Happy National Chocolate day!

Chocolate. Food of the Gods. Best anti-depressant out there. Best friend to some. Whatever your relationship with my favorite food in the world, please celebrate its existence today. Personally, I am grateful I don't have to live without it.

To briefly run through its existence, the Mayans called this food of the gods, and indeed the scientific name for the cacao tree is Theobroma, which translates into…Food of the Gods. Only the rich drank it back in the day, it was used as money to buy things, such was its value. It was originally consumed in liquid form, pure, unadultered, sometimes with added spice. The Swiss made the first milk chocolate, and it really picked up movement in the 18th century. I myself started indulging as a child, Cadbury's milk chocolate, and have since refined my tastes and enjoy the dark stuff.

Some call me a chocolate snob, but I wouldn’t quite put it that way. I am merely a purist. I prefer it dark, in a bar, un-filled, un-milked. If you have truly good chocolate, you only need a small piece to feel satisfied. The Aztecs and Mayans thought chocolate to be good for your health, and I concur. It has not only healed my bad moods, it has improved my stomach pains. It eases digestion, it contains anti-oxidants, it improves blood flow, it improves your mood, and it makes me very, very happy.

I know that I have been remiss in posting this October, so I just want to note, although October is coming to an end, it has been Fair Trade month, and hey, you still have a couple of days to purchase a fair trade product. Why not make it fair trade chocolate? ;)

In a nutshell though, what is Fair Trade? It’s a system that promotes economic development for farmers in developing countries, cuts out the middle man which enables the farmer to receive more income for his product, in turn enabling him to send his children to school and receive – a fair wage.

A few of my favorites –
Divine - benefits cacao growers in Ghana.
Theo - the first U.S. based bean-to-bar produced chocolates. Try the bread and chocolate. According to a certain cousin of mine, it is delightful.
Dagoba - while not explicitly fair trade, they do work with cooperatives to ensure sustainable and ecologically sound practices.

For those in DC – visit the best chocolate store in DC, the only one that I visit, with free tastings aplenty, knowledgeable staff, and fantastic specialty chocolate, well worth the prices. Remember, the darker it is, the more pure it is, the more cocoa content it has, the more money the farmers who grow those beans are likely getting, the better it is for your health. My point – you get what you pay for, so today, skip the candy section and go for the chocolate with a cause.

Biagio Fine Chocolate Presents
October 28th, from 6:30pm - 8:30pm


Standing up for the MDG’s with a sweet Georgetown cupcake

Food for a good cause, one of my favorite things. Especially when the food is a scrumptious United Nations (UN) week cupcake made specially by Georgetown cupcake, voted by many (myself included) as the best cupcake joint in DC.

The cause: today thousands of people stood up for action to urge leaders worldwide to work harder to end poverty to attain the UN Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). My organization hosted our own stand up.
The 8 goals below were chosen in 2000 by 189 world leaders to address extreme poverty through tackling its root causes:

The eight MDG goals include:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDs, malaria, and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

With just 6 years left, no region is on track to meet their goals. Hence the call to STAND UP AND DEMAND ACTION today, and send a not so subtle reminder to our world leaders that we do expect them to deliver.

In the meantime, should you feel compelled to participate in UN Week activities in Washington DC – here’s a full line up provided by the United Nations Association. Only today, all proceeds from sales of Georgetown Cupcake’s UN cupcakes will go towards supporting the UN’s work. Go get your cupcake now!


Dates dates dates!

"Dates, we could all use more of them ;)" said the DC metro food tours guide during  an Eastern market food tour I took with my friend Sylvie this past Sunday. And I cannot agree more. While I've been through this market a few dozen times, I always pass by certain items - like dates. As part of the tasting tour, dates were one of our treats. And I have to say, WHY don't I eat more of them? I've had them before, but I never buy them, and they are sublime! 

As I took some out tonight I thought to myself, why don't we eat them more often? Where do they originate from? What do they go best with? What kind of nutrients are in them? What's the best way to store them? Are they grown sustainably? I know nothing about dates! And every delicious taste experience should be an opportunity to learn. So I dug up the answers, and if you're as curious as I am to find out all about dates, read on! 

Ok, granted, dates aren't the most attractive thing to look at, but give these sticky shriveled fruits a chance. They come from the date palm, a tree native to North Africa and the Middle East. This I had a hunch about as they were commonplace in Egypt when I visited in 2007/08. The Egyptians consider dates as a symbol of fertility. The fruits are cultivated in other parts of the world too (with similar sub-tropical, desert like conditions, Southern Cali being one) and are one of the world's oldest cultivated fruits.

Sustainable? - well, somewhat. The date palm back in the day was used in its entirety (for food, for drink, for weaving, for fuel) and did literally sustain livelihoods. Known still today as the bread of the desert these dates have the highest natural sugar content of any fruit. Admittedly, I need to do more research on how sustainably this treat is grown these days..

Season - Fresh dates are available Aug-Dec and dried ones are found year round. 

There are 3 types but many varieties - soft (like Medjool which are what I ate), semi-soft (like Deglet Noor,), and dry (Thoory). They ripen in 4 stages. I'm familiar with the ripe soft stage. 

Storage -  so semi-soft dates should be refrigerated (upto 6 months) and stored in air tight containers, but, be aware that they will get hard. For the ripe ones, if you eat them often, store in cupboards, and if not, store them in the fridge and to soften them up, soak them in warm water. You can use the date water i'm sure, don't toss away that flavor!

Nutritional value/health benefits - interestingly, nutrients and vitamin content vary with different types and ripeness of dates. These little desert wonders are chock full of carbs, fiber, potassium, and some protein. And they are very good for those with digestive disorders. I read that they are a cure for alcohol intoxication too.

Now, how can you eat them? Just as they are (in fact they can be great on-the-go travel snacks), but first, please take a moment to smell them. The natural caramel-like syrupy smell is so divine. Then bite into the moist glossy date and enjoy. The food tour paired dates with almonds - take the seed out and stuff the almond in - really good combination. Or stuff them with peanut butter as an old colleague of mine introduced me to ages ago (thanks Rebecca F!). 

And of course, you can cook with them! - I went on epicurious and got 154 hits. Pick one and go have a date!


Seattle - not just rated #1 for delicious coffee!

I recently went to Seattle for the first time and it was a breath of fresh air. Literally. The city was ranked this year with the #1 top air quality in the U.S. And that's not all - in fact it was rated as this year's top "large" (population over 250,000) city in the U.S by NRDC in their Smarter Cities rankings. Let me break it down - #1 in air quality (achieved because they use hydoelectric plants to produce 90% of its power), green building, and energy production and conservation :) And some other not so shoddy grades in green space, recycling and overall standard of living, to name a few. Out of 9 criteria and put up against 75 other large cities this environmentally savvy city is I think, a model to aspire to. Seattle's Mayor Nickels has introduced global warming initiatives that provide incentives to carpool, and be more energy efficient, and the city offers a FREE Carbon Coach training program to allow citizens to educate and teach others how to reduce their emissions. What a fabulous idea!
The city's environmental record, along with its plethora of independent coffee shops, large farmers markets, friendly people and delicious food has made me a #1 fan.
A couple
of my favorite food finds while I was there (recommended for when you visit) :
The Crumpet Shop -
these spongy, porous muffin/pancake-y wonders can be topped with everything from nutella to eggs and ham to marmite and they are a wonderful texture, slightly crunchy, chewy and soft. Amazing. And the staff is super friendly.
- salami, salami, all kinds of peppered and fennel and sweet salami. Lines are always long, this place has the Bourdain stamp and the sandwiches are delish, but could use a little more salami.

Now what will it take for DC to be a top ten Smart City next year? They were only #31 this year. Interested to see how smart your city is? See rankings here.


Onward to greenville

Welcome readers. This blog has been a long time in the making, but my most recent trip through the green valleys of the west coast of North America have once again brought to the forefront the importance of being green, the joy of nature and breathing fresh air, the pleasure of local eating, and the constant reminder that I want and need to be more sustainable wherever I go. My love of food and travel often collide with being sustainable and green, and I am no green angel, but I shall, through this blog, seek to be a little more mindful as I find suitable substitutes and appropriate alternatives to things I can't yet give up, and find ways to stretch my dollars wisely while shrinking my footprint steadily.

Please enjoy. And bring on your comments, questions, and healthy debate.