Wild Kitchen Summer Dinner Series

On a recent, gorgeous summer evening, I was fortunate enough to experience an incredible dinner party as part of the Wild Kitchen Summer Dinner Series sponsored by REI and Brightest Young Things. The dinner series consists of a number of pop-up dinner parties held throughout the summer in collaboration with local DC chefs to benefit an environmental charity serving our area. Many have already heard that REI is about to open a flagship store here in DC at the historic Uline Arena. It sounds like it’s going to be an amazing place with a cafe, courtyard for musical performances and giant fire pit. They plan to continue to host events like this one. REI recognized the link between people who love great food and who care about the environment and decided to bring them all together as part of their national United Outside campaign. Every single cent of the proceeds goes to the charity of the night. The charity for our dinner was The Chesapeake Conservancy which was exciting since the Chesapeake Bay is near and dear to my heart. As a child, my grandfather had a boat and we spent many weekends exploring the Chesapeake. And I also went to college on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and spent my summers working in Ocean City, MD. So, I was super interested to learn about the work of the Conservancy and all they are doing to protect the Bay and to give people access to this amazing natural resource that is so fundamental to our entire region.

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My gorgeous friend Haleh and I taking advantage of the spectacular evening light to snap a pic.

One of the reasons I chose this particular dinner is because the chef for the evening was from Whaley’s, the newest member of SE DC’s Yards Park restaurant scene. Whaley’s  has been getting a lot of buzz for its spectacular seafood so I knew there was potential for an amazing food experience here. When we arrived at Wunder Garten, a fun and quirky German style beer garden in NoMa within sight of the Uline Arena and where REI has their community space, we were greeted with a delicious IPA donated by Atlas Works and two long, adorably decorated picnic tables. Since the number of tickets sold for each dinner was limited, we were a small group of about 30 people just sharing a family style meal. First, we heard from REI and learned more about the United Outside Campaign and their plans for the new DC store. Then we met folks from the Chesapeake Conservancy and learned about the great work that they are doing and the improving health of the Bay. And then it was time to dig in.

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Fresh and briny Oysters Rockefeller

Of course there were oysters. Delicious oysters. Briny and garlicky and amazing Oysters Rockefeller on a bed of rock salt. Everything was served family style and the presentation was just spectacular. The second course was such an unexpected and delicious treat – soft shell crabs with a salad of roasted red pepper and charred corn. The orange of the pepper puree, the red of the actual roasted peppers, bright purple onions and yellow corn topped with the soft shell crabs made for a stunningly beautiful plate. As we learned from our Chesapeake Conservancy friends, the window of time when soft shell crabs can be harvested is very narrow, so we lucked out. I admit that I have only ever tried soft shell crabs fried in a sandwich, but these were grilled which enhanced rather than masked the delicate flavor of the rich meat.


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Succulent soft shell crab. Can you believe those colors?

And then for another showstopper – Whole Roasted Sea Bass. Delicate and delicious fish with a light rustic herb sauce and fresh tomatoes. It was a work of art but that didn’t stop us from digging in. As we enjoyed the fish and chatted with our dinner mates, the sun began to set and candles were lit casting a magical glow over the garden. By candlelight, we enjoyed the final course of the evening, grilled peaches with marscapone cheese and honey. A perfectly light and seasonal dessert after such an extraordinary meal.

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Stunning Sea Bass

Every single dinner in the Wild Kitchen series has sold out. And it’s no wonder. This was that rare evening of really special food and drink, great conversation with like-minded folks and philanthropy. It was an evening that I will not soon forget and one that has set the bar high for the perfect summertime dinner party.


Staving Off Summertime Boredom

Those who don’t have children may not quite understand why the prospect of summer break causes some of us to break out in a nervous sweat. Parents in DC who choose to send their kids to camp for the entire summer are looking at spending a small fortune even if they choose the most affordable camps and are somehow able to forego aftercare services. Most parents try to carve out a mixture of camp, vacation time, grandparent duty, play dates and whatever else they can come up with. The flexibility of my job is helpful during this time, but I certainly can’t stay home all summer so there’s always some creativity involved in figuring it all out.

This year, I’m staying home with my kids for the first two weeks of summer and then they will start camp at their school. I will attempt to work while they are home, relying on friends and neighbors to watch them during appointments. While this is stressful, the other difficult piece is trying to keep them entertained and away from screens for at least a decent portion of the day. It’s been exactly one week since the boys’ summer break started and they’re bored. Frankly, so is mom. I love being out and about too and so I’ve been brushing up on our favorite summertime places to visit.

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Summer is a great time to pretend to be a tourist and catch up on all the museums.

Now, I try to take advantage of all that DC offers and I spend a good amount of time exploring, but I, too, lament how there’s still so much that we haven’t done. I haven’t taken a nighttime tour of the monuments, haven’t taken a tour of the Capitol building or the White House, haven’t climbed to the top of the Washington Monument. I could go on, but the list of things to do in this area is seemingly endless, so why not try to check off a few during summer? We recently spent the afternoon at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home in Virginia. We hadn’t been in years. Neither kid really remembered it. Mount Vernon has spectacular views of the Potomac, gorgeous gardens and details that absolutely fascinated my children like an outhouse with multiple seats for group bathroom trips.

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Meticulously maintained gardens at Mount Vernon.

Though I enjoy exploring new spots, there are a few tried and true places that always please and one of those is Yards Park. I’m going to admit here that it’s really me who loves Yards Park the most. My kids always ending up having a good time, but sometimes they want to go to a real pool. But the wading pool here is SO much easier for me. I don’t have to get in (which means I don’t have to get into a bathing suit and get wet!) if I don’t want to; I can supervise from the cool shade. The park is gorgeous with beautiful river views. There are clean bathrooms close by. There’s a lot of kid-friendly food options like Nando’s Peri Peri, Potbelly’s and sometimes food trucks. And I can bribe them to get out of the pool with a cone from Ice Cream Jubilee.

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Lovely Yards Park with its wading pool, waterfall and fountains is always a hit.

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The very cool pedestrian bridge at Yard’s Park with river views.

Another popular summertime option is sporting events. A baseball game at Nats Park is an absolute must! Even non-sports people like myself enjoy the beautiful setting and killer food. We have tickets to see DC United this weekend as well. I’ll be looking forward to future soccer games at what is sure to be the gorgeous new stadium at Buzzard Point.

Nats Park

Nats Park is always a great night, even for someone like myself who doesn’t follow sports at all.

Even though summertime can be expensive and stressful, it’s still a great time to chill out, sleep in a bit and explore. It’s an opportunity to connect with my kids and let them decompress from the craziness of the school year. I am so grateful to live in an area with a plethora of fun activities at our fingertips. I vow to relax myself, forget my to-do list for the time being and try to create some unforgettable summer memories for my kids.


Williamsburg Weekend Getaway

As much as I love DC, there are times when you gotta get out of the city and recharge the batteries. Another one of the huge benefits of living in this area is its central location. There are so many great destinations within a few hours drive of DC. You can easily get to other fun cities like Annapolis and Baltimore, the beach towns of Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore or the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. When my two best friends from college were planning a weekend getaway to celebrate my 40th birthday, they racked their brains for a nearby destination that we hadn’t already visited numerous times. They decided on Williamsburg, VA since none of us had been since we were children, and we all share a love of history and architecture.

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Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum where actors portray the daily life of the 18th century inhabitants.

My childhood memories of Williamsburg were pretty hazy so I was newly impressed by the perfectly preserved architecture, quaint streets and the dedication to maintaining period details. It was also a perfect time of year to admire the magnificent flower and vegetable gardens. As we walked through the streets, we would occasionally catch the wafting, sweet scent of honeysuckle.

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Typical colonial architecture

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No girls weekend would be complete without a little pampering so of course I made a trip to the hotel spa with impressive gardens of its own.

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Trellised entrance to the spa.

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Yet another beautiful garden on the spa grounds.

We were able to rent bikes to better explore the colonial area. Since this was not the height of the season with hordes of people milling around, it was a fun and easy way to get around.

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Our preferred mode of transportation.

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Love the colors of this stately entrance.

Of course, I can’t forget the food. There are taverns within the colonial area serving traditional period food and drink. We were able to enjoy refreshments on the beautiful garden patio at Chowning’s Tavern. Because of the glowing Yelp reviews, we ventured out of the colonial area to a quirky restaurant called Food for Thought featuring Southern comfort food where I had some pretty delicious ribs. We also enjoyed traditional French cuisine at the Blue Talon Bistro in the adjacent Merchants Square shopping district where we indulged in some of our favorite desserts like creme brulee, chocolate mousse and an interesting burnt sugar ice cream. Our breakfast within the Williamsburg Lodge was also phenomenal. A hearty Eggs Benedict with perfectly poached eggs and buttery, homemade English muffins filled me up for the day.

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Exceptionally good eggs benedict.

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The inviting vine covered trellis on the patio at Chowning’s Tavern.

Williamsburg proved to be a truly memorable location to celebrate a huge milestone with two of the most important people in my life. There’s nothing quite like enjoying time with friends who know and love me so well. I fell in love with these peacock plates at Chowning’s Tavern and decided to pick up a couple as a momento of this very special weekend.

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My peacock plates.




A Worthwhile Trek to the National Arboretum

Tucked away in a parcel of land at the northeast corner of the city surrounded by drab industrial areas along New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road, the National Arboretum isn’t easy to get to without a car making it a bit of a lesser known attraction in the area, but it’s well worth the trek.

Perhaps the most iconic feature of the Arboretum is the National Capitol Columns. The stately Corinthian columns were once part of the US Capitol but were replaced in 1958 and eventually found their permanent home on top of a slightly elevated open field at the Arboretum called the Ellipse Meadow. Their appearance is imposing and photo worthy and a popular local spot for wedding and engagement shots.

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National Capitol Columns

There are over 400 acres of land in the Arboretum so there’s much more to explore. There’s an impressive Bonsai garden, an azalea garden that is absolutely breathtaking if you hit it at peak bloom, a youth garden and even plenty of cherry blossom trees for those looking to avoid the overwhelming crowds at the Tidal Basin in the spring. Although it’s currently under construction, outside of the Administration Building is a large koi fish pond and visitors get to feed the fish. It’s a favorite kid activity. They love to see the huge fish crowd around with their gaping mouths begging for food. We can’t wait for the koi fish to return when construction is complete.

Vine Arbor

Vine Arbor

One of my personal favorites is the Asian Collection which backs up to the Anacostia River and includes a few secluded benches with great river views. It’s easy to drive in and follow the signs to a small parking lot right off the gardens. I’ve often found myself completely alone in contemplation and peaceful silence.

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Rustic secluded bench nestled among lush greenery in the Asian Garden.

There is a tram that offers tours of the grounds but they tend to run on the weekends only. There are also plenty of guided walking tours, even a full moon hike in the evening after hours which is on my to-do list but plan ahead b/c they fill up quickly.

Helpful Tip: If you don’t bring along a picnic lunch and you’re needing to fill your belly after all the walking you’ll do at the Arboretum, there’s a great Szechuan Chinese restaurant called Panda Gourmet just up Bladensburg Road inside the Days Inn. You’ll be skeptical, but trust me, it’s good and authentic Chinese food in the most unlikely of places.




A Retreat for Quiet Reflection and Natural Beauty in NE DC

These days I am filled with NE DC pride, but when I bought my house in Woodridge in 2010, I had no clue about the neighborhood. I understand why NE DC is still unknown to many folks who live in and visit DC, but there are some spectacular places to explore, particularly for nature and garden enthusiasts.

One of the best is the Franciscan Monastery in Brookland. I’m so lucky to have this amazing attraction within walking distance. I visit often for reflection and relaxation and just to enjoy a gorgeous sunny afternoon surrounded by the well tended gardens.

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Tulip Garden

The Monastery includes a pretty impressive church, but I go for the gardens. Gorgeous rose and tulip gardens are huge draws for visitors in the know every year. There are numerous replicas of Vatican grottos on the grounds as well and a small path. The Monastery holds many events like spaghetti dinners and their famous plant sales which generate money to help maintain the gardens, as well as a shop where they sell honey made by the bees raised onsite. The 2016 honey harvests are in June and September and you can participate in extracting the honey by attending a workshop. There are guided tours throughout the spring and summer on Saturday afternoons through the Garden Guild or you can just roam around during their open hours.

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The Rosary Portico

Most don’t know that there is also a hermitage on the grounds available for nightly rental. It’s designed for single person use as a way to quiet the mind, reflect and contemplate spirituality. I fully intend to try it one of these days.

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