Wednesday, September 30, 2009

two minute lunch: southern railway deli

Two Minute Lunch is a series I'm starting. I work in downtown Richmond and know I'll be sampling many of the area lunch spots. Here I'll chronicle my lunches and give recommendations. I'm hoping to just spend a few minutes per post giving my thoughts and I hope the short format based around something I do often will encourage frequent posting. There won't be a set day for Two Minute Lunch 'cause, well, my life just doesn't work like that. Leave suggestions for places I should try in the comments.

Wandering around downtown I spied three young men my age with Southern drawls and blue striped shirts carrying bags of chips and Styrofoam cups that clearly had sweet tea. I knew I needed to find where they had come from and soon enough stumbled upon Southern Railway Deli.

The entrance was unassuming enough and I figured it to be a small in-and-out type place. The inside was much larger than expected and the menu was expansive. Set up cafetoria style, there is a row of different food stations, a check out and a seating area with mix-matched furniture. The place was clean with bright orange pillars and accents. Because of its large size, the lunch-time rush didn't feel to overwhelming (or maybe that's just the difference in Richmond and DC.)

After perusing what looked like good (though premade) deli sandwiches and paninis, I found the salad bar. They offer your choice of mixed greens, spinach or iceberg with one meat, one cheese, and five toppings (but don't charge for croutons, sunflower seeds, nuts or crasins.) Much more resonable than most places. There was no line so I quickly stepped up and started ordering. The veggie selection was solid and I probably should have been a little more adventerous than I was. The woman behind me was disappointed that they were out of avocado, but I was mostly just excited they offer avocado without charging extra.

When I went to stand in line, the woman in front of me had huge bowl of delicious looking pasta. I usually check out all options before ordering and it turns out I had missed the hot line with burgers and the make-your-own pasta line! Still, my salad was solid, particularly because of the plentiful grilled chicken.

Only downsides were that the coffee bar at the front wasn't staffed and the gelato looked like it was melting. The deli also tried to be a market which was successful in some areas (you can buy beer) and unsucessful in others (the understocked shelves made me wonder if I can actually buy the dried pasta to cook at home.) A small selection of specialty foods is always nice but either tomorrow if delievery day or there just weren't good design decision made when allocating space to to the market goods.

My meal: salad with grilled chicken, Sour Cream & Onion "Dirty" potato chips, bottle of Diet Coke [$10.10]
Going back: definitely, to sample other items

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

know your farmer, know your food

I promise to keep this blog from being too political (read: I keep my thoughts on the leaked draft of the Boxer-Kerry climate bill to myself) but since food is a big part of what I write about, I did want to share this.

The USDA just launched their website "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" with the mission of creating "new economic opportunities by better connecting consumers with local producers. It is also the start of a national conversation about the importance of understanding where your food comes from and how it gets to your plate." The website provides links to find your local farmers market and provides details on various programs run by the USDA. Sadly, the selling point of the 'interactive' website isn't up yet. The website claims to be "the start of a national dialogue between the USDA and you" but the Stories and Ideas section isn't up yet.

One thing I am in complete agreement with is that "
there is too much distance between the average American and their farmer." I do wonder how much this is truly going to change the operations of the USDA and how famers recieve government subsidies. Of course that does not all lie with the USDA either, so these are clearly complicated issues and I applaud the USDA for working to promote local foods and small farmers.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

women wine wednesdays

A group of amazing women from college and I would get together in DC on Wednesdays and drink wine and chat. I hosted this past Wednesday since it was my last week in DC and last minute I decided to go a little fancier than just a bottle of wine and made mango bellinis. I will definitely miss those nights now that I'm in Richmond.

Mango Bellini
1 bottle sparkling white wine
1 8 oz bottle mango juice (100% juice)
1 ripe mango

Chop half the mango into small cubes. Place in a pitcher and pour in the sparkling wine and mango juice. Slice the rest of the mango and use as a garnish.

I also made guacamole and spinach dip. The spinach dip I didn't actually make, I bought it in a can, put in an oven-safe dish, put grated Parmesan-Asiago cheese on top and baked it.

My guac I just approximate. This time my recipe was roughly:
2 avocados
quarter of a red onion
big fist-full of cilantro
1 lime

Chop the avocado, red onion and cilantro. Put in a bowl. Squeeze the juice of 1 lime over the mixture. Stir, squishing slightly.

I love guacamole so much that after making it Wednesday, I was craving it on Saturday and bought another avocado to make more. I went overboard on the red onion though. You need less than a quarter an onion per avocado, unless you really love onion. But that's not what guac is about.

I also love putting some tomato into it and while I used to mash the avocado more to make a smoother guacamole, I really like the texture of the chopped style. I think it lets the avocados shine through more. How do you like yours?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

400 block of 8th st

A few weeks ago I walked down the 400 block of 8th st NW and noticed the to scale architectural drawings drawn directly on several buildings in a row. Does anyone know anything about this?

i think i'll float on down to Richmondtown

Today is my last day as a DC (semi-)resident. Work is relocating me to Richmond and in the last weeks, I've found an apartment, acquired a new roommate, signed a lease and tomorrow I move down. I'll still be in DC a lot due to work and also the number of friends I have here but Richmond will be my new home. This blog will become a chronicle for the new places I enjoy in Richmond and also the process of turning my rented apartment into a dream home.

I debated getting a single bedroom apartment, especially since rent is much lower in Richmond than DC but with traveling to see my sweetie taking a large part of my budget, I decided to save the money. My roommate hasn't done too much to the place so I'll have a lot of projects coming up as I make it my home. Plus, I don't know anyone in Richmond so I'll have lots of nights in doing crafts!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

the ethics of drinking

As someone who tries, often unsuccessfully, to be mindful of my impact on the Earth and as someone who enjoys a glass of wine or two in the evening, I have debated the merits of various types of wines.

There are a few issues to wine, namely the grapes, how it is stored and how it is shipped. Here are my opinions on those issues. Like most things in our society, it's a balance that we all have to make for ourselves. In college, these choices were easy. I love white wine and was living in the Fingerlakes area of New York, an area with great white wine. I would buy wine for $9 at the farmers market and could feel great that my wine was grown and produced locally and I was buying directly from the family producer. Now in DC, Virginia wine country isn't so far but Virginia wines aren't really stocked in the wine stores and are much more expensive than the NY wines I loved.

Grapes (organic vs. non-organic):
The obvious choice is organic is better. However, organic wines are rare and picking only organic wines when at a random shop is probably a risky choice. Sample them and find some favorites but many small local wineries- like small farms- may not have bothered being certified. Two cases where organic makes a bigger difference- with imported wines and with large wineries. Organic vs. not is most important for chemical residue and less so for the carbon footprint.

Re-Nest wrote recently about the "Dirty Dozen," the fruits and vegetables you absolutely should buy organic and imported grapes were on the list. For this, I'd worry more about wines from South America than European (or even US) wines. The EU has very strict standards for pesticide use, and the US has lower but still fairly tight standards. In addition, if you are buying domestically from a small winery, they may have lower pesticide use, but this is not always true.

Container (bottle vs. box):
Wine in a bottle has two basic part- the bottle and the cork or metal top. Glass is a very heavy material and that increases the amount of energy used to transport the wine. According to the New York Times, the weight of wine bottles has actually been increasing. The article didn't go into specifics but it claims the increase is due to trying to increase the impressiveness of the bottle, so perhaps this is more true for expensive bottles (note: not the bottles I buy.) One good thing is that much of the glass* that goes into the bottles is recycled and is recyclable. Glass is domestically recycled so the energy into transporting it to the recycling center is manageable and unlike many products is not downcycled. Many glass bottles are melted down and reformed into new bottles or are upcycled into jewelry or furnishings.

*One note on recycling wine bottles- blue bottles are often not accepted at local recycling center. Buy blue glass sparingly and save those to be pretty vases. In some communities, this is true of all colors of wine bottles, so if recycling is important to you, find out what your regulations are and buy accordingly.

In case you need a reason to biggie-size your bottle, "Shipping premium wine, bottled at the winery, around the world mostly involves shipping glass with some wine in it. In this regard, drinking wine from a magnum is the more carbon-friendly choice since the glass-to-wine ratio is less. Half-bottles, by contrast, worsen the ratio."

The cork can be either real cork or that fake plastic stuff. My pocketbook limits my wine to $12 a bottle unless I'm out for a special meal, but I've found that inexpensive wines are often have real cork. (Though sometimes, cough-Jazz-in-the-Sculpture-Garden, I purposefully choose the metal twists off tops.) Wine corks are recyclable through Recork America.

In contrast, you can buy your wine in a box. This seriously cuts down on the weight of the packaging, thus shipping is much more efficient. Boxes are often larger servings and they stay fresh longer, so you are less likely to have to toss your wine before you finish it. (If your wine does start to turn, think about using it in some cooking- maybe risotto for white wine or a beef stew for red wine?) Many boxes are composites though, so may not be recyclable, a serious downside.

Travel (local vs. truck vs. boat):
Local wine has the smallest carbon footprint (duh) plus you are keeping your spending dollars in the community.

Many people think being California wines is better than buying European wines, but that depends on where in the US you are and how the wine is transported. Trucking is very energy intensive and, with the weight of bottles, is a poor way to transport wine. So if you are on the West Coast, West Coast wines are a great choice. On the East Coast, European wines have been shipped by container ships and then trucked only a short distance. According to Dr. Vino, there is a split is the US around Ohio where east of the line "it’s more efficient to consume the same sized bottle of wine from Bordeaux, which has had benefited from the efficiencies of container shipping, followed by a shorter truck trip" and those west of the line should buy Californian. Of course, east of the line there are several smaller wine producing areas to taste as well.

Taste Test
So, having all these thoughts in my head, I stumbled across Yellow + Blue (um, cause it equals Green, duh.) Yellow + Blue is an Argentinian wine that claims to have a carbon footprint 54% smaller than the traditional process. They buy the wine before it is bottles and "ship it in bulk via insulated steel tanks to North America, where the cartons are filled and then distributed." On their website they don't specify if 'ship' means on a ship or by plane, or how distributed the filling centers are in the US. Still, bulk transport and lighter packaging substantially cut down the carbon emissions of transporting the wine.

Yellow + Blue is very proud of their Tetra Pak, which allows the wine to last longer (and gives you a slightly larger bottle of wine!) but one major question I have is- is the packaging recyclable? I would think that for a company that sells itself on sustainability, it would be but I didn't see anything on the package or their website, so I had to chuck my empty in the trash.

But, what really matters is, how is the wine? I sampled their white wine, a 2008 Torrontes, I found the wine pleasant but rather bland. My roommate agreed and while we enjoyed sitting and drinking the wine, neither of us was hoping to crack into a second bottle. Y+B suggests pairing it with smoked meat, mild-medium cheese and spicy food. I am doubtful that this wine would really stand up to spicy food but it went well with the warm potato salad I had for dinner that night.

While this foray into boxed wine was lackluster, I hope to find boxed wine (maybe domestic boxed? East Coast?) that has the spicy, mineral, crisp tastes I love but stays light on its feet.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

eastern market photoshow

My favorite thing about the house I just left (besides my awesome roommates) was the proximity to Eastern Market. I usually went on Sundays because that's the best day for finding cheap jewelry to repurpose. Eastern Market has crafts and vintage items every Saturday and Sunday and while there is a huge range in quality (looking at you, cheap imported jewelry!) there are amazing finds. I also love the food- after all, that's what Eastern Market is made for. It's a full-time grocery/ meat market/ seafood stand and also has delish prepared foods. Some of my favorite things to eat there:

Many farmer's market have samples of produce, but the amount of produce that farmers at Eastern Market put out means that I am half-full before I even enter the food hall. Maybe the farmers realized that people have come to the market for a lot of reasons and peaches might not be on their list. Impulse peach purchases must be at an all-time high at Eastern Market.

The Market Lunch is one of my favorite places to eat at Eastern Market. The lines are horrible, there is almost no seating, but they have amazing food. You can get all kinds of fried seafood, crab cakes, a burger and really delicious fries that must be eaten with vinegar. I skipped it last time I went though (lines!) and instead opted for the even quicker, even cheaper option.

Half-smoke! Skin on and so delicious! Just looking at the photo is giving me a craving.

One thing that market is famous for is fresh seafood. There is seafood from all over the world, but the freshest (and most delicious, shall we say?) comes straight out of the Chesapeake Bay. These softshell crabs were caught the same morning I took this photograph. If I were eating crab, I'd want it to be my Mom's crabcakes, though.

Lastly, a cool treat after walking around the stalls outside. Micha's rasberry sorbet. Many days when I've gone late, Micha has sold out of many flavors and this was the first time I had bought any. I definitely regret that because it was some of the most delicious sorbet I've ever had. You can taste the fruit and the sorbet manages to be very creamy but fresh and clean tasting. Worth a trip just for the sorbet.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

i'll fly away...

Upcycled vintage brooch with chain and vintage faux-pearls.

Took a bunch of photos a week ago but haven't listed anything yet. My good camera is broken so I have borrowed my mom's and it doesn't take very good photos. Most are unusable, like the one above.