How to Really Spice Up Your Life
If you care about the differences between, say, cinnamon from Vietnam and cinnamon from China, chances are you know about Penzey's, the catalog spice company based in Wisconsin. While the catalog is a good resource, nothing beats getting to smell the spices up close. The company has just opened two area stores--in Rockville and Falls Church--stocked with internationally sourced spices (you'll find everything from ajwain seed, a Pakinstani aromatic, to three strengths of wasabi), dried herbs, and chilies. There are sniffable glass jars next to every display, and the smart sales staff is full of tips: Who knew Chinese five-spice powder, commonly used for stir-fries, could do double duty in shortbread cookies? Then again, you could always go with one of the five cinnamons.
Penzey's, 1048 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 301-738-8707; 513 W. Broad St., Falls Church, 703-534-7770.
Hummus to Hanker For
What French onion dip was to the '70s and spinach-and-artichoke spread was to the '90s, hummus is today. After trying versions in grocery stores, gourmet shops, and Middle Eastern markets, we settled on one from a surprising place: the Whole Foods in DC's Logan Circle neighborhood (1440 P St., NW; 202-332-4300); other stores carry the same product, but we found this store the most consistent. The smooth house-brand spread ($4.99 a pint) isn't too pasty and tastes more of lemon than biting garlic. Dress it up with some assertive olive oil and a hit of paprika, and you're good to go for a dinner party. But it's just as good on its own with toasted pita.
Perfect for the Brownie Purist
There are many kinds of brownie lovers out there. Some like them cakey, others chewy. Some prefer accessories such as walnuts, maybe a peanut-butter ribbon. Still others are purists, hankering for a plain square made with good-quality dark chocolate. Pastry chef Josh Short's Farmhouse Brownie, $2 at Buzz Bakery (901 Slaters La., Alexandria; 703-600-2899) might satisfy everyone. It's soft and fudgy without being cloying (espresso adds a shade of depth), has just enough toasted walnuts and a hint of salt, and isn't over-the-top rich.