Category Archives: Beltway Beat

Potato & leek soup to warm the soul


Tupac and Biggie may be long gone, but the rivalry between the East and West Coasts rages on.

“It’s too fast-paced. And I could never leave this weather,” a typical West Coaster might say in conversation with someone from the other side of the country.

“I prefer four seasons,” the reply may come, not without a tint of defensiveness.

I used to scoff at that line, thinking it was a way that people out east made peace with the fact that they had bad weather most of the year. Freezing, snowy winters and hot, humid summers? No thank you.

But it’s fall in D.C., and as we prepare to pack our stuff and head west for what could be a permanent move, I’m waxing all sorts of nostalgic about the four seasons I have enjoyed for the better part of a decade.

What East Coasters mean when they say they love the seasons is not just the lazy summer days spent wading in pools and beaches or the frigid nights spent curled up near a fireplace with hot cocoa, but those transitional seasons too, when this region truly shines. Spring is so fleeting in D.C., a blip between the wintry nights and the humid summers. But fall. Oh, the fall!

Don’t get me wrong: The West Coast runs through my veins. But as I weigh the prospect of overcast, drizzly Seattle winters, springs, summers and autumns (this sums it up), I can’t help but feel like the endless spectrum of reds, oranges and yellow out my window are begging me to stay.

Fall is when D.C. struts its feathers. Parts of the city look simply ablaze. It is awe inspiring.

And it is in D.C. that I learned to love the fall harvest. Butternut squashes, beets, peppers, leeks…. Just as the shifting weather signals a change in activities, so the food a new season of tastes. Soon we’ll be gathering with loved ones at Thanksgiving tables around the country.

I learned to love fall’s bounty from a coworker, mentor and friend, Arnie, who passed away this year. I always think of him when I roast the first squash of the season, and how emphatically he explained his love of autumn to me. He loved food, and life, and enjoyed both to the fullest.

Foliage itself is a reminder of life’s fleeting nature, and I can’t help but think of Arnie and others I’ve lost. Fall is also when we lost my mother-in-law, in the midst of a mild and still-green Texas autumn. And it reminds me of the loss I am still reeling from, the brutal end of my friend Jim’s life. He went missing two years ago on Thanksgiving Day.

Loss is difficult to cope with, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t confront it. This is life, the whole cycle of it, and as trees shed their leaves in anticipation of another frigid winter, we can all rest assured that another spring is around the corner.

This potato-and-leek soup is an autumn staple for me, the recipe I jump to each time I get a leek in my hands. It’s so full of flavor and so comforting. The recipe itself is pretty standard, but the addition of the vinegar adds a little zip that I think elevates the soup. The herbs are also key, given how subtle the flavor of leeks and potatoes are otherwise, as is the pepper. I use a blend of white, pink and black peppercorns for a bit of complexity, but you don’t have to. It’s a flexible recipe, and one I hope will soothe and warm you.

To Arnie, who loved the fall. And to Jim, who deserved to see this fall.

Recipe after the jump.

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Hidden in plain sight

Oak Hill Cemetery

I have a new idea for a photo essay, and this is my first contribution. I realize that the city looks completely different on a bike than it does in a car or even on foot, and you notice things you would not otherwise. I hope to collect and post more photos of discoveries made on my bike.

But let’s start with the photo above, taken of a cemetery dating back to the 1840s.

I was inspired by my neighbor, an avid cyclist, to take a ride this weekend through the city. I rode through Rock Creek Park, a beautiful stretch of trees and water that serves mostly as a highway for commuters. But the parkway looks completely different on a bike or on foot, and you start to notice things you may not otherwise.

I had caught a glimpse of this graveyard once before, but it was only on the bike trail that I got a chance to get up close. I noticed a placard, which said that this section of Oak Hill Cemetery was reserved for freed slaves and is one of the oldest black cemeteries in the area. I have a fascination with cemeteries as it is, and the history of this one really gave me pause.

Who knows what lives the people buried there lived? We can have some idea by looking up the history of those buried there: People such as Isabella Baumfree, who at the age of 9 was sold away from her family along with a herd of sheep for $100.

Her owners beat her, including once with, in her own words, “a bundle of rods, prepared in the embers, and bound together with cords.” And she was sold again, into conditions that seem even worse. She was forcibly separated from a lover and made to marry someone of her owner’s choosing before she finally ran away.

She went on to become a great spiritual leader, changed her name to Sojourner Truth and helped the Union during the Civil War. She lived in Washington D.C. after the war and helped freed slaves settle there and in the Western territories before passing away in 1883.

And there she lies, facing Rock Creek Parkway, where thousands drive by every day without noticing. Not to get too melodramatic here, but I believe it’s worth a moment of reflection.

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Video of my TV appearance

Here I am being interviewed by D.C. veteran anchor Andrea Roane about the State of the Union.

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B and I took advantage of the long weekend to discover Richmond, and we were impressed. It’s only two hours from D.C., but the Virginia capital has such a different feel. It’s Southern, for one. And it’s really into preserving old buildings and celebrating all that is good in life (such as food!).

We checked out the city’s impressive art museum (B’s pictured here in the South Asian gallery), watched Megamind in the historic Byrd Theatre, had dessert at a happening brasserie, listened to a local band, toured the capitol building, and journeyed out to Williamsburg for a taste of colonial history. Well recommended!

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Celebrities in the Beltway

I had a really great time last night at the Kennedy Center Honors reception. I probably racked up more celebrity sightings than I have in my entire life thus far. If you’re curious, the AP wrote a pretty thorough piece on the event. The highlight for me was being in the same room as DeNiro, Scorcese and Ed Norton. Ben Stiller even smiled at me. *gush*


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Salahi madness

I’ve read a few pieces in recent days about the Obama administration’s reaction to the White House “gate crashers” that try to expand the issue beyond what it is.

By refusing to let White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers testify before Congress about the incident, the Obama administration is violating its own promise to have an open White House, some media reports have said. (I can’t find the piece I read this weekend at the moment.)

It’s a valid point, but after some reflection, I have to disagree. I don’t think this incident — which has already been blown way out of proportion — can be used to judge the administration’s transparency. Who really cares whether Rogers is to blame, and isn’t it more important that we know how the President arrived at his Afghanistan surge decision?

Great piece on that in the Post on Sunday, by the way. Focus, people.

David Carr writes in The New York Times that Obama’s social media campaigning and his celebrity status have perhaps cheapened the office to reality TV status.

This I also think is a bit unfair. The Salahis would probably have tried to attend this affair whether it was Obama or Bush or Clinton in office. Judging from their Facebook pages, they like to take pictures with famous people. And there were famous people aplenty at the state dinner. Famous for Washington, at least.

So to sum up: Shun media and Congressional probes, face scrutiny. Open up the White House to the people, face scrutiny. All over some rich couple that crashed a party. Security concerns are valid, but let’s just let the Secret Service clean up this mess.

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John Allen Muhammad’s execution

Good, somber video by the Washington Times that presents the various sides that turned up to watch the execution. It’s heartbreaking that all those people had to die at the hand of the DC sniper, but the death penalty still doesn’t seem to sit right with a lot of people.

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