Tourist in my Own Town: Walking Embassy Row

A few weeks ago, my parents and their friends stopped by on a flying visit on their way back north after a trip to Hilton Head (lucky people). I planned some fun activities to entertain them while they rested their wheels before the next leg of their journey – starting with a hike at Great Falls in the morning. In the afternoon, Steve wanted to watch football but I suggested that those who would like another walk might check out Embassy Row. I used to work in the neighborhood and walked up and down Embassy Row on many a lunch break, and I’ve attended parties and open houses at several of the Embassies, but somehow never think to bring guests here. It’s just such a uniquely D.C. thing, I decided I was remiss. My mom, her friend, and Peanut chose to come along – so it ended up being a girls’ outing. We parked near Dupont Circle and wandered up Massachusetts Avenue. One of the first big Embassies spotted – the Greek Embassy! I’ve actually been in this one, for an open house during Embassy Days, waaaaaaaay back in 2009 (feels like a lifetime ago!).

The Indian Embassy!

Several of the Embassies feature statues of their most illustrious citizens either on Embassy grounds or nearby. The Gandhi statue is one of my favorites.

Another freedom fighter – Nelson Mandela, who raises a fist just outside the South African Embassy.

One of my favorite things about Embassy Row is how different each of the Embassy buildings are. I love to check out the architecture and grounds. The Japanese Embassy is a massive compound set back from the street.

Many of the Embassies were flying the Ukrankian flag alongside their own flags, showing support – it was so heartening to see.

I have walked Embassy Row more times than I can count, and I swear I have a different favorite building every time. This time, it might have been Cote d’Ivoire, with its modern architecture, big glass windows through which cultural artifacts were proudly displayed, and this:

Elephant statue! I love elephants – they’re my favorite land animal – so naturally I found this enchanting.

We made it our goal to walk all the way to the British Embassy, which is up near the U.S. Naval Observatory – I love a long walk and I always want to make it at least this far. Another one of my favorites – I love the modern building and the subtle nods to the U.K., like the lion, crown and unicorn in the brick.

Hello, Prime Minister Churchill! (Peanut thought he was giving the peace sign – I explained that no, it’s a V for victory.)

Such a fun walk – I couldn’t believe I’d never taken my mom up to Embassy Row before (the parents have driven past some of the Embassies at various points, but never actually spent time walking around and really looking). We wrapped up our afternoon with tea and cookies at Teaism, so basically, it was a perfect girls’ day out in D.C.

Have you ever walked up Embassy Row?

Scenes From “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” at the Renwick Gallery

If you’re in DC and not living under a rock, you’ve heard plenty of chatter about the No Spectators exhibit at the Renwick Gallery (part of the Smithsonian system, for my out-of-town friends).  The exhibit features art pieces from Burning Man and has been going on for months now.  For a time, it encompassed the entire museum – the gallery isn’t huge – and while the first floor exhibits have closed down, there’s still plenty to see on the second floor, which is remaining open until mid-January, 2019.  I’d been meaning to go for months – and of course was kicking myself for missing the lower floor exhibits – and last week my dear museum-going friend Susan and I slipped away from our desks for an hour of wandering amongst the huge installations.


The first room we walked into had a pile of cozy-looking beanbag chairs underneath a giant suspended star on which images of the galaxy were coming into and out of focus.  I sort of wanted to lay down on the beanbags and watch from under the star, but I felt awkward.  (I should have just gone for it.  The whole point of the exhibit was to interact with the art.)

I could have watched the display for hours, but since this was a sneak-away-at-lunch visit, we moved on to check out the rest of the installation.  The next room featured Shrumen Lumen, by Foldhaus Art Collective.

We both gasped in delight at the luminescent folded mushrooms towering over us.

Each mushroom featured a small circle at its base, and visitors were invited to interact with the art by stepping on the circle when it turned green and watching the mushroom change shape and expand overhead.

Gorgeous!  Susan and I moved on to the next room but noticed, glancing back, that the mushrooms started to change colors, taking on reds, oranges, yellows and greens instead of the relatively sedate blues and purples we had been watching – so we rushed back in to watch a bit more.


So beautiful!  Again – I could have stayed in this room all day.  But the next large installation was the one that I most wanted to see, so – onward.

We moved through a room with a few smaller pieces – including the replica of the Man in the picture at the top of this post – and I think my heart skipped a beat, or maybe two or three, when we found ourselves standing in the midst of Hyperspace Bypass Construction Zone (HYBYCOZO), by Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu.

The installation was made up of three geometric steel structures, lit from within by mirrors and lights that were constantly changing color, throwing an array of lacy shadows over the entire room of the gallery.  I wandered from structure to structure and back again, basking in the light and shadows and snapping pictures from every angle and with every new color combination.  I couldn’t get enough!

The display was hypnotic and the intricate shadows on the wall were pure magic.

The next room featured memorabilia and explanatory placards about the phenomenon that is Burning Man – definitely interesting, but we moved through it fairly quickly as we were running short on time and wanted to spend a few minutes reflecting quietly in the Burning Man chapel.  The chapel was an entire room of the most intricately-carved wood I’d ever seen.  All over the walls were scrawled messages to departed loved ones, and visitors to the gallery could add to the wall via small wooden cards.  Susan and I wandered through the room, reading the messages and gazing at the carvings until we agreed – in hushed voices – that it was time to break the spell and head back to the office.

I’m so glad that I made time to see No Spectators, even if I missed out on the first floor exhibits – it was still worth every minute spent wandering through the incredibly creative, inspiring installations, and I hope I’ll have the chance to go back at least one more time before the second floor shuts down.  And maybe I’ll have to add Burning Man to my bucket list – I never had a desire to go before seeing this exhibit, but I was so blown away by these pieces in a museum that seeing similar art under a star-filled desert sky might be a new life goal.

What’s the most creative art exhibition you’ve ever seen?


Literary Places in a Literate City


This may be old news to some, but to those who haven’t yet heard, permit me to brag a bit: for the THIRD year in a row, Washington, D.C. is the most literate city in the US!  (The study, of cities with 250,000+ residents, is conducted annually and looks at variables such as number of bookstores, newspaper circulation, and internet resources, among others.)  Fellow Washingtonians, we should be very proud.

Last year when we won, I tossed up a quick celebratory post. This year, though, I think more of a party is in order. Because… Three years running. That’s good stuff. And what better way to toast my town than with a literary crawl of Washington, D.C.?  This is a town that’s full of history and promise alike, and amply blessed with things to see, places to eat, and literary gems.  So, here are ten D.C. attractions, places to read nearby, and books to check out that celebrate, portray, or speak to our nation’s very literate capital.

10.  Mount Vernon

George Washington’s estate sits on the banks of the Potomac, looking from Virginia to Maryland.  You can stroll through history here, walk in the footsteps of Presidents on the well-trod floors of the Mansion, feed heirloom sheep, marvel at Farmer George’s ingenious barn, and wander amongst cherry trees in the nursery.  And you can wonder at the spirit of a small band of rebels who dared to take on an Empire, and at their leader who could switch from drawing up battle plans to instructing Martha on what curtains to purchase for the new dining room in the blink of an eye.

What to Read:  1776, by David McCullough.
Where to Read: the Mount Vernon Inn, over a steaming bowl of “pretty terrific” peanut and chestnut soup.

9.  Old Town Alexandria

It’s older than America!  In GW’s day, Old Town was… well… not that old, and it was a thriving small city south of the wetlands that would one day become Washington, D.C.  The Potomac was a thoroughfare and all kinds of travelers passed through on their way to and from Mount Vernon, or to stay.

What to Read: March, by Geraldine Brooks.
Where to Read: Misha’s Coffeehouse, with a cup of something hot, or The Grape and Bean.

8.  The Library of Congress

It’s America’s Library, so you know I’m all over this.  I used to work near the LOC and I’d walk over there on my lunch break just to marvel at the domed ceiling and the public exhibits.  I can’t imagine a better shrine to books and words.

What to Read: The Portable Thomas Jefferson, by Thomas Jefferson (Merrill Peterson, Ed.).
Where to Read: Mitsitam Restaurant at the National Museum of the American Indian – yum.

7.  The Supreme Court

The highest court in the land, and a temple for those of us who stammered our way through moot court competitions.  You can catch an argument there – they’re open to the public and only the most contentious cases fill the court gallery.  Or you can just goggle at the crisp white shrine to justice and recite Article III of the Constitution in your mind.  (Just me?)

What to Read: The Nine, by Jeffrey Toobin (obviously!).
Where to Read: Walk over to Eastern Market and plop down at Market Lunch.  Have pancakes.

6.  The Capitol

It’s where the people’s work gets done… or not, depending.  (Mostly not.)  You can watch floor debates from the gallery or get a tour if you contact your Representative ahead of time (or if you know someone inside, as most Washingtonians do… there are almost as many Hill staffers as there are K Street lawyers in this town), or you can just pose for a snapshot and admire the iconic dome.

What to Read: The Partly Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell (Americans should be informed!).
Where to Read: Over a beer at Hawk and Dove, rubbing elbows with Dem staffers from the House.

5.  The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. is the most famous address in the United States.  And whether you like the current resident or not, it’s probably the coolest photo op in D.C.

What to Read: Murder in the White House, by Margaret Truman (yes, President Truman’s daughter).
Where to Read: Breadline, where the staffers get their sandwiches and cookies, or the Hay-Adams Hotel if you’re fawncy.

4.  The National Archives

The most famous, important, heart-stirring documents from our nation’s history are here, and you can see them for free!  If you want to get up close and personal with the Declaration of Independence, this is the place to do so (but hands off, Nicholas Cage!).  Or you can be like me – bypass the Declaration and make straight for the Constitution.  I like to have a moment with Article III and the First Amendment.  What?  You totally have favorite parts of the Constitution, too.

What to Read: Common Sense, by Thomas Paine (another important historical document!)
Where to Read: Pop over to the National Gallery of Art and grab a gelato from the Cascade Cafe while you read.

3.  Kramerbooks

It’s part bookstore, part cafe (with an emphasis on pie… mmmm, pie) and that’s reason enough to visit this D.C. institution just north of Dupont Circle.  But it also has the dubious honor of being a favorite hangout spot for Monica Lewinsky (remember her?).  So you can shop for books, have a slice of their amazing blueberry pie, and indulge your secret love of scandal, all in one spot.  Best bang for the buck in D.C., and that’s even if you buy lunch and a book.

What to Read: A Vast Conspiracy, by Jeffrey Toobin, or anything from the shelves – support indie bookstores!
Where to Read: Afterwords, the attached cafe and bakery – have the crab and avocado salad, and a slice of pie.

2.  The Watergate

Oooooh, more scandal!  (Like it or not, there’s plenty of it to go around inside the Beltway.)  This upscale apartment building and hotel is the scene of the famous Watergate break-in that ultimately brought down a President (and that also caused us to add -gate to the end of every scandal that followed).  The apartments are popular with Washington bigwigs (when I first moved to D.C., I lived two blocks away on New Hampshire Avenue and used to go to the Watergate for Chinese food all the time; once hubby and I were mistaken for staffers and almost charged $75 for Condi’s order – then we fainted, because we were poor, yo) and – bonus – you’re just across the street from the Kennedy Center, if you fancy a musical interlude.

What to Read: All the President’s Men, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (what else?!).
Where to Read: Grab a table at Chen’s and have the eggplant in spicy sauce.

1.  Georgetown

One of my favorite haunts, this upscale neighborhood that grew up around the intersections of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, N.W. has shops, restaurants, and history in abundance.  Jackie Kennedy once walked these brick sidewalks.  And The Old Stone House, the only surviving pre-Revolution structure in the District, still stands here (and freaks out the more nervous among us after dark – it’s said to be haunted by the ghost of a murderous misogynist).

What to Read: Katharine Graham’s Washington, by Katharine Graham.
Where to Read: At the Haagen-Dasz shop, where you can nurse a shake and check out the Georgetown map mural.

Have you been to D.C.?  Do you have favorite literary haunts, or Washington-inspired reads?

Farmers Market Report: Falls Church

Although I am very excited that hubby and I have at last bought and moved into our “forever” house, there are definitely things I miss about our condo – other than the kitchen and my stainless steel appliances, that is.  One of my favorite things about our condo was its fantastic location – an easy trip into DC, and walking distance to parks, tennis courts, bike trails and the Falls Church Farmers Market.  Hubby and I made a ritual Saturday morning trip to this market to buy fresh veggies and fruits and take in the scene.  We didn’t go every week, but we went often enough that this market felt like an integral part of our condo experience.  I’m sure I’ll find another “home” farmers market soon, but in the meantime, I’m reminiscing over some shots from our last trip to the Falls Church market.

Some of the tents set up by the vendors… in the summer, there are twice, or maybe three times as many vendors.  The winter market just has a few tents, but the vendors who come every week to bring delicious salad greens, fruits, vegetables, breads, wines and prepared foods are some of the best the market has to offer even in its crowded days:

Lovely spring blooms.  This was just a couple of weeks before Easter, and I would have been tempted if I hadn’t known that these potted plants would have to take a ride in a moving truck a week later: 

Gorgeous apples, which we have all winter long – one of the great benefits of living in a temperate area:

I’m very proud of our northern Virginia wines.  They’re getting better every year!  Hubby and I love to ride out to Loudoun County, where some of our favorite wineries are located.  We take along a picnic and have a wonderful afternoon of tasting – something we try to do a few times a year.  But it was nice that North Gate would come to us, to our own local farmers market, every week too:

Here is just one example of many vendors who bring their delicious prepared foods – soups, dips, canned and pickled items and… yes, you read this right… hot fudge sauce:

And in case the market isn’t diverting enough on its own (as if!) we even had live music from a real Virginia… cowboy?  Rock ‘n roll!

I’ve checked out a number of farmers markets since beginning to really appreciate food.  I love the opportunity they provide, to interact with the people who grow our food.  And the veggies and fruits I go home with are always fresher and more flavorful than anything I can get at the supermarket.  While I’m always up for visiting a farmers market on my travels – like the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, my very first stop in San Francisco, or the Berkeley Springs Farmers Market in West Virginia, where I got a great local cooking pamphlet and lots of honey for the hubs – I’ll never cherish any market more than my home market.  And the Falls Church Farmers Market was a great one.

Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show

In 2009, for the first time, I attended the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show in DC.  This massive trade show had somehow escaped my notice until I received an email about it from my mentor at work, a major foodie himself.  When I looked into it and saw that Giada de Laurentiis was going to be doing a cooking demonstration, I didn’t hesitate for a second!

The entryway to the show floor:

Some vendors set up on the show floor (this was right when the show opened, before the crazy crowds hit):

Fellow veggie lovers at Indigo Rabbit:

Indigo Rabbit is a cookie company based in New England, which hides vegetables – such as squash, for instance — in their cookies!  The cookies are delicious and chewy, and I promise they don’t taste like vegetables.  We chatted about hiding vegetables in baked goods and exchanged blog addresses – check them out at – and  I brought home a box of their Seriously Cinnamon Almond cookies, which are sweetened with cane sugar and include a puree of carrots and sweet potatoes!  As cookies go, these are just about as healthy as they can get, and taste better than pretty much any other store-bought cookie I’ve encountered.  They have quite a few flavors – all delicious.  Hubby and I also liked the Luscious Lemon Chewies, although the Seriously Cinnamon Almond was by far my favorite.

(Nota Baker: I paid full price for the cookies.  My recommendation is based completely on the fact that they are absolutely freaking delicious.  I have not received any free products in exchange for recommending these cookies.  Just try them.  You’ll see.)


I also picked up some fun tropical fruit sauces – mango mustard, banana barbeque sauce, and two tropical chutneys – from the Nature Isle booth:

After I made friends with the Indigo Rabbit crew, hubby and I headed over to see what was, for us, the main event…


Chefs prepare the stage for Giada’s demonstration:

And out she came!  Giada brought members of the audience up on stage to make a roasted pork loin with balsamic sauce, rigatoni with butternut squash, and espresso ricotta creme.  She also answered audience questions throughout the demonstration.  Hubby and I were too shy to stand up and ask a question, although in retrospect, I don’t think there is anything we could have said that would be more embarrassing than the guy who prefaced his question with, “First of all, you’re gorgeous.”

Please don’t let the camera fool you.  We actually sat pretty close to the stage.  Clearly, I need a big, clunky zoom lens for my giant camera.  Santa, are you listening?

Giada was fantastic!  Her cooking demonstration was a blast and she was endlessly patient with the multitudes of audience members who didn’t actually have a question, but just wanted to come up onstage and cook with her.  After the demonstration, hubby and I took one more swing through the trade show and then headed home to make some homemade pasta.  Of course, right?