purposely designed that way - "molded into a series of hills that give the impression of a sprawling rural landscape".

Our walk to the Kitchen Garden took us passed the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden located between the First Family's residence and the East Wing. 

This is the stunning view from the South Portico. Look closely
- can you see the Jefferson Memorial dome?

Charles and Thomas in front of the Truman Balcony


We continued our walk passed the South Portico where we enjoyed the sounds of a military band playing on the balcony. To the left of the South Portico sits the Rose Garden located just outside of the Oval Office.

President's podium 

Rose Garden and Oval Office

Adjacent to the Rose Garden, the Oval Office windows look out to the First Kid's play set. I wonder when they were younger if Malia and Sasha Obama ever knocked on the window to say "Hi" to their dad?

We continued walking, passed the Japanese Maple tree planted by President Cleveland and the fountain, then we saw it.

The White House Kitchen Garden!!!

The Garden is a symbol of Mrs. Obama's efforts to raise a new generation of healthier kids. Just days before our visit, Mrs. Obama unveiled new wooden, stone and steel features that will enable it to be a permanent fixture for future presidents.

Mrs. Obama established the four-season Kitchen Garden in 2009. It is believed to be the first White House vegetable garden since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden during World War II.

Last week Mrs. Obama unveiled this beautiful engraved stone
In its first nine months, the Kitchen Garden "yielded over a thousand pounds of produce," according to the tour book.  The harvest is used to feed the first family and guests at White House functions. A third of the garden's produce is donated to Miriam's Kitchen, a local organization that supports the homeless.

As you can see, the garden boosts an eclectic array of veggies, herbs and fruits. From the picture above, you can see the eggplant and tomato plants, but this is only about 10% of what the garden has to offer. There are over fifty varieties of seeds including many heirloom seeds.  

Although there are several raised beds, one in particular stood out. The raised bed named after President Thomas Jefferson contains seeds from his famous Monticello estate garden in Virginia, including lettuce, brussels sprouts, beets, kale and artichokes. 


The best part about the Kitchen Garden is how Mrs. Obama designed it: an interactive, hands-on place to learn about food.

Every year, Mrs. Obama invites students from around the country to help plant seeds and harvest produce.

From its inception, former White House Chef Sam Kass and now Current White House Chef Cristeta Comerford have been instrumental in using the Kitchen Garden to teach kids about the benefits of gardening and eating whole foods.

Bee Hive - located near the Kitchen Garden

The Obama's aren't the only family who reside at 1600 Pennslyania Ave. A family of bees - approximately 35,000 -  also call the White House home.

First Beekeeper Charlie Brandt and former White House Chef Sam Kass brought the bee colony to the White House lawn in 2009. Since that time, the bees have helped pollinate the Kitchen Garden and provide honey for the Obama family and state dinners.

To learn more about the Bee Hive click on the video.

Just before we exited, we noticed these farm machines parked slightly out of view. A nod to the reality that keeping up all the White House gardens and grounds is an enormous job.

Our visit was an amazing experience. I'm still in awe that I got to see the White House Kitchen Garden! I hope Mrs. Obama's new garden features will enable it to be a permanent addition to the South Lawn, so that others will have the same opportunity, as we did, to visit and learn from it.

Growing up in an Italian-American household, eating fresh, whole foods is a daily part of our lives. It is the reason we started this food blog five years ago. This tradition allows our bodies to operate with more stamina and strengthen our immune system. We plan to continue this tradition when we have families of our own.

We see the difference Mrs. Obama and other health advocates are making to improve the health of the next generation. We see our friends making better food choices. The Kitchen Garden and other health programs like it are making an impact.

Much thanks to the First Family and Mrs. Obama's organization Let's Move for leading the charge.

Here's one more cool video I found that demonstrates how the White House utilizes the Kitchen Garden for State Dinners.

- Thomas

Monday, October 3, 2016

Booeymonger - Washington, D.C.

Window seating overlooking Wisconsin Ave.

Booeymonger is a delicatessen that specializes in overstuffed creative sandwiches. Conveniently located just steps from the Friendship Heights metro stop on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, DC.

Although Booeymonger prides itself on speciality sandwiches, its operating hours (7 a.m. to midnight) provide all day eating opportunities from breakfast to late night desserts.

Booeymonger has 3 main areas of seating: the main open space near the register, a raised section, and atrium seating overlooking Wisconsin Avenue.

During our visit for brunch, the interior was extremely well lit and peaceful. There was a steady flow of customers but it wasn't crowded or noisy.

Veggie special sandwich

Charles selected the veggie special sandwich - grilled mushrooms, spinach, tomato,
salad veggies, alfalfa sprouts, grilled
onions and melted provolone cheese with
mayonnaise on a French baguette (he substituted the baguette for whole wheat bread).

behind the scenes
It was love at first bite -  packed with veggies held together by gooey cheese on a toasted whole wheat bread. From time to time, the ingredients fell out of the bread, but Charles didn't seem to mind.

I ordered The Ace: all natural turkey breast, grilled onions, tomato, melted muenster cheese with Russian dressing, and lettuce on a French baguette. What really makes this sandwich is the baguette that its served on - big, not too bready, soft on the inside but has a crunchy shell.
The Ace

What really makes this sandwich is the baguette - big, not too bready, soft on the inside but has a slightly crunchy shell. The only down side is its large size which made it difficult to get my mouth around. It also made for a sloppy eat. Despite these issues, the meat and toppings were a great combo and very tasty. The turkey was sliced thin - just how I like it. And the Russian dressing just makes this sandwich sing.
Yoga breakfast

My father chose the Yoga breakfast -
egg whites with sautéed spinach, tomatoes
and mushrooms served with fresh fruit
salad, and one piece of whole wheat toast. This is a great health conscious choice. It's not only a healthy breakfast, its a good hardy portion.

We all wanted to try the pancakes but didn't want an entire order. So we decided to share one pancake. The large size made it easy to do. It was fluffy, thin, and incredibly sweet. If anyone is craving pancakes, I would recommend ordering the pancake entree that comes with 3 buttermilk pancakes.

Booeymonger is a cross between a diner and a deli. Nothing fancy just quick, good eats. It was easy to order at the counter and the food was brought out in record time. It's casual atmosphere and reasonable prices are a welcome contrast between the fancier, high priced alternatives next door at Mazza Gallery. Since the place has been in operation since 1979,  we're not the only one coming back to this joint. Oh, and I really like the funky name....Booeymonger.

Check the Booeymonger website for a location near you.

 - Thomas

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Cava Grill Comes to Columbia, Maryland!

I’m so happy that one of my favorite restaurants has opened up a new location in Howard County! Cava Grill is a Mediterranean and Greek restaurant chain (essentially the mediterranean version of Chipotle) with locations in Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C, California, and soon to be New York on August 25th. Cava Grill in Columbia had its grand opening yesterday at 11 am. The restaurant chain does a special deal where from a designated time (11 am - 2 pm) on opening day, the new restaurant location gives out one free meal to customers. Who could refuse a deal like this?

The line extended from Cava to the next store over

When Charles and I arrived at around 12 pm, the place was mobbed. You can see from the picture that the line to get food spanned from Cava to the next store. After waiting for more than 40 minutes in the sweltering heat, we arrived at the counter and ordered our long anticipated free meal.
map with all East Coast locations

Compared to the Cava location we always go to in Tenleytown, Washington D.C, this one is way more spacious; a variety of seating options including booths, tables, and high tops are spread out and organized so that you don’t feel crowded or cramped. In addition, I like the organic vibe to this restaurant. From the pictures of veggies and fruits on the wall to the sign that highlights how Cava’s items are, “whenever possible”, sourced from local farms, the emphasis here is healthy eating.
You place your order here and move down the food "assembly line"

Mixed greens salad with a huge range of ingredients
I ordered a mixed greens salad (super greens, arugula, spinach, romaine, and mesclun) with tzatziki, hummus, crazy feta (costs extra normally), roasted red pepper hummus, chicken, braised lamb (costs extra normally), cabbage slaw, tomato and onion, diced cucumbers, tomato and cucumber, kalamata olives, pickled onions, crumbled feta, and gordy's pickled banana peppers with yogurt dill dressing and a side of lemon herb tahini dressing. From its immense size to its aesthetically pleasing appearance, simply put, the meal was divine. All of these different flavors and combinations, from the smooth and thick hummus to the spicy and creamy crazy feta, mixing together was like having a party in my mouth.There is one caveat about this dish you should know: it’s extremely addicting and you won’t be able to stop eating it.

Charles' mixed greens salad
Charles ordered the mixed greens salad (super greens, arugula, spinach, romaine, and mesclun) with lentils (costs extra normally), tzatziki, hummus, roasted red pepper hummus, braised lamb (costs extra normally), cabbage slaw, tomato and onion, diced cucumbers, tomato and cucumber, pickled onions, crumbled feta, and gordy's pickled banana peppers with a side of yogurt dill dressing. Likewise, Charles praised the heavenly dish. His only wish is that they mix all the ingredients in the salad together instead of just putting the glob of hummus in one spot and the tzatziki in another. However, you can mix up the salad yourself with your fork so this really isn’t a concern.

Watermelon mint
These 3 are Cava's more sweet selection of housemade drinks

The watermelon mint beverage (simple syrup, watermelon, water, and lime/limeade) has a unique taste. One word perfectly describes this drink: funky. As one of their sweeter selection of summer housemade drinks, it had an initial sugary and distinct watermelon flavor but the aftertaste changed to a sharp lime/limeade flavor. 

Yes, indeed flavor is

I absolutely love every single piece about Cava: the interior decorations, food, and everything else. For just around $9, you can get such a large salad portion that you might not even be hungry for the next meal; the pita is also filling but doesn’t come close to the amount of food you get with the salad. Cava is meant for people who love to load up their plate with an eclectic array of food items. If this sounds like you, you’ll get the most out of Cava’s huge variety of healthy options.

- Thomas

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Kogiyaki Korean BBQ - Ellicott City, Maryland

Does Kogiyaki Korean BBQ look familiar to you? If it does, then you must remember Bean and Burgundy Bread (formerly occupied the same building). The difference between the two is that Kogiyaki focuses more on Korean and Asian cuisine than having a variety of American and Asian food items like Bean and Burgundy.
Even though the restaurant went through some rebranding, the interior is more or less the same - a large spacious room with a multitude of seating options and several televisions. It's a nice environment because it's never loud or noisy; the eatery has a relaxed and peaceful vibe.

I was enticed to eat at Kogiyaki by their lunch sushi buffet - sushi, Korean food, and a salad bar. For someone who is as hungry as I am, buffets are always worth the money.

I was pleasantly surprised with all the options I had to choose from:
California roll (far left) 

fried rice (bottom right)

Out of all these choices, I loaded up on just sushi and fried rice (way to be adventurous, right?). After all, it is called the lunch sushi buffet, so the sushi must be good.

The California roll consisted of imitation crab meat, avocado, cucumber, and fish eggs (tobiko). Some Asian restaurants don't put the fish eggs on the California roll, so I appreciate them using it here; it's 10 times more aesthetically pleasing with it than without it. Also, I loved how the subtle flavors and soft textures of each ingredient produced a delicious combination. Even though each individual roll was slightly thin and smaller than usual, the size of it didn't bother me because I could always get more rolls if I wasn't satiated.

The fried rice includes carrots, fried eggs, onions, and peas. The dish reminded me of the same type of fried rice from a Benihana or Sakura as opposed to that of a Chinese restaurant. Although the rice was filling, I would have liked the dish to have an abundance of different types of vegetables (the flavor would be more potent).

The miso soup came with the lunch buffet. The soup was served hot and didn't fail to disappoint. 

Overall, the massive lunch buffet didn't have any items that were a home run but didn't have anything subpar. If the lunch buffet isn't for you, they also have a dinner buffet and supposedly amazing Korean fried chicken. If anyone has tried these, let me know how they are in the comments.

- Thomas