Finally I can get back to posting regularly. This has been a very long month, and this week one of my busiest. Monday was the state swim meet, so I was in bed around 11:30. Tuesday we left for Washington D.C., so I was up at 4:30. Wednesday 6:30. Thursday 7. Anyways, it got progressively better, but I have to say that this was not a vacation where I got a lot of sleep. But I’m not really complaining, because less sleep meant more I was able to get done. We walked everywhere, between Tuesday and Friday, especially on day one, when I think the final estimation was 8 hours of walking. Here are some pictures, and then, I’ll tell you all about it–and why today I made hoecakes.
My feet were in a constant state of shock after those three days. In Bangor, Maine, you generally can’t walk to work, to the supermarket, to school, or really many places at all. Yet in D.C. everything is close enough to justify walking absolutely everywhere. We were up early Wednesday morning and took care of many of the memorials, then went to the National History museum and the National Zoo. My youngest brother was very enthusiastic about getting to see the pandas. We saw the pandas…then he was all ready to leave. What was great about the zoo though was that we just happened upon one of the volunteers there, who gave us an impromptu tour of the Asian animals in the zoo. It started off as him just telling us where the sloth bear was sleeping in his enclosure, and soon enough 20 people were gathered around listening to him tell about how the internet browser, firefox, was actually inspired by the red panda, not a fox at all.
Though I really did enjoy visiting the museums and monuments, what I enjoyed most was the food, naturally. Sadly, there was never good lighting in the restaurants so I couldn’t get pictures. One night we ate at the restaurant Scion, and I found it to be quite good. We had a wonderful waiter who was hilarious, and I think that made most of the night. I ordered pumpkin goat cheese ravioli, with chive cream sauce and candied walnuts. It was wonderfully balanced, yet there were only 5 ravioli! 5! So, I took the liberty of trying everyone else’s dishes. The meatloaf that my father ordered (very unlike him to order such a thing) was incredibly light and fluffy for a gluten-free dish (many things on the menu were gluten-free or could be made so). In fact, there was almost no comparison between it and your standard meatloaf, which is something that hasn’t been seen in our house for many many many years. My mother ordered a brussel sprout scampi, which was full of garlic and surely some white wine, so naturally, it was scrumptious.
The last night we were there, which was Friday, we ate at Agora, a Turkish restaurant. Turkish food is served on small dishes called mezze. We each ordered three, so there was a lot of food. I particularly enjoyed the stuffed eggplant, the stuffed grape leaves, and actually, the octopus was quite good too. The eggplant was made with onions, tomatoes, pine nuts, and garlic, and served cold. The grape leaves did have lamb in them, but unlike my last experience with lamb, this time I didn’t really mind. They were covered with yogurt and roasted red pepper sauces that balanced out the rich flavor nicely. The octopus was very buttery and not chewy at all, unlike anything I’ve ever had. Before all of this of course, was the bread, served hot and puffy and wonderful with aromatic olive oil mixed with olives. Seeing as only two people in our family could eat the bread, I got to really enjoy this part of the meal. For dessert, I ordered a dish, whose name I cannot remember. It was a vanilla pudding sandwiched between crunchy stringy layers of, something, I have yet to determine what it was. But it was covered with honey and pistachios though, and a beautiful end to that sumptuous feast.
That night, I walked back home to the hotel with my dad, and we looked over the city’s architecture, which is so varied. The row houses, all with their individual flourishes are captivating, especially at night. Each one painted different colors, with iron banisters that curl around to form intricate designs. Through all the walking I did, I learned so much about the city, things you don’t realize just driving.
The last thing I should mention though, are the cupcakes, pictured above. On Thursday, I took a tour of Georgetown University, and afterwords, we decided to visit a cupcake store. Now, I had heard that these cupcakeries are generally bland and don’t live up to their name, but this one had a gluten-free option, so we just had to check it out. I got the strawberry chocolate lava cupcake, and my brothers the chocolate lava cupcake. They were quite good, actually, and moister and more chocolatey than I had expected. Though they were pretty and all, I still like homemade ones better, especially the Cook’s Illustrated version.
But about the hoecakes, which are basically cornmeal pancakes. While we were at Mount Vernon, we visited the museum, and one exhibit featured the food that Washington consumed while living there. It provided many recipes, so I took them with me, naturally. The hoecakes are entirely gluten-free, and though a little dry, the idea is that you smother them with butter and maple syrup or honey, which they soak up quickly until they are so scrumptious.
Adapted slightly from Nancy Carter Crump’s recipe in “Dining with the Washingtons”
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups of cornmeal, white or yellow
3 or 4 cups of lukewarm water (I was on the low end, but more might be better)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Melted butter (salted is best), and honey or maple syrup for serving
1. Eight hours, or the night before you plan to make them, whisk 1 1/4 cups of the cornmeal together with the yeast. Then add a cup of lukewarm water, making sure it isn’t too hot and kills the yeast. Add up to 1/2 cup more water so that it is the same consistency as pancake batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to refrigerate for those eight hours or so.
2. Heat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove mixture from the fridge and add between 1/2 cup and a full cup of water. Mix that in and then add the egg and the salt.
3. Add 1 1/4 cups of cornmeal in increments with enough lukewarm water that the mixture is fairly thin, like the batter for waffles. I added a little over three cups, and I think this was a good amount though perhaps more would have been better. Cover this mixture with a towel, and let sit for 15 to 20 minutes.
4. Grease the pan with canola oil like I did, or use lard or vegetable shortening as the recipe originally specified. Don’t add too much, just enough to make the griddle shimmer, but not so much that you are really frying the cakes. I used a cast iron griddle to cook the hoecakes, and because it retains so much heat, I found cooking the hoecakes on medium high caused the canola oil I was using to cook them to smoke, and the pancakes to bubble furiously. I advise that if you are using such a pan that you let it cool down a little between batches so that it doesn’t get too hot and that you cook them at a temperature that is a little cooler, like medium or so.
5. Cook the cakes by adding a little under 1/4 cup of the mixture to the skillet, and cooking for about 5 minutes on the first side, and about 4 or five minutes on the second side, so that they are browned. Place the cakes on a platter that can be placed in the oven, and drizzle them with melted to go in the oven while the rest cook. Lightly oil the griddle between batches, and make sure the pan doesn’t get too hot.
6. Serve warm with lots of melted butter and honey or maple syrup. These would also be good with berries and maybe bananas.