Space snacks

No gelato for this guy.

Back when I was 11 years old, what feels like 5 lifetimes ago, I went to Washington D.C. for a Safety Patrol end-of-the-year fieldtrip. (Yes, I was a Safety Patrol, complete with a fluorescent orange across-the-chest belt with a big, shiny badge. I was a raging dork and it was awesome.)

Of all the things I saw that blew my young, impressionable mind, it was something at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum‘s gift shop that excited me the most: astronaut food.

The package said it was exactly like what the real astronauts ate in space, and I was sold. $3 later I ate dehydrated strawberries thinking they were the coolest thing ever.

Fastforward to almost 14 years later… strolling through the American Museum of Natural History’s space gift shop after seeing a show at the Hayden Planeterium, I saw a familiar, over-priced, edible souvenir: astronaut food!

There's no substitute for real ice cream.

$4.34 later, I left the museum and gift shop with a dehydrated ice cream sandwich alla astronaut, just as excited as I was the first time I tried this gimmicky space food.

Later that night, I tore it open and Flaneur and I bit into respective chunks of crunchy, dry, almost dusty ice cream sandwich. Yes, it looked like an ice cream sandwich, and sure it kind of tasted like one, but in no way was it as good as a real, cold, creamy-on-the-inside, soft-cookie-on-the-outside ice cream sandwich. We ate it none the less, and I for one was glad I never became an astronaut. Sure, space is cool and all, but chalky, dry ice cream sandwiches? No thanks. I’ll stay here on Earth with the creamy, delicious cold stuff.

In vino veritas… unless the vino’s boxed

Way back when, during a carefree college semester spent in Italy, a couple of friends and I learned a valuable lesson we’ll carry with us forever: never, ever trust boxed wine.

We were taking a daytrip to the small, mountain town of Abetone and like many of our fellow classmates abroad, thought that adding wine to the equation would be a fantastic idea.

Wrong.

Unsuspecting fools that we were, Daphne, Cortney and I chose the wine on sale, the fermented-Juicy Juice-tasting liquid that came in a box and cost one euro a carton. We bought three and walked out ready for a good time.

Maybe 15 minutes later, as the bus lurched up the twisting and turning mountain road, and the warm, acid Tavernello sloshed around in our stomachs, we realized the error of our ways.

“Pleeease don’t let me puke on this bus,” I silently begged God, “I promise I’ll never drink boxed wine again. Lesson learned. I swear!”

Boxed wine: no longer just for budget-conscious drunkards

And I stayed true to my word, until this Saturday when the $35 dollar wine we ordered at Washington D.C.’s Farmers & Fishers at the Georgetown Waterfront showed up in you guessed it, a friggin’ carton.

“Who ordered the boxed wine?” people at our table asked mockingly, before the Yellow + Blue box of Argentine Malbec was planted in front of me and a couple others.

Cortney, who was on that vomit-inducing bus ride years ago and also at dinner in D.C., looked at me with eyes that said, “Uh oh.”

We should’ve seen it coming, though. F&F is a trendy restaurant with a lot of talk of green this, eco-friendly that and lots of sustainability packed in between. Before we even ordered, our plaid-shirted, gauged ear, shaved-head waiter rattled on and on about F&F’s fresh, farm-sourced ingredients and sustainable ag practices.

“Well the box is completely biodegradable,” he explained when we politely masked our horror and asked about the bottleless wine. “The inside is lined with balsa wood so it doesn’t affect the taste. It actually makes it taste better.

Hmm. Well, uhm, ok. Boxed wine it is, we agreed at the table.

I can always count on dessert to save the day.

The rest of dinner went well, with most of us opting for F&F’s Restaurant Week menu ($35 for a three course meal, boxed wine not included). Mini cheese pizza to split with the group, table-made guac, Chesapeake style Mahi Mahi, and my favorite from this particular food line-up: Key lime pie tartlet.

While everything was pretty good, the dessert stole my heart. Key lime pies just always take me back to the good things about Florida, the few that I actually like, like warm summer days spent at the beach, trips to the Keys and stuffing my face full of tangy, sugary goodness.

In the end, the Malbec-in-a-box wasn’t bad either. After a couple of glasses, we got over the carton stigma and went on with our meal. One thing is worth noting, though: the balsa wood-lined interior. Curious to see what the inside of our box looked like, someone at our table tore it open (once it was empty, of course) and well, there was another surprise: no balsawood, just the standard waxed cardboard you’d find in most boxed beverages.

So, with that being said, I stand by my original lesson learned: never, ever trust boxed wine.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of hamburgers

Say what you will about America, but it really is a great country. After two years in Italy, a land overrun by ass-backwards behavior, I now have an empowered sense of patriotism for the good ol’ U.S. of A. A renewed appreciation for its ideals of freedom, justice and opportunity. But most of all, a sincere gratitude for one of its best attributes: the hamburger.

Got a little squished in transit, but still deeee-lish!

Now, that’s not to say you can’t find good burgers abroad. You can. They’re just better (and more prevalent) in the U.S. So when a weekend trip took me, the bf and a friend to our nation’s capital, it only seemed right to eat burgers while we were there.

Washington, D.C. has lots to offer: museums, monuments and Good Stuff Eatery. Vanessa, the friend who came with me this weekend, was the one who told me about Good Stuff, and well, I basically owe her a kidney for it. Started by Chef Spike from Season 4 of Top Chef, Good Stuff is a casual place with an easy menu: burgers, fries and shakes, with a couple variations on these standard American good eats.

A burger with no fries is just wrong.

So in honor of our being in the capital, I went for a burger named after its most famous inhabitant: Obama.  A juicy beef patty topped with applewood bacon, red onion marmalade, horseradish mayo and Roquefort cheese, all squished between two soft, buttery buns. The President might not have won everyone over, but the Prez Obama Burger? A landslide victory.

But no burger-eating experience would be complete without fries so we split an order of Sunny’s handcut fries. These were good- perfectly salted and just a bit soft, how I like them- but what made them great was definitely the mayo bar: chipotle, siracha, mango and Old Bay mayos to choose from, in addition to the standard ketchup, mayo and mustard. Naturally, I got all of them.

This isn't just good... it's genius.

And last, but absolutely not least, was my favorite part of the meal: the toasted marshmallow milkshake. Thick and creamy, with a couple slightly browned marshmallows sitting on top, this shake was concentrated, glorious gluttony at its finest.

And in my book, that is always good stuff.

(Someone cue the Star Spangled Banner…)