Week Six – A Cooking Class, a Bar with a CAUSE, and the Vietnamese New Year

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A Healthy Cooking Class:

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, when I’m not out having New Thing adventures, I work as an attorney at a large law firm in Washington, DC. Thankfully, my firm provides its employees with a cafeteria that serves delicious and healthy food at reasonable prices. However, the fact is that because I spend breakfast, lunch, and (sadly) often dinner at the office, my kitchen has been woefully neglected in the last year. It is mid-February, and the last time I used my oven was just before Christmas when I made four dozen batches of sugar cookies with spiked egg-nog frosting. (Note: I had only intended  to make two dozen, but the sugar high from testing the egg-nog frosting stirred my ambition – much to my coworkers’ delight!). Accordingly, I thought it was high time for New Thing #7 on the list – Take a Cooking Class.

So, last Thursday I entered the LivingSocial headquarters on F Street for a Healthy Cooking Class with chef Allison Sosna. Interestingly, LivingSocial’s F street location was my firm’s original offices when it opened its doors in the late 1800s. It is a beautiful building, I’m sorry I didn’t think to take pictures. Anyways, when I arrived, the kitchens were prepared with stations for about 60 people. Being one of the few persons to sign-up as a single, I was paired with a nice young man named Sarav. Sarav’s cooking skills certainly exceeded mine – at one point, he seemed legitimately worried that I would slice off a finger when cutting my onion. Thankfully, however, I survived. We made the following:

  • Curried Lentil Soup – This was extremely easy to make. Once you caramelize the onions and toast the lentils, its just a matter of throwing everything in to boil. The result was very flavorful!
  • Evoo Poached Mahi Mahi with Quinoa Salard, Yogurt Parsley and Cucumber Relish – Prior to this class, I’d thought “poaching” something sounded complicated and multi-stepped. Again, however, it was fairly easy to accomplish. I don’t much care for quinoa, but the yogurt relish was delicious – it made me want to learn to make tzatziki sauce!
  • Sweet Potato Crumble with Whipped Yogurt, Toasted Almonds – This was certainly the highlight of the meal. I love sweet potatoes, and when topped with honey and almonds and a crumble for crunch? Yum! I may reuse this recipe when I tackle New Thing #4 – Throw a Dinner Party.

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For full recipes, click here. Once the burners were off, I munched on my newly-made meal as the chef Allison Sosna made extended introductions with the attendees. I had the opportunity to speak with her briefly about her wonderful organization – MicroGreens – which “works with schools and non-profit organizations to educate children and low-income families about how to make healthy choices based on a government-supplemented food budget.” Enhancing nutrition in blighted populations is a laudable goal and an issue that I became interested in during my law school days. I’ll be interested in tracking MicroGreen’s accomplishments in this regard.

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Bonus New Thing – a Bar with a CAUSE: On Friday night, a friend and I visited a bar that deserves an honorable mention in this week’s New Things post. We enjoyed some libations at CAUSE, a self-proclaimed “philanthropub” that donates 100% of its proceeds to one of 4 philanthropic causes – at the patron’s election.

In keeping with the nutrition-based theme of the week, I chose to donate to Martha’s Table, another organization that feeds and clothes impoverished families and operates a daycare and summer school program. CAUSE has a nice vibe and is located in the vibrant U Street neighborhood, so if you live in the area – I suggest you check it out!

 

 

Bonus New Thing – Vietnamese New Year Celebration:

Finally, in yet another surprise New Thing, on Sunday a few friends invited me to an Vietnamese Lunar New Year Celebration. The event was located at the Eden Center in Falls Church – a 120-store shopping center comprised of a wide array of Vietnamese restaurants, grocery stores, and bakeries. The shopping center features a clock tower that is an exact replica of one that stands in downtown Siagon. Apparently, the Eden Center serves as a focal point for the Vietnamese community that moved to the Washington, DC metro region after the Vietnam War ended in 1975.

This Sunday, the parking lot was packed with Vietnamese families – including small children who delighted at throwing firecrackers at the feet of passerby. A troupe of colorful “dragons” danced among the crowd. We watched the festivities as we toured the restaurants – sampling Pho, Bahn Mi, pork buns, fried bananas and Banh Cam (sesame balls). When I ordered Vietnamese coffee, I was handed  a small glass of sweetened condensed milk, a thermos of hot water, and some unknown metal contraption. Likely noting my surprised face, the waiter asked “do you know what you’re doing?” Thankfully, there was an expert at the table to offer some assistance. The result was delicious and far from anything Starbucks could make. However, my efforts to be adventurous by ordering “pork skin” Bahn Mi was less successful. The meat was stringy and chewy – reminiscent of eating pork-flavored rubber bands on bread. My cohorts offered several bites of each of their sandwiches  however, which were wonderful.

As we ate, my friends and I watched as one of the dragon-dancers entered each establishment and ceremoniously “ate” fruit and/or red envelopes that it was given. Some post-event research revealed that the “dragon” was actually a “Lan” – a cross between a dragon and a lion that serves as a symbol of strength in Vietnamese culture and which is believed to drive away evil spirits. I also learned that, on the first day of Tet (the traditional name for the Vietnamese New Year), elders give children red envelopes containing money; this is supposed to bring the elder’s good luck. In sum, the event was an interesting, informative, and tasty experience. Had I done my research beforehand, however, I may have made an offering to the hungry dancing Lan – I could always use some good luck in the coming year!

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