Julia Child, Blind Dog Cafe, and a Photoshoot

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces — just good food from fresh ingredients.” Julia Child

Some of you might know that, had Julia Child been alive today, she would have turned 100 years old. As it is, she lasted into her 90s, a vivacious, spirited, inspiring woman until the end. I admit, I’m a bit too young to have really grown up with her classic cooking shows, but whenever I do catch a snippet of an episode, or read about her disastrous mishaps in the kitchen, I’m reminded how awesome she is, and how much influence she’s had on chefs all over the world.

Although Julia has quite the repertoire of great one-liners, I particularly connect with the above quote. I would never have turned down the decadence of Julia’s French cooking, but when I’m deciding what to sit down and eat everyday, I gravitate towards fresh, whole foods–perfect in their simplicity. Which leads me to a place that I choose to sit down and eat at pretty regularly. I was even lucky enough to stage the photo shoot for this blog there: the Blind Dog Cafe.

Blind Dog popped up earlier this year, sharing space with Darnell’s, and from the start, the solid management team prioritized great food, a community-oriented spirit and being gosh darn friendly. Jonas, Cullen and Greer welcomed me on a very steamy DC Saturday morning to do a casual photoshoot to add some personality to my blog. I hated the thought of being a faceless blogger, and knew I wanted to showcase a great local place in my photos. Blind Dog has it all—a bar area with exposed brick and squishy couches that are right out of your proper-gone-senile great-grandmother’s parlour, a stretching row of window seats, and herbs growing in planters outside for the home-made pesto (talk about fresh ingredients!).

Photos by Isaiah Headen

This is the kind of place you spend hours sitting, talking, studying (GRE prep, anyone?) – and of course eating and drinking. The friendly, open vibe of this place is ideal for discussing dietary restrictions, and these are the kind of people that know exactly what’s gone into the food preparation. Although their menu doesn’t necessarily cater to those with dietary restrictions, a frank talk would be all you would need to determine whether a modified dish would be acceptable. I want to thank the fantastic group at Blind Dog for their hospitality and flexibility, and I encourage you all to amble over to this coffeeshop for one of their signature (and massive) chocolate chip cookies. Unless you’re gluten-free, of course (try the beet salad with turkey instead).

Blind Dog Cafe at Darnell’s | 944 Florida Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20001

A Sad Stomach

Good morning, all. It’s been a bit of a crazy week, and it has prevented me from posting until now. And now, my friends, is not my best time. Unfortunately, I ate something off on Wednesday evening, and spent all of yesterday suffering the effects of food poisoning. Although relatively minor in severity, my symptoms have made it quite impossible to eat normally, and when I do eat, it’s mostly ak-mak crackers and plain oatmeal. Even then…nah, I won’t go on.

In order to distract myself from the effects of either a very weak stomach, or an evil spore lurking in the food that I ate, I’m going to pretend that everything is fine, and post some pretty pictures of home-cooked/prepared food that I’ve been eating lately. Summer eating is a bit of a paradox for me: on the one hand, the bounty and variety of food is so fantastic, that I almost never miss a trip to the farmer’s market on the weekends. On the other hand, DC weather can be so oppressively muggy and hot, that I look at all my beautiful produce, and despair about turning on the oven, or lighting the gas for a quick sauté. My solution is usually picnic dinners, a random assortment of fruit, nuts, cheese and grains that requires no heat. I may long for the cold dark days of winter, during which I bake (or want to) every other day, and roast veggies and make soups, but in the summer, I relish different things…

Bounty: Gorgeous candy-striped beets. I braved the oven to roast these puppies. Delicious.

Picnic Dinner One: Ak-mak crackers, brie, champagne grapes, roasted almonds, and a quick blistering of thinly-sliced zucchini, tomatoes and garlic.

Picnic Dinner Two: More champagne grapes, a white peach, kiwi, and yogurt with a bit of granola. Who says you can’t have yogurt and fruit for dinner?

Coup de Grâce: The Icebox Pie. Made with homemade whipped cream (with bit of orange extract, vanilla and powdered sugar), nilla wafers and strawberries, this pie is refrigerated for about 6 hours so that the wafers absorb the moisture of the cream and strawberries, and the whole thing takes on the consistency of a fudgy cake.

Looking at this food has made me a bit desperate, but my stomach will prevail…after a while. Next week is Restaurant Week in DC, and I’ve already planned a trip to Zaytinia in Chinatown. Unfortunately, I won’t be ordering the hummus, but I’m psyched to taste the rest of their special menu. Then I’ll be off to the wilds of Wisconsin for some lake-side leisure, followed closely by a trip to New York. I’m sure to find something to write about there, so stay tuned. Happy Friday, everyone!

A Tryst Treat

Image courtesy of Tryst DC Facebook

I spent a good chunk of my day yesterday curled up in a squishy, brocade armchair at Tryst, my neighborhood hipster watering hole. In honor of my lazy Sunday reading the City Paper and downing some figi green iced tea, I wanted to post about an experience I had at Tryst back in February.

Since November I had been in a nearly constant state of indigestion, and knowing my proclivity for food-related discomfort, I was ready to take my allergist’s advice, and attempt an elimination diet. Undertaking such a dietary regimen would allow me to isolate foods that were problematic for me. I based my elimination diet on this model, cutting out all wheat, dairy, and meat (except chicken), and a whole host of fruits and vegetables, including corn.

As you can imagine, eating became an extreme sport for me. I tried delicious new dishes (kale salads, coconut-date balls) at home, but dining out was almost impossible. During this time, I took a friend out to eat on her visit to DC. After making our rounds of the Mass Ave embassies, we wandered up to Adams Morgan for a bite at Tryst, the sister cafe to Open City. It happened to be Superbowl Sunday, and we were hoping to avoid the hype by hiding out in an uber-hipster café with Victorian couches and low, beat-up coffee tables. We were, thus, shocked to find that the one lone TV in the restaurant was actually playing the Superbowl. I had never even noticed they had a TV!

Tryst is actually a wonderful place to visit during an elimination diet because they have a special “build-your-own-salad” menu. Having been resigned to decidedly monotonous salads for the past 3 weeks, I was hopeful that the various toppings offered may add up to a more interesting dish than usual. In particular, I was interested in the chicken salad, but my server was unsure of whether it contained any ingredients excluded by the elimination diet. However, just as I was about to say, “Ok, I guess I’ll have the carrots,” she says, “let me go look it up,” and whisks away to grab the ultimate restaurant tool: The Ingredient Book.

I’ve come across this kind of resource rarely, but I assume that many restaurants have such a tool, whether or not they choose to share it with their customers. To my delight, the Tryst ingredient book had literally every ingredient, spice and herb that had gone into the dish, allowing me to make a completely informed and confident choice in what to order (chicken salad was a no-go, but the tuna salad was completely kosher..I mean—safe).

I wonder about the feasibility of this kind of tool for all restaurants. In general, I would assume that chefs who offer a relatively static menu might easily prepare such a document for general use, but may be hesitant to share their entire ingredient list with the world. In addition, a restaurant with an oft-changing menu may find the maintenance of such a document an unnecessary burden. From my standpoint, though…it was awesome–a fantastic resource for someone with any kind of dietary restriction.

Is an Ingredient Book a good idea for all restaurants? Would you feel safer about your food choices if you could study such a document? Have you ever tried an elimination diet to illuminate personal food issues?

Tryst                                                                                                                                      2459 18th Street NW Washington, DC 20009