Archive for July, 2011


Pie > cake when it’s 100 degrees outside

I’ll begrudgingly admit that pie beats cake this time of year. For one, berries are a lot sweeter and cheaper. Cake’s too heavy when it’s a sauna outside, not to mention that icing quickly turns into a puddle. Add to that all the recent magazine spreads of pie porn (Food Network, Oprah), and it’s hard to get pie off the brain.

Mini-pies from Sweet & Natural.

We recently tried the mini-pies from Sweet & Natural in Mt. Rainier, courtesy of Surabhi and Tom. Fascinatingly, Sweet & Natural started out as a bakery (you can find their baked goods at veggie-friendly cafes and markets around DC, including Whole Foods) but now also offers vegan soul food (!)

These apple and blueberry pies had a thin crust, with conservatively sweetened fruit filling. You wouldn’t pick up on the fact that they’re vegan—these were good pies, period. Perfect for your friends who are constantly moaning that everything’s too sweet.

Meanwhile, Whole Foods is having a pie sale through the end of July—all pies are $9.99. The strawberry & rhubarb is typically $15.99, so it was too good a deal to pass up.

We haven’t had the best of luck with baked goods from Whole Foods. They sometimes phone it in when it comes to their prepared foods (soggy pizzas, rice that isn’t fully cooked, not-worth-the-calories pastries). But this was damn tasty. The first sensation that hits your tongue is the tartness–exactly what you want when it comes to something like rhubarb. The fruit chunks are generously sized and firm, which says, “I didn’t come out of a can.” And the crust, which is oatmeal crumble on top, browns up nicely in the toaster oven to add crunch. Add a dollop of Greek yogurt, and Bob’s yer uncle. Or something.


Now that’s what a food truck should look like

Matt Targon is a sculptor who’s hired by companies to pimp out their food mobiles. (He was profiled in the July/August issue of Food Network Magazine.) Imagine one of these rolling down Pennsylvania Ave, or at Truckeroo.

Photo from

Short of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs coming true, this is a kid’s dream. Good Humor guy who drives up my street, take note.

Photo from


Storm the prison this Bastille Day (with cake!), at Eastern State Penitentiary

They're too small to see, but those are Tastykakes being thrown from the prison tower. Photo from

If you’re in or around Philly this week, stop by Eastern State Penitentiary, where Marie Antoinette will be letting us eat Tastykakes (Butterscotch Krimpets, to be exact) by tossing 2,000+ of those Pennsylvania treats from one of the prison towers. There are a bunch of other Bastille Day-themed events planned for the occasion, like special restaurant menus, re-enactments, and movie screenings.

As Ms. Pie said, why are we not gonna be there for this?


Ode to a croissant

It’s normal for me to become obsessed with a new dessert find, only to get sick of it a few weeks later. However, I’m not expecting a more long-term fascination with the almond croissant from Tout De Sweet.

The pastry chef at this place is clearly a genius, because I’ve never tasted a croissant like this before. Yes, I recently sang the praises of the pastry selection at Praline, but I daresay that Tout De Sweet has eclipsed that level of deliciousness.

What makes this almond croissant so amazing? Let’s analyze.

  • The texture. It’s crunchy on the outside, with tender pastry and gooey filling inside.
  • Filling: The all-important almond filling isn’t heavy like marzipan, and lacks the gritty texture you sometimes encounter.
  • Fresh-roasted almonds: They taste like something recently pulled from the oven, rather than prepackaged.
  • Right amount of powdered sugar: It’s applied with a light hand. You don’t want to be choking on the sugar, or getting it up your nose.
  • Mysterious crust: There’s a mysterious caramelized layer on top that adds extra flavor and texture. (Look closely at the photo, between the sliced almonds.)

If you have the slightest hankering for pastries, it’s worth schlepping to Bethesda–even if you’re allergic to yuppies–to try this. An added plus, the chef and his wife who run the shop are exceptionally nice people.


Co Co Sala’s chocolate boutique

Walking back to the car after lunch at Ella’s, a Co Co Sala sign beckoned me and Mr. X-sXe: “Frozen Co Co.” It was 90+ degrees, and humid as a devil’s armpit. We dutifully went inside.

CoCo Sala opened a chocolate boutique adjacent to their main restaurant about a year ago. As we waited for our drink to be blended, we checked out the high-end goodies. “Chocolate-enrobed bacon,” read one sign. It brought back memories of the mac and cheese I’d had here a couple years ago, which came with a piece of said bacon. Although a little too chewy, it actually went well with the mac.

Finally, the frozen “co co” emerged. It’s made with ganache (chocolate + cream), ice, and chocolate shavings. Liquefied brownie meets Frappuccino. Delicious, yes. But if you’re looking for something light and refreshing on a hot summer day, this isn’t it.

While inside, Mr. X-sXe was taken by the fetching display of individual chocolates. Next thing you know, we walk out with a box of 4 for $10. At that price, it almost hurts to eat them. Our flavors were pistachio, lemon, co cojito, and banana ginger. While they were all good, I can only get so excited about filled chocolates. Doesn’t matter how high end they are—they always bring back memories of the Whitman’s samplers we’d get at the drugstore as kids (“I want the chocolate-covered cherry!”). Damn you for ruining filled chocolates for me, Whitman’s.


Celebrate the 4th with watermelon cake!

This story from The Washington Post cracked me up. Can you imagine a kid preferring birthday watermelon to birthday cake? If more kids were like that, Michelle Obama’s work would be done.

Creating a cake-like creature out of watermelon seems like a good idea for July 4 celebrations. It’s usually so steamy hot by now that real cake–especially following a couple dogs and/or burgers–seems heavy. Plus, do you really want to turn the oven on? But I bet that watermelon “cake” would be a hit.

Timothy R. Smith, who works for the Post's food section, has preferred watermelon to birthday cake since he was a kid (?!) Image: Tim Carman/The Washington Post.


Rehoboth series, part 3 of 3: Annie’s Banannies performs magic with frozen bananas

We hit 3 places at Rehoboth Beach last weekend to get a sampling of the sweets scene: Cake Break, The Ice Cream Store, and Annie’s Banannies. In case you’re wondering, the famed Candy Kitchen was not one of these, because (1) I’ve got way too many fillings to be eating stuff like taffy (2) fudge is one of the worst bastardizations of chocolate I’ve ever encountered, and (3) the place is a madhouse swarming with kids who could spontaneously combust from sugar overload at any moment.

It’s funny how much junk you can justify eating while on vacation. The boardwalk is filled with double-fried fries, ice cream, funnel cakes, pizza, you name it. We walked past one lone frozen yogurt place. Tellingly, there wasn’t a single person in there that wasn’t an employee.

Luckily, offering healthy options isn’t a death knell for every business on the boardwalk. Annie’s Banannies, which makes vegan “soft serve” out of frozen bananas, has been there 2 years and is going strong. You can’t miss it—the store is decorated to resemble a jungle.

The product is simply frozen bananas run through a juicer; nothing more. You can get the works thrown on top, or just get it plain ($3.75 for a small).

We were transfixed watching them make these. They push the frozen banana in one end of the juicer while ever-so-slowly, it painstakingly poops out a smooth, creamy treat with the consistency of soft serve. No added sugar, no nothing. We felt like this was some well-kept secret among the Coven of the Frozen Banana Juicers.  I learned from their website that Annie’s mom was the one who introduced her to the concept. Apparently Annie had been kicking around the idea of opening Annie’s Banannies for a while:

“One night while folding laundry my dad came in and said, “Annie, you have to do it, Annie!” I thought, do what? “Do you need me to do some laundry for you, dad?” He laughed and said, “No. Banannies! You need to do Annie’s Banannies!”  I told him that I would, “one of these days.” The next day when I got home from work I found that he had passed away. It was the last thing he said to me. (He died September 26, 2006.)

Three weeks after we laid dad to rest, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. After surgery followed by a long 9 months of rehabilitation, it seemed she was getting better and was finally cancer free!

One night while watching TV together, mom looked up and said, “Annie, you have to do it Annie.” I said, “Do you need something mom? What can I get you?” She replied, “No. Banannies; you need to do Annie’s Banannies!” I promised I would as soon as she got better. It was the last thing she said to me; 18 hours later I found myself holding her hand as we took her off of life support. (She died July 6, 2007.)”

Annie has another location opening soon in Baltimore; I hope she successfully grows it into a nationwide franchise. As long as you don’t go overboard with the toppings, it’s so much healthier than the custard and ice cream places dotting the boardwalk. We even went back the morning after we’d first tried it to get another one–and to gawk at the employees making them.