The Hand of God Has A Green Thumb Named Okra

The hand of God has a green thumb and I’m pretty sure that’s why okra is the absolute best. I know some people claim to hate the “texture” but usually they’re referring to the way the okra has been cooked. Personally I haven’t met an okra dish I haven’t liked and I’ve had one made with okra powder that makes a sort of green gelatinous goo. I was maybe 4 or 5 years old and was being dragged along through the Sahara while my parents were off doing work “in the field”. And then again with “callaloo” in Haiti. It’s been a good life when you can enjoy one of your favorite vegetables across continents.

I’ve only recently started cooking okra for myself but not because it’s difficult. It’s not always available and when it is here’s usually a family friend who makes it for me. “Spoiled”. I know.

So without further ado, here’s just a few of the ways I know I like o eat okra as well as a couple I still need to try.

Grilled Okra with Red Curry-lime Dressing

Grilled Okra with Red Curry-lime Dressing

Spicy Okra Pickles

Spicy Okra Pickles

Roasted Okra (aka. Seared Lamb Chopes with Blood Orange Sauce and Roasted Okra with Chili Oil)

Roasted Okra (aka. Seared Lamb Chops with Blood Orange Sauce and Roasted Okra with Chili Oil)

Southern Fried Okra

Southern Fried Okra

Ladies Fingers (Okra) Fries

Ladies Fingers (Okra) Fries

Okra and Sauteed Tomatoes

Okra and Sauteed Tomatoes

Okra Fritters with Grilled Corn and Goat Cheese

Okra Fritters with Grilled Corn and Goat Cheese

Smashed Fried Okra

Smashed Fried Okra

Okra Rellenos

Okra Rellenos

 

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Half A Salad with a Full Garden

Last summer I was getting all fancy with the gardening and the fresh stuff and piles and piles of lettuce to show for all my hard work. Thanks to my appaent inability to withold memories I went and planted flowers and herbs on top of where the end of last year’s crop went to seed. So what happened? Rogue lettuce. EVERYWHERE. It was growing out of the drainpipe hole at the end of the garden bed. It was springing up from between the cracks in the sidewalk. It was sort of grow up and through a rock?? And that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that even with all that crazy ninja lettuce popping up everywhere and messing up my carefully planned out herb garden I’ve gotten about 10 good leaves from the lot of them.

On the bright side (in the back where we get more sun) I’ve had so many tomatoes that the only thing I could think of after a while was to cut them in hlf and throw them in the oven so I could at least have something that still tasted like tomato and would turn to black goo on the countertop. I really hate it when tomatoes go bad. It’s super gross.

But all those poor tomatoes I just didn’t rescue in time aside, I was left with only half a salad since I was strangely without any other ingredients to help make any salad I made be more than just chopped tomatoes with salt. It takes a special tomato to be delicious without some sort of additional lubricant with taste.

Here is a picture of tomatoes.

Here is a picture of tomatoes.

But between work and more work and my entire fammily deserting me for the island homelands I have had very little to eat except vegetables for the last month. It all happened because my dear mother finished her radiation treatments (yay!) and it ended with a really really big last minute party where I tried to grill outside. Thinking I’d try something new for a big crowd I attempted making burgers. Like real burgers. The kind with meat cooked on an open flame. Well over charcoal.

For those of you who don’t know: I was raised vegetarian. At some point the family became pescatarian but even fish is a rare occurence at Chez Tobing. I have left behind those meatless way for almost a decade now but even today I don’t cook meat. So me deciding to try cooking burgers for a party was probably the worst idea. They didn’t turn out awful. Just not great. The black bean burgers I mixed up, however, turned out amazing and I’ve even made this receipe since. I usually make my own aioli with vegenaise, fresh crushed garlic, lime, and sriracha. I had also posted the burger recipe last year in “Keeping it Veggie“:

Black Bean Burgers with a Smoky Red Pepper Spread

Black Bean Burgers with a Smoky Red Pepper Spread

But alongside the semi-successful burger project I grilled about 5 billion pounds of fresh stuff: Eggplane, zucchini, yellow squash, onions, OKRA!, bell peppers, asparagus, baby bell peppers, portabello mushrooms, sweet potatoes, corn… You put the grilled veggies on a toasted bun with the aioli and a still cripsy-on-the-outside black bean burger (or a marinated and grilled portabellow mushroom if you prefer) and that makes for a good party! In the future, though, I think I’ll leave the regular burgers to a professional. The afterparty of this whole affair was me sitting on the sofa eating nothing but roasted vegetable sandwiches for the next week while watching “Chuck” and drinking the remains of my homemade “Make Your Own Juice Bar”. My favorite was the sparkling  Persian Lime with an extra shot of sweetness from the ginger simple syrup.

In honor of the vegetables (and “fruit”. That’s right, I’m looking at you tomatoes!) that kept me alive while living alone for the last month I’m dedicating the next series of posts with all the wonderful ways to eat them!

Grilled Portobello Mushroom Burgers (from SkinnyTaste)

Grilled Portobello Mushroom Burgers

Welcome to the New Republic. Now with Booze!

If anyone has been following the blog–back to when I spent almost every day touting the seemingly simple logic of: Go to bed at a reasonable hour and go to class. This will actually help you save tens of thousands of dollars–then you may know why this restaurant opening was such an exciting idea. Of course, I’m only about 10 minutes away from the old haunts of “downtown” Takoma Park but I’m still not down the creek very often these days. But one night I made plans to meet a friend who lives there (practically around the corner) for dinner one night to celebrate his new job.

Republic, located in Takoma Park

Republic, located in Takoma Park

For anyone who is familiar with the nicer suburbs of DC, Takoma Park is a bit of an oddball in that it’s classy but it hasn’t been “hip” in a while. It’s also known as the “hippie repository” of the outer DC area. For anyone wondering why that might be, I happen to know exactly why that is: The Seventh-day Adventists.

That’s right, those teetotal religious looneys who happen to have large churches on three major corners within the city, adjoining church offices and schools (elementary and high school), a university (from which I happen to have two degrees), and that rather large hospital (at which I happened to be born). Those were the original vegan hippies hailing from Battle Creek, MI. Spewing the usual Second Awakening Revivalist type nonsense about religion, the SdA’s had this really crazy thing against booze and meat. Some of their other school even to this day don’t have ketchup (because of the vinegar) or pepper in their cafeterias because of the church’s original health message.

So how did this eventually affect my evening’s entertainment? Well what all this means is that Takoma Park, for a very long time was a “dry” city. To this day there are no liquor shops in the city limits and only recently was alcohol even a topic of discussion in many of the local cafe’s and restaurants. Partly, this was due the fact that the church folks practically owned the city (mafia style). Their headquarters were there, their churches, schools… so the actually passed legislation that prevented the type of locales that would bring in the type of people you see in the newer restaurants in DC.

There have been cafe type places in Takoma Park for quite some time. The Capital City Cheesecake right down the sidewalk has been a favorite spot for coffee and pastries for years (since it was Savory’s). It was a rocky start for a place that didn’t seem to fit in with the neighborhood needs but it’s finally found it’s path and looks to be doing well. I enjoy reading my comic books and sipping coffee there many an afternoon when I was still working at the university.

Capital City Cheesecake

Capital City Cheesecake

When it comes to restaurants there were Mark’s Kitchen and Middle Eastern Cuisine (from which many of my events at the university were catered) which have both been something like “fixtures” in the area. And we were all curious and twittering in anticipation when Roscoes began to put up signs. Roscoes, by the way, is named after a wild rooster that used to run around Takoma Park and was lovingly named Roscoe by locals. Roscoe was hit by a car and a memorial statue of him now stands where the weekend farmer’s market begins. I learned this all while not being very productive before finals week from a professor of mine.

Roscoe (Link goes to the WETA blog post on “Boundary Stones” about the community’s beloved chicken)

This photo is clearly somewhat outdated since you should be able to see at least some of the black “Republic” sign on the right. It looks like it was still Video Americana at the time this picture was taken. Video stores, another archaic item… But we were talking about Republic.

Republic, which was oddly just ok this time around. It looks like a nice downtown restaurant but it had the crowd of…well… Takoma Park. We tried the drinks and they were what one would expect from a good DC bar. And the service was great. But the food needs work. It wasn’t bad but it reminded me of a dinner I had once in CA during those beach bum days where the person with me made the experience good but I don’t remember the food. Then again, I’m usually alright with that. in this case, however, something was a bit off. And If I go back and have the same experience I will definitely say something. Because when a sauce for empanadas can be described very quickly as “not-very-good-homemade-mayo” there is a serious problem.

If you’re suddenly very concerned and thinking that this is a place to avoid, think again! Takoma Park is picky. If a restaurant like this can maintain itself in a city that’s fairly closed off yet open minded, please the natives, and yet still draw out downtowners into this rather small off-shoot from the DC diamond that’s something to keep in mind. Republic is still new to the area but I’d be interested to see with what they manage to turn into. They’ve already started off well with their interior designs, menu concepts (no matter what details still need a little tweaking), and the fact that they plan to add a patio and hire a music manager to coordinate.

And from the original article (if you follow the link from the first photo of Republic’s interior) I see a lot of comments about Takoma Park not being funky. And it’s true. Takoma Park is just weird. But in an incredibly homey way. Republic, on the other hand is very SoCal (including the moustaches in some cases). This is a place where you raise a family but as more and more people in my age bracket are starting to do that, we’d like to bring a little more of the inner city into our suburban lives and it’s appropriately being started by someone who knows DC and also happens to be learning very quickly about some of us weird folks who got excited about an italian restaurant/cafe (across the street) named after a community chicken.

Muffin Week: “Baked Doughnut Muffins with Blueberry Jam” (Day 7)

Okay… Okay…! I know! What’s with the repeat blueberry items??

But hear me out. Imagine these made with a proper RASPBERRY preserve. I’m thinking Bonne Maman Raspberry preserves to be exact. Then it would be like a really good jelly filled doughnut only in muffin form… and if it’s called a muffin it has to be healthier, right?

Anyway you chose to go with it, I think this is an excellent way to end Muffin Week.

Baked Donut Muffins with Blueberry Jam

“Baked Doughnut Muffins with Blueberry Jam” from Simply Delicious

 

Muffin Week: “Chai-Spiced Pumpkin Oatmeal Muffins with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Glaze” (Day 6)

These do seem a little more complicated than I’ve been going for but the certainly do seem worth it. Since I work from home on Fridays and this particular Friday isn’t too crazy I think I can schedule a full lunch break to make these while monitoring my “mobile work space”. Some people think I’m crazy bringing all these screens into the kitchen. During work hours I will have my work laptop (in case of any phone calls or urgent emails), personal laptop (with the recipe), Billy the iPad (named after William Blake and usually streaming some sci-fi series on Netflix), and my phone (because I’m popular… and my boss has my cell phone number in case I’m needed for something).

So during a full episode of Star Trek: Voyager I think these could come into being…

Chai Spiced Pumpkin Oatmeal Muffins with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Glaze

“Chai Spiced Pumpkin Oatmeal Muffins with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Glaze” from Ambitious Kitchen

 

Muffin Week: “Coconut Oatmeal Muffins” (Day 5)

I sometimes describe my insides as being on to fronts. One side is always trying to colonize the other and tradition usually wins. For this reason I know I couldn’t actually go an entire week only eating muffins for breakfast. At some point I’d go looking for something savory and preferably involving rice or bread. That being said, I feel like something like this would probably be an evening snack as opposed to  a breakfast item for me. Something about coconut feels off as a breakfast flavor in my book. But it would be nice to munch on while watching Battlestar Galactica with my mom after work.

Coconut Oatmeal Muffins

“Coconut Oatmeal Muffins” from Baking Bites