SATURDAY, 4/20: Free Composting Workshop

February 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Participants will learn to make rich organic compost from yard trimmings and leaves at this beginners composting workshop on Saturday, April 20. The free program will include a composting demonstration, making compost tea, proper food waste composting, and vermicomposting (composting with worms). Participants will take home a free portable yard waste compost bin.

The event will be held at the Cherry Hill Picnic Shelter (312 Park Ave., Falls Church) and run from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. To register, call Sandy Tarpinian (703-536-7186) or e-mail to [email protected].

Perfectly Stuffed: A White Wine for Turkey Day

By Christianna Sargent
November 11, 2011
Special to Falls Church Times

Thanksgiving presents a truly American festive meal, laden with starch, spice, sugar, and the inevitable turkey roast—the ultimate tryptophan rush.  Splashes of burnt orange, crimson red, pecan brown, and pine green decorate the table and mirror the fall foliage outdoors. This time of year sets the mood for cozy afternoons indoors where warm, winter light floods bay windows, and a glimpse outside reveals a picturesque setting of falling, painted leaves. The brisk chill in the air only prepares the heart further for comfort food served up hot and the ever-charming glass of wine.

Thanksgiving will always be my favorite family holiday, and not just because of the food and the fact that no presents are needed; but, mainly because Thanksgiving is a true wine meal. The wine choices, though, are limitless and daunting at some levels, especially for folks who are just looking to adorn the table with some good tasting juice and leave the vino contemplation for the snobs. So rather than name off all the usual culprits that you see listed in every food magazine and wine editorial,  I’m going to say the opposite: stay away from Sauvignon Blanc, don’t bother with Cabernet Sauvignon, skip the Italians, forget the Pinots, Malbecs and Zinfandels save for another day. Keep it simple this year, and explore the broad, stylistic wine selection from one small region, the Loire Valley. I promise you, it offers all the stuffing you need and more…

This majestic region sits farther up the Loire Valley just south of Paris and can be compared to other renowned places of beauty such as Venice, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Grand Canyon! Otherwise known as the Garden of France, this region between the cities of Angers and Tours stretches along a slow-churning river flanked by 300 chateaux, vineyards, and gardens, and was named a UNESCO world heritage site. This beautiful region is home to the Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc grapes.

The Chenin Blanc grape is what we shall focus on for the Thanksgiving meal. Yes, I say, even if it is just a white wine. Chenin is especially versatile and comes in many different forms from dry to sweet, sparkling, rosé, and decades-old (possibly longer-lived than Riesling). In other words, red-wine drinking fans, this will be the perfect wine to indulge in during the meal, and after turn to your reds as you sit back in Turkey Lovers Lane swooning in a food coma. This chameleon of a grape pairs so perfectly at the Thanksgiving feast, and sadly, it is so unfamiliar to Americans. It is the Old World’s answer to California Chardonnay, but on a much eloquent, refined scale. No big oak-bombs represent this category. Rather, the wine itself is highly extracted (like Chardonnay) and highly acidic (unlike Chardonnay), making it a great food pair. Plus, it is susceptible to the famous “noble rot” that glorifies the vineyards of Sauternes (the honey-like, age-worthy dessert wine from Bordeaux). You can spend as little or as much as you like on it, and Loire Chenin Blanc can even be found at your local grocer. While you are out label-hunting for Thanksgiving, have a quick chat with the wine retailer you frequent, ask for Vouvray, Savennieres, Coteaux du Layon, Quarts de Chaume, or Bonnezeaux (listed in relative order of increasing price). None of these are easy to pronounce, so Google it! Or rely on your handy Iphone or Droid apps to peruse the wine cellar jargon. Either way, it’s simple to go to the French section and spot one of these names, even if you just point and don’t utter.

You will not regret the aromatic qualities of a good Chenin Blanc: ripe Georgia peach topped with whipped cream, quince paste and succulent apricot, Fuji apple and Bosc pear. Top this with a touch of marzipan cake framed by toasted nuts, and you have a mouth-watering Chenin Blanc just full-bodied enough to match with your roasted fall vegetables, seasoned turkey, and sweet potato casserole.

Just so you won’t get lost in the French aisle, I will list a few of my favorites you can spot around town:

Bernard Fouquet Domaine des Aubuisiers Cuvée de Silex Vouvray, Loire France $18 (at Weygandt Wines in Cleveland Park)

Domaine de Baumard Savennières, Loire France $18 (Whole Foods and Red, White & Bleu)

Domaine Jo Pithon Coteaux du Layon, Loire France $22 (MacArthurs)

Domaine Jo Pithon Quarts de Chaume, Loire France $100 (MacArthurs)

Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux, Loire France $70 (Schneiders)

Christianna Sargent
Certified Sommelier
Advanced Certificate-
Wine & Spirits Education Trust
Association of Italian Sommeliers
French Wine Scholar

FOOD: Cheese Whiz on Cheddar

July 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

BY Christrianna Sargent

Special to Falls Church Times

July 15, 2011

Imagine a world without cheese. Visit Whole Foods without sorting through towers of cheddar looming over wrinkly, ashen pyramids of fermented goat’s milk. Picture the empty cases once laden with downy-soft, ivory disks of soft-ripened, creamy bliss. Balk at the Farmer’s Markets scarce of cheesemakers, tranquility fractured by haunting echoes of vast silence supplied by cheese dearth.  Envision a world lacking in magic from the absence of wine and cheese pairings; the ultimate sanction suffered from cheese coiffures gone dry. Too heavy a burden the world would bear…Oh Cheese, forever would I lament you, a world of senseless whirling gone awry.

Drastic measures of which I speak, exaggerated with descriptive language I admit. But, truly, cheese industrialization almost put farmhouse cheddars out to pasture. The ravages of the Second World War devastated the British cheese industry and paved the path for tons of mass-produced American Cheddar to fill the bellies of Americans and Brits alike. Few men remained to pass on age-old cheesemaking traditions. A country once blessed with 15,000 cheesemakers crafting “territorial” cheeses was left with 126 farmhouse cheesemakers.  The British were not alone. America experienced the same plight. Flooded by European immigrants in the 1800s, America feared the population’s food demands would outpace the slow, local process of cheese production. In 1877, John Jossi, a Wisconsin cheesemaker of Swiss origin, developed a process to emulate English Cheddar by using two bricks to squeeze fresh curd, resulting in a firm, more rubbery cheese ideal for cutting. The process quickly inspired Britain’s Ministry of Food to rule all excess milk be used to make fast-cultivating “National Cheese.”

By the 1970s, farmhouse cheddar was all but forgotten. Large companies stamped out most small co-operatives as cheese became a commodity to be distributed as cheaply and efficiently as possible to supply the increasing number of supermarkets. Where had all the cheddars gone? Millions only knew cheddar as the orange or white, Velveeta-like, manufactured cheese, sterilized and standardized. But, the Vietnam War partnered with the hippie movement sparked the dawn of a new age. A generation of people, who harbored aspirations to shrug off the disillusioned world, decided to lay testimony to the rural, farm life. Cheese was to be revolutionized.


On July 17th at Red, White & Bleu, another session of Cheese Boot Camp forges ahead with a close-up view on the history of British farmhouse cheddars and today’s movement to revitalize artisanal and farmstead cheesemaking. This educational tasting session will expose American supermarket shelves as the bearer of ready-to-go shredded or sliced Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby and Swiss processed cheese, marketed as “fresh” by the power of preservatives. Pique your senses with the opposite of factory flavors ranging from bland to sharp and venture into farmstead flavor including caramellike, fruity, nutty, tangy, grassy, and spicy.

Cheddar production dates back to the medieval times, and the name itself is no longer associated with a village in southwest England’s Somerset County. Rather, the name refers to a technique and is not a protected designation of origin. Cheddaring is a process by which the curds are pressed and stacked resulting in a characteristically smooth, firm, tight texture of Cheddar. Everything Cheddar will be discussed Sunday, July 17th at Red, White & Bleu Wine Shop at our 1pm and 3pm reservation openings. Seven farmstead cheeses will be tasted from the United Kingdom, United States and Canada. Plus, seven wines that pair classically with Cheddar will be sampled. Call the shop at 703.533.9463 to reserve your spot, and anticipate finishing the course as a true Cheese Whiz on Cheddar.

Christrianna Sargent is a Certified Wine Sommelier and you can visit her blog at:


Holiday Gifts for the Foodie

December 10, 2010 by · 4 Comments 

Everywhere you look there is something going on with “foodies” and you are bound to have a foodie or two on your gift list this year. Here are some local gift suggestions that will make any foodie on your list smile and go “Yum!” and you don’t need to go outside the city limits for your holiday gift shopping as our local businesses have many gift items to save on your stress and make the holidays for our local businesses brighter! Read more

FOOD: An Entertaining Season

December 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Falls Church Times Staff

December 3, 2010

The holidays are upon us with Thanksgiving last week, Hanukah this week and the Santa-mobile about ready to make its debut. Sometimes nothing can be more stressful that trying to plan refreshments for a holiday gathering. Do you plan a full meal? Do you state you have “no time” and order pizza?  Entertaining can be stressful, but when you take out the guessing of what to serve, getting together with friends is one of the best things in life.

For many gatherings, a simple sampling of wine, cheese and meats are enough to satisfy and impress any guest. We are fortunate to have many cheese and wine shops in the area, and I stopped in at the Cheestique in Del Ray before Thanksgiving to select items for a holiday gathering. After a lovely few minutes of discussing what the cheeses and meats should be served with, I came home with a selection of four cheese, three meats and accompaniments such as cornichons and quince paste.  Combined with two fine red wines and a sparkling Shiraz, the whole evening was delightful as friends caught up.

With cheese and wines on my mind, I met with James Roth of Red White & Bleu here in Falls Church to ask him about what he would recommend for holiday entertaining. We met on the Friday after Thanksgiving which was supposed to be quiet but many regular customers kept popping in to pick up their wine orders, select cheeses for their gatherings with friends and to help us out with the wine tastings.

James has always been a strong champion for local wines and cheeses, and he relishes the opportunity to share many of his favorites. “We are so fortunate to a bounty of truly robust and flavorful wines and cheeses in this area”, says Roth. For our holiday entertaining tasting, James selected a sparkling wine, a white and a red.

We started off with Thibaut-Janisson Fizz, a Virginia winery located outside of Charlottesville owned by Claude Thibaut and Manuel Jannisson who are well known in the Champagne region of France. What I enjoyed about the wine is that it is patterned after an Italian Prosecco rather than the traditional champagne. This gives the wine a lighter taste and is better for pairing with a wide variety of foods including cheeses and meats. I have always been a fan of Proseccos and will be adding this one to my list.

We followed the Fizz with the delfosse Reserve d’Oriane, a white wine from the Monticello wine region. The Reserve d’Oriane is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Manseng and Viognier that has been aged in a combination of French Oak, neutral oak and stainless steel. I was pleasantly surprised by the d’Oriane as it was a light and yet full bodied wine that as James says is a nice replacement to the real heavy Chardonnays many are used to. Any guest would be pleased to have this served to them if they are looking for a white wine as it is a bold wine that will not overpower. James recommends the d’Oriane for poultry or a pork loin, but says that this wine can also stand up to any spicy food. As for cheeses, what is nice about this wine is that it is not acidic like other whites which can ruin a cheese pairing. The d’Oriane complements the acid in many cheeses and thus balances them. Keeping with the local theme James recommends one of the many goat cheeses from Cherry Glen such as the Monocacy Chipotle which won the 2010 American Cheese Society Competition First Place for Flavored Cheeses. 

Our last wine was a red, a 2007 Merlot from Chester Gap Cellars from the northern part of Rappahannock County. This red is 100% Merlot and is a surprising rival to the strong California Merlots that many are used to according to James. I somewhat agree but others in the tasting were just not fans of red wine. I found it a tad lighter than what I normally expect in a Merlot, but being from California I like to be able to “taste the dirt” in my wine, but that is just me.

While entertaining may seem costly, the costs for the wines tasted were in the $20-$25 dollar range which makes entertaining pleasant on a tight budget. These wines paired with a few cheeses from our local farms allow any host to entertain friends throughout the holiday season.  Centi Anni!

The End of the Road

April 16, 2010 by · 15 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

April 16, 2010

This will be the last installment of my weekly food column for the Falls Church Times.  No more obsessive Farmers Market taste tests.  No more waxing poetic about the Eden Center.  No more bashing Pie-Tanza and Elevation Burger.  It’s all over.  I’m off to graduate school to begin the next chapter in my life.

To say that I’ll miss the Times is a gross understatement.  Food and writing are two passions of mine that I was able to indulge simultaneously with this gig, which also allowed me to work with some of the nicest, most down-to-earth people I’ve met—the Falls Church Times Staff.

Stan Fendley has backed me up no matter what I’ve written.  I’ve gotten words of encouragement and advice from Dave Witzel, Scott Taylor, Annette Hennessey, George Bromley, Gina Caceci, and Stephen Siegel on numerous occasions.  And Man About Town Columnist George Southern, well, he’s been about the best editor a writer could ever have—helping me along every step of the way with uncommon thoughtfulness.  I can’t imagine a more supportive group of people.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my columns as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.  For the most part, I’ve avoided writing about the City’s most popular places, which I don’t see the point in reviewing.  Instead I’ve focused on lesser known ethnic places and foods available here that aren’t available elsewhere.   There are many places I didn’t get a chance to profile and many dishes I didn’t get a chance to try, but I had a blast exploring new restaurants, shopping at ethnic grocers, and expanding my horizons at the Farmers Market.

I’ll leave you with one last labor of love—a list of the “Top 10 Food-Related Things I’ll Miss the Most in and Around the City of Falls Church.”  It’s a long title for a list but I can’t think of a better name.  I’ve tried to cover all the bases, from markets to restaurants to places in the City and outside of it but not too far away.  At best I think it’s a useful tool for any City resident interested in getting the most of the unique food offerings around the Little City.  I call it a list of things I’ll miss, but from your perspective it’s really just my list of the “Top 10 Food-Related Things to Take Advantage of in and Around the City of Falls Church.”

If I mention a place that I’ve written a story about in the past then I’ve included a link to that story to give you some more information about it. If I mention a place that I didn’t get a chance to write a story about I’ve included the address in parentheses.  And if I don’t mention a place you think I should’ve mentioned, well, I’m sorry about that.  So here’s the list, beginning with the place I’ll miss the very most…

Top 10 Food-Related Things I’ll Miss the Most in and Around the City of Falls Church

The gateway to deliciousness.

  1. The Eden Center- I’ve probably written more about this City gem than anything else.  The Eden Center is a food paradise with over 30 Vietnamese restaurants and bakeries that I’ve only scratched the surface of even though I’ve been there dozens of times.  I’ll miss Huong Viet—Eden’s oldest and most often crowded restaurant- the most.  Its spring rolls, smoky grilled meats, and gutsy lemongrass-centric stir fries are a terrific introduction to a great cuisine.  If you haven’t been to Eden you simply must go.  If you only go occasionally then you should go more often.  And if you just don’t feel like dealing with the notoriously bad parking at least head down to Present Restaurant in Falls Church to enjoy some just-as-good Vietnamese cooking- its the cuisine this area specializes in better than any other.
  2. The Farmers Market- There are Farmers Markets everywhere.  But it’s going to be hard for me to find one better than the one the City is so blessed to have.  I’ll miss the tomatoes at Tree and Leaf and Potomac Vegetable Farms.  I’ll miss the glorious fruit at Toigo and Black Rock Orchard.  I’ll miss Mike Musachio’s sweet corn and spring peas.  Most of all, though, I’ll miss the market experience as a whole.  The hustle and bustle of a Saturday morning at the Farmers Market is invigorating. Read more

FOOD: Asian Imports — That Other Asian Supermarket

March 19, 2010 by · 3 comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

March 19, 2010

There are so many incredible Asian food markets within a 10 mile radius of the City of Falls Church.

Great Wall off Gallows Rd. in Falls Church may be the craziest of the bunch.  On Saturday mornings the check-out lines are often ten people deep, comprised mostly of Chinese grandmothers stocking up on loads of fresh vegetables and fish straight out of the live tanks that line the back of the store.  The Korean-centric H Mart across the street is similarly chaotic, teeming with people at all hours of the day.

At Duangrats in Falls Church and Bangkok 54 Market in nearby Arlington homesick Thais shuffle in throughout the week for curry pastes, fresh rice noodles, kaffir lime leaves, and other hard-to-find items.  Every time I go to one of them I leave with a new treasure I’ve never tasted in my life.

And there are countless other places that get plenty of well-deserved business—the Grand Mart just outside the city; the Cho Saigon Supermarket at the Eden Center; the Happy Go Supermarket in Annandale.

But there is an overlooked gem amongst these popular Asian grocers — a place that sees far fewer people walk through its doors.  It’s called Asian Imports and it’s right here in the Little City.

Asian Imports (formerly known as Vietnam Imports) isn’t nearly as big or well-stocked as much of its brethren, and some of the products seem to have been untouched for years.  It doesn’t really carry any fresh produce, meats, or fish worth noting either.  Truthfully, the place doesn’t look like much at all on the surface.

Start perusing the shelves, though, and you’ll quickly realize this is no generic Asian market.  Even though you’ll find some of the same Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, and Korean items that other stores carry, Asian Imports specializes in Indonesian and Filipino imported foods, both of which are hard to come by around here.  There are dozens of products and brands at this cramped storefront that you simply can’t find elsewhere.  For that reason alone, this place is worth a trip. Read more

FOOD: A Little of Everything at Halalco Supermarket

January 22, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Falls Church Times Staff

January 22, 2010

If you are a City of Falls Church resident there’s a good chance you’ve seen the black and white BUFFET yard signs for Halalco Restaurant scattered throughout town.  They are simply unavoidable.

I first saw one on Lee Highway a few months back, and I got a chance to look at it long and hard because I was sitting at a red light.  I had never heard of Halalco, so I was intrigued on some level.  But buffets are rarely rewarding and frequently horrid to the point where you regret eating at them, so I filed the name in the back of my mind as a possible destination for some food column far, far away.

Far, far away turned out to be last week.  After some internet sleuthing I learned that Halalco Restaurant was actually inside of Halalco Supermarket, a fully stocked grocer with loads of imported goods, a butcher, produce, and tons of Islamic items, ranging from clothes to books to DVDs.  The buffet was but a small part of a huge operation.  What was once an afterthought for a story jumped to the top of my list (yes, I have a list).

The meat men at work at Halalco.

The meat men at work at Halalco.

My anticipation only grew as I pulled into the strip mall housing Halalco.  The place is absolutely massive.  I went through the doors and didn’t walk out for another hour, as I was intent on checking out every nook and cranny of the chaotically organized store.

I began in the produce department.  Unfortunately there wasn’t much to like there.  A dozen or so bunches of cilantro covered with ice were on life support, as bruised and battered as I’ve ever seen the pungent herb.  Japanese eggplants—wrinkly, pliable, and soft—weren’t much better off.  Clearly there wasn’t much turnover in the fruit and veggies department.  I moved on.

The bread aisle was much more promising, jam-packed with lavash bread (both white and whole wheat) from Falls Church’s Mama Lavash Bakery, several types of soft and chewy Afghan bread, and more than a few bags of pita.   I immediately recognized the red-lettered “World Famous” variety of Afghan bread made in Lorton, Virginia, which I’ve bought elsewhere and is a particular favorite of mine.  The dough is made with milk and is especially tender as a result.  It’s about as good as bread out of a package can get.

The rest of the aisles were a mish-mash of imported goods from all over the Middle East, India, and the Eastern Mediterranean.  It was as if a Middle Eastern grocer and an Indian grocer met up and decided to join forces.  One aisle was full of tahini and pomegranate molasses, the next overflowing with whole spices and Indian pre-packaged meals.  And there were pickles, dozens and dozens of cans and jars of pickles.  Pickled beets, pickled okra, pickled peppers, pickled eggplant, pickled cucumbers—everything was pickled.

I also stumbled upon some excellent cooking implements, including real-deal kabob swords for grilling, ma’moul cookie molds, and mortar and pestles.  And there was an entire section devoted to rice, most of which came in mulch-sized bags.

You could spend an afternoon weighing your options in the rice aisle at Halalco.

You could spend an afternoon weighing your options in the rice aisle at Halalco.

Most of the aisles I walked down were deserted, though.  Everyone who walked in the store went straight to the butcher in the back.  Clearly, the vast selection of halal meats is the draw for most customers.  In addition to the typical lamb and chicken offerings, there were halal hot dogs, sausages, and even jerky, none of which I’d ever seen before.

In general terms, halal refers to anything that is permitted under Islamic law, whether it be the clothes you wear, the things you say, or the food you eat.  In the United States the term usually shows up only in the context of food.  In order to be considered halal, an animal must be slaughtered at the neck (to drain the blood away) and the name of Allah must be spoken as it is killed.  The halal butcher industry has blossomed in these parts due to the area’s large Muslim population, which I am thankful for because halal meat is usually fresh and affordable.

I hovered around the butcher for a few minutes, transfixed by the huge saw ten feet in front of me grinding through lamb bones.  It was thrilling to have such a wide-open view of the men handling the meat—an opportunity you never get at places like Giant or Safeway.

I forged on to the non-food area of the store, mostly because I saw a sign for cookbooks.  Mere footsteps away from the lamb carcasses I found the mother lode-unquestionably the best selection of cookbooks for sale in the City of Falls Church.  An entire shelf spilled over with some of the best-known titles for Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, including works from legends like Claudia Roden, Paula Wolfert, and Madhur Jaffrey.  Even better than the well-known books were the dozens of funky little paperbacks I flipped through that are definitely not available at Barnes & Noble or Borders.

I got so caught up in the cookbooks that I ran out of time to eat at the buffet, which looked a little dreary anyways.  Nevertheless, I felt compelled to give it a try and went back this week.  Nothing was horrible but I would never go out of my way to eat there.  Most of the food was either Indian or Pakistani in nature, the bulk of it vegetable curries.  There were also some meat dishes, all with similar home-style, tomato-based curry preparations.

The only way I’d eat there again would be if I was already shopping and had a hankering for spicy, oily Indian food.  In that case I’d load up on the squash curry, chickpeas, and chicken karahi, which were the best of what I sampled.  And if you do brave the buffet be sure to wait for the piping hot disc of naan that comes with the meal—every dish tastes better sopped up with the Indian flatbread.  There are order-off-the-menu options as well, but frankly it doesn’t seem like anybody is there to eat at the restaurant, so I’d steer clear.

Taken as a whole package, Halalco Supermarket is undoubtedly a worthy place to visit for adventurous food shoppers.  Once you sift through the sub-par produce and haphazardly organized shelves (good luck finding the price on some of the products), you’ll find a gem of a grocer the City is lucky to have.

Halalco Supermarket- 155 Hillwood Avenue, Falls Church, VA, 22046.  (703) 532-3202.  For more information on the halal meat industry in the Washington D.C. area, click here for a great article from the Washington Post.

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