Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Folklife Folklove

As I have mentioned before, my love of cooking really took hold when I was studying abroad in Germany. And if I was bit by the cooking bug then, it really turned parasitic on me my junior year of college. I was living with friends in a gorgeous 4 floor row house in the Foggy Bottom district of Washington D.C. and I had no job, no boyfriend and I definitely didn’t study in the library with the rest of my housemates every night. Which boils down to a lot of free time. So I began to cook. A lot.
When the opportunity to get an internship for the summer as part of a requirement for my degree arose, I applied to a couple of different places. And in this instance, having an advisor who half-assed it most of the time really paid off. A quick phone call over to the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and I was in. I received a call back about my application a few days later (which is lightning speed for D.C.). The woman on the other end of the line said she noticed that I put cooking as an interest of mine on the application. I said yes, that I enjoyed cooking. She went on to explain that at the CFCH’s annual Folklife Festival, there are always a couple of cooking demonstration areas, and that she was looking for an assistant to help coordinate the cooking tents.
Now, let me go into some more detail about this Folklife Festival. For all of you who know me, I will commonly place both hands over my heart and whistfully say ‘oh Folklife: Folklove’ and get a dreamy faraway look in my eyes. The Folklife Festival is a giant festival on the national mall every summer sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution. They feature different countries and areas of cultures around the world. It’s like one giant, living, breathing, museum on the mall surrounded by museums and landmarks.

Needless to say, I said yes, and agreed to be the unpaid intern for the summer. I have many, many stories about working for the Folklife Festival and if you ask me, I will be happy to share them all with you at some point. For now, my favorite one is as follows:
I was moving items from our office down to the festival site one day and needed to return some cookbooks to the Martin Luther King Jr. Public Library on the way. Not thinking about it, I picked up the books, and the bag of kitchen utensils and started walking. I had my credentials making me an official ‘employee’ of the Smithsonian Institution, so I felt pretty confident about my venture.

The public libraries in D.C. have metal detectors in the foyer and all people entering need to be scanned. I looked into my brown paper grocery bag and realized that the utensils I was carrying were strictly knives. Big knives, little knives, serrated knives etc. but only knives. Undeterred, I approached the security guard and said, “Listen, this is a bag of knives. Can I just leave this here, while I return some books?”
“No.” she replied looking at me as though I was an absolute lunatic. I paused and stared at her for a little bit (not helping my case, I realize in hindsight) and then thought better of arguing with her and returned to the office. Apparently, you cannot bring a bag of knives with you into a public library.

Anyways, that summer I worked almost exclusively in the Scottish Kitchen demonstration tent. I met some wonderful people, had tons of laughs, very little sleep and an incredible time. I learned quite a few different dishes and really started to come into my own as a cook. The following recipe is one of the items that I cooked a few times in that kitchen and then in my own after the festival had ended.
Lamb Casserole
as adapted from Sue Lawrence’s Scottish Kitchen

I made this recipe for my extended family while on vacation on the Jersey Shore. This was the first time I had offered to cook for everyone, and my rule was that I was only cooking certain things for dinner – and everyone was going to eat it, no excuses. So no red pepper strips for this cousin and no cucumber slices for that cousin. It was Lamb Casserole or nothing. Surprisingly enough there were no tears, and everything got eaten.

This recipe is easy to make and tastes really fantastic. The original recipe calls for a layer of sliced black pudding to be placed around the outside edge and baked. If you like black pudding and have access to it, I highly recommend it. But if not, the recipe will taste superb without it.

2 Tb Olive oil, divided
2 Tb butter
1 ½ lbs. lamb shoulder, cut into cubes (or lamb stew meat)
1 Tb flour
1 onion, diced
1 leek, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 sprigs rosemary
2/3 c. red wine
2/3c. beef stock

Preheat oven to 325°. Place flour and a dash of salt and pepper into a Ziploc bag, add in lamb cubes, then shake the bag to coat the lamb evenly. Shake off any excess flour.

Heat 1 Tb of the oil in a large heavy bottomed dutch oven. Brown the lamb on all sides, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add remaining oil and the butter to the pot. Sauté onion, leek and garlic until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Return meat to the pot, and add rosemary, red wine and beef stock, bring to a boil. Cover the pot and place in oven. Bake for about 1 ½ hours. Then remove cover and bake an additional 30 minutes. If you have the sliced black pudding – layer it around the top of the casserole after 1 ½ hours and then bake for the last 30 minutes.

Serve with mashed potatoes or egg noodles.


  1. Nice...can we get lamb other than ground at Barrels?

  2. Sounds awesome. I'm sure Riley will love it. I think I'll make it this weekend.


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