This Week On Metro Connection: Out In The Cold (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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This Week on Metro Connection: Out In The Cold

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and every year, right around this time, we set aside a week to bring you a show we call, Out In The Cold. It's inspired, of course, by winter. Because, after all, it's mid-January, right? And once upon a time, mid-January meant we were bundling up in our down coats and shivering in our boots. These past few winters that hasn't quite been the case. It's been chilly on occasion, sure, but it's also been pretty balmy, downright spring like on certain days.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Nevertheless, this show has a soft spot in our hearts, so erratic weather be damned. We are going ahead with an hour of cold, cold, cold, both literal and metaphorical. We'll face the frigid waters of the mid Atlantic with a Maryland family sailing across the world. We'll go skiing on a hill in Virginia, where snow is no longer required for a fun day on the slopes. And we'll sample the cuisine of Iceland, as we continue our Eating in the Embassy series.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

But first, a follow up to a story we featured exactly one year ago this week. The story took place in Southeast Washington, in the historic neighborhood of Anacostia. And it was about a place designed to bring Washingtonians, women specifically, out of the cold. It's known as Calvary Women's Shelter. And when the organization announced its plans to build transitional housing at the center of Anacostia's up and coming commercial district…

MS. GRETA FULLER

The leaders of this community say they have been left out of the loop. Not just left out of the loop, but disrespected by Calvary. Not even responding…

SHEIR

People weren't too happy, like Greta Fuller. She was leading one of the protests at the time.

FULLER

$300 million was spent on the 11th Street Bridge, was supposed to revitalize and bring our community into the rest of the District of Columbia. And what we have at the foot of that bridge is a transitional housing.

SHEIR

Emily Berman brought us the original story last year and she joins me in the studio right now. Hi, Emily.

MS. EMILY BERMAN

Hi.

SHEIR

All right. So tell us, has the shelter had a chilling effect, so to speak, on businesses that are looking to set up in Anacostia?

BERMAN

So the answer is no. It really hasn't been as bad as people thought it would be. In fact, I asked Kris Thompson, who's the executive director of Calvary Women's Services, to show me around their new building. And right outside their window there's a business that wasn't there a year ago.

BERMAN

Is that a new pharmacy?

MS. KRISTINE THOMPSON

Yes. They opened before we did and are great.

BERMAN

It's called Grubb's Pharmacy. And there are also two new Capital Bikeshare racks. And this is just literally right across the street.

SHEIR

Okay. But how is the community responding to Calvary? Did you ask Thompson about that?

BERMAN

I did. And she pointed out they've only been in the space a couple weeks, but it's going really well.

THOMPSON

We have only had positive reception from folks in this neighborhood.

SHEIR

Okay. I don't mean to be a total downer here, but surely not everyone who lives and works in Anacostia can be all that gung ho, right?

BERMAN

No, not everyone. Duane Gautier is the CEO of ARCH Development Corporation. He's been working in the neighborhood for more than 30 years and is sort of one of the central figures in Anacostia's redevelopment.

MR. DUANE GAUTIER

Obviously, the Calvary Women's Shelter was not what the community wanted. It, to a large extent, put a stop on one of the primary properties that could have been a spur to more economic development. So in that way it's definitely a negative. Obviously, it is here now.

BERMAN

ARCH owns a bunch of buildings in Anacostia and is focused on bringing the arts and small businesses to the neighborhood. And if you've been to or heard about an art opening or networking event in Anacostia, chances are this group is behind it. I met up with Gautier at the Hive 2.0, which is the second co-working space ARCH has launched in the past two years. This one opened just a few weeks ago.

SHEIR

Wow, so now they have two spaces. It sounds like they're doing pretty well.

BERMAN

Totally. And this is also the group behind Lumen 8 Anacostia, which is an arts and performance festival. Last year the festival took place over three months in vacant buildings around Anacostia. And they're gearing up to do the same thing this year, but more than half the buildings they used last year are now rented with long-term leases.

SHEIR

So it sounds like it's good for the neighborhood, but harder for like the event organizers.

BERMAN

Yes, exactly.

SHEIR

Are there any other new businesses coming to the neighborhood?

BERMAN

There are. There's actually a lot going on. So I'll give you a little more of a rundown. There's a big warehouse the D.C. Police use to store evidence. And that is being turned into an office building. It's 75 percent leased. There's a theater opening, the Anacostia Playhouse and I poked around the construction site and it's really coming along. That should be opening in April. Duane Gautier has been staring at all these vacant buildings for years and says 2012 was a huge year for the neighborhood.

GAUTIER

Almost every single vacant property that was up for rent has either been rented or there's a letter of interest in renting it. That is unbelievably positive.

BERMAN

And I think one of the most interesting ideas is a partnership between ARCH and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, also known as the DHCD. They've designated more than $750,000 to help building owners redo their storefronts in 2013. They're going one building at a time to repaint, put up new signs and molding. And speaking of storefronts, I spoke also with Michael Kelly, the director of the DHCD. And he says they're in negotiations right now to purchase two buildings at the intersection of MLK Avenue and Good Hope Road, which is the heart of Anacostia. And these buildings right now are owned by the IRS.

MR. MICHAEL KELLY

The idea, I think, would be what we've talked about up and down the strip, is first floor retail and second floor residential.

BERMAN

Kelly works in the neighborhood and is just as excited as anyone about more retail. He says he really wants to be able to get his dry cleaning done while he's at work.

SHEIR

That sounds like a sweet deal.

BERMAN

Yes. I mean, who doesn't? While there is a decent amount of money flowing in, I don't want to give you the impression that there have been no setbacks. There is a huge building right in the commercial district, a former discount furniture store, that was just bought by a social service non-profit. They're turning it into an office building, but I definitely heard some griping about that. And there's also the issue of Uniontown Bar and Grill. Maybe you remember this story.

BERMAN

It was the first upscale restaurant in Anacostia. And the owners pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges. It was really a shock for the community, but the building owner has released the space and is ready to move on.

SHEIR

Well, then it sounds like there's something positive coming out of all that negative news.

BERMAN

Well, the restaurant's still boarded up, but it should open later this spring. And hopefully the fries will be as good as they were before.

SHEIR

So, Emily, in terms of the big picture for this part of the city, we also have the construction of the new 11th Street Bridge happening right now. We have the renovation of the St. Elizabeth's campus. Would you say then that Anacostia is really going to have a new look within just a year or two?

BERMAN

That's the plan.

SHEIR

Well, thank you, Emily Berman, for this update.

BERMAN

You bet.

SHEIR

For more on the new development in Anacostia and to see a rendering of the façade of the new Anacostia Playhouse, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

So clearly many transformations are afoot in Anacostia, but the bridge, the retail, the restaurants, they aren't the only things changing the face of the neighborhood.

SHEIR

Something else that's bringing new life to Anacostia…

SHEIR

Can you show us around the house a little bit?

MS. EUNICE ROY

Yes.

SHEIR

Just giving us a little tour?

SHEIR

…are the houses…

ROY

This is the dining room. This is my kitchen.

SHEIR

Big kitchen.

ROY

Very big.

SHEIR

Specifically, houses that are being brought in from the cold, so to speak, like this one owned by 81-year-old Eunice Roy.

ROY

I love my windows. That was the window they put in for me. I love it.

SHEIR

What did the windows look like before?

ROY

Oh, my gracious. It was old. Air was just coming in. And it was all cold in here, but now it's nice and I just love it. Yes, indeed.

SHEIR

Roy is a recipient in the Historic Homeowner Grant Program. I visited her home and several others in Anacostia with Brendan Meyer, a historic preservation specialist with the office that gives out the grants, the D.C. Office of Planning.

MR. BRENDAN MEYER

The maximum grant is only $35,000. So you're not turning any house into a palace. We're not doing any work on the interior. It's really the outsides of the house, what makes the house weather-tight, because that's the most public part of the house. The outside of every house, all of those together, make up the character of the historic district. And that's really what my office is charged with doing, protecting the historic character of the neighborhoods.

SHEIR

Grants are available to low and moderate-income households in 12 of these historic neighborhoods, Anacostia, of course, Capitol Hill…

MEYER

LeDroit Park, Shaw…

SHEIR

Blagden Alley…

MEYER

Mount Vernon Square, Mount Vernon Triangle…

SHEIR

Mount Pleasant…

MEYER

Striver's Section…

SHEIR

Takoma…

MEYER

14th Street and U Street.

SHEIR

And since 2008, when Mayor Adrian Fenty launched the program in Anacostia…

MEYER

Because that's where the need was greatest.

SHEIR

…nearly 100 households have received grants.

MEYER

We did most of those before 2010 when the city really had some budget difficulties and went through a crunch. So our program was one of the programs that was forced to slow down, in terms of our funding.

SHEIR

But now the program is back and going strong, especially here in Anacostia, which has been an official historic district since 1978. It has about 300 homes. And if you walk around the district, as Meyer and I did, you'll see the homes are in various conditions. On one block, we saw this dark grey one that was barely standing.

MEYER

The property owner is not around anymore, didn't have the resources to maintain this. Right now the city has come in and stabilized it. And even our grant program can't help this.

SHEIR

But then right next door, there's this bright white house that the program could help, and did. Ahmed Jibali-Nash was the restoration's project manager.

MR. AHMED JIBALI-NASH

The house had aluminum siding all over it and we ripped off all the aluminum siding to restore it down to the original wood siding, as you see. We painted it and we restored the front of it, took up the old flooring and put down new tongue-and-groove flooring and restored the house back to its historical piece.

SHEIR

Nash co-owns Housing Evaluations Plus, a contracting company that's worked on several grant-recipients' homes in Anacostia. And an interesting thing about contractors like HEP, Brendan Meyer says, is the Office of Planning has nothing to do with finding them.

MEYER

The homeowners apply for the grant and they state what parts of the houses they want to fix up. And along with that, they include three bids from three different contractors. And part of our review, not only are we looking for what would be the most interesting parts of the house to restore and fix up, the most important parts, but we're also looking to make sure that they're working with legitimate contractors who are licensed, who are giving them a fair price.

SHEIR

Now, as Meyer mentioned before, the Historic Homeowner Grant Program can't help every house. Some, like that dilapidated grey one, need way more TLC than the program can give. And others, like this purplish one a few blocks away, can only go so far.

MEYER

This house was in the family for three generations and three generations were still living in the house. It was in the worst shape of any house that we had in the grant program.

SHEIR

At some point, someone had slapped on this fake-brick siding and that was falling apart, the porch was crumbling and the rear wall was caving in.

MEYER

The maximum grant took care of what we could. We reconstructed the back of the house. We put up the new front porch. We took off the Insul-Brick siding. We restored the original wood siding that was still underneath there.

SHEIR

Things were definitely looking up, but this was back in 2008, okay, just after the housing bubble.

MEYER

So this is one of those homeowners that despite our help, despite their best efforts, they eventually got foreclosed on. And in the short time that they've been out of the house, somebody's stolen the gutters.

SHEIR

So that lovely purplish paint on the original wood siding is now being washed away. It's heartbreaking, Meyer says, but there is a silver lining to the story. See, the house next to the purplish one had been in a pretty sorry state, too.

MEYER

But a developer bought this house and did the same restoration work that we did on the first house. So once we fixed this up, that house became a lot more attractive as an investment, as a place to live. So, you know, we can't help everybody, but we sure helped this street.

SHEIR

So much so, in fact, that the day Meyer and I visited, we saw something pretty exciting at the purplish house.

MEYER

There's actually permits in the window. So I know that although the bank had to foreclose, the bank has now sold it to a developer. And the developer is going to start where we left off and hopefully get another family in here.

SHEIR

And in the meantime, the house next door sort of took a cue off of this one.

MEYER

Yep, yep, so almost two for one. Our one grant has fixed both houses, really.

SHEIR

Brendan Meyer says the Office of Planning hopes to continue the Historic Homeowner Grant Program for as long as funding is available. Because even though, as he mentioned earlier, $35,000 won't turn a house into a palace, it can certainly go a long way toward making a person feel like his or her home is a castle.

SHEIR

For more on the Historic Homeowner Grant Program and to see before and after photos of some of those historic houses in Anacostia, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Time for our break, but when we get back, downhill skiing, minus the snow.

MR. DREW SHERWOOD

It shocks a lot of people because their first thought is, I'm not going to ride on that. You know, I'll ride anywhere in the world, but I won't ride on that because I don't want to lose my skin.

SHEIR

That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection" here on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to "Metro Connection." Our theme this week is Out in the Cold. But, as you may have noticed, it hasn't really been all that cold around these parts of late. At least not consistently. Last year, 2012, was the warmest year on record in the United States. And in the mid Atlantic, we're experiencing our longest stretch without a major snow storm since the 1800s. Not exactly good news for local ski resorts, many of which have been getting more rain lately than snow.

SHEIR

But there's one slope where that doesn't matter. Where, actually, rain makes for better skiing. Jacob Fenston has the story.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

It sounds like snow.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

And kind of looks like snow if you squint. And it sort of feels like snow under your skis.

MR. BRENT WASHBURN

Like you're sitting down in a chair, weight back on the back of your, like, calf and your boot.

FENSTON

I'm at the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. My instructor, Brent Washburn, is taking me up to the top of the slope. He warns me it's a little bit different than skiing on snow.

WASHBURN

It's similar. It takes a little getting used to just because the stopping edge isn't as effective as snow and it is a little higher in friction than snow. So it looks more intimidating than you're going to be -- you're not going to be going as fast as you would if it was, like, ice or snow.

FENSTON

The snow here is actually plastic, big sheets of bristles, stitched together across the mountainside.

SHERWOOD

Everybody's first reaction is, that's going to hurt and it's going to take your skin off.

FENSTON

Drew Sherwood is the general manager here.

SHERWOOD

Well, you're not going to lose your skin. I can promise you that, as long as you're covered up.

FENSTON

The Snowflex Centre opened up in 2009, the first, and so far, only, ski slope in North America using this fake snow. While many ski areas in the Mid-Atlantic were forced to open late this season because of warm weather, the slope here is open about 360 days a year. Mother Nature is almost irrelevant. The weather is just sort of a backdrop.

SHERWOOD

It doesn't affect us. If it snows here, we are open, we can go skiing, we can go snowboarding. If it's icing out, if it's raining out, if it's a hundred degrees out, we can still ride here.

FENSTON

So is plastic the future of skiing? Matthew Graham has been skiing in the Mid-Atlantic for the past 20 years. He's a local writer and regular columnist for the website DC Ski. Last weekend he and his wife headed up to Snowshoe Mountain to do some spring skiing in January.

MR. MATTHEW GRAHAM

You know, 65 degrees, and you're skiing, and you're just in your loose coat and zipper's open and everyone's smiling and it's sunny.

FENSTON

Graham says this kind of weather weirdness has gotten much more common over the past few decades.

GRAHAM

Fifteen years ago, Snowshoe Mountain would be open for Thanksgiving. Christmas week was always guaranteed good snow. There's still an occasional cold winter, but the trend has been warming and less snow. So the resorts that have keyed in on the fact that they need to make snow whenever there's cold weather are doing well.

FENSTON

But sometimes there's just not enough cold weather to make snow. I called up Tim Prather, general manager of Wisp Resort in Western Maryland, typically one of the more snow-endowed ski centers in the area.

FENSTON

Oh, can you hear me?

MR. TIM PRATHER

I can.

FENSTON

Okay, great. How's the season going so far? What's the snow out there like right now?

PRATHER

It's up and down.

FENSTON

So far a lot of rain and a lot of 60-degree days.

PRATHER

Whether this is a trend or an anomaly, there's a lot of debate about, but we've always been a business that is kind of at the whims of the weather. I say we're kind of like farmers. We're hoping for rain and then we're hoping that it doesn't rain. Hoping for snow and then hoping we don't get too much snow.

FENSTON

Back at the Snowflex Centre, Drew Sherwood says businesses from around the country have been calling him up, curious about his all-weather plastic slope. He says some resorts are considering augmenting real snow slopes with plastic so they can extend their season.

SHERWOOD

We've had anybody from California, Texas, Minnesota, up in New York, all the way down to Florida, even in South America.

FENSTON

Liberty University spent more than $6 million building the slope in Lynchburg, a price tag that could be unaffordable for commercial resorts. But in Europe, there already are dozens of synthetic ski slopes and they've been around for years. Sherwood says people are closely watching Liberty to see whether snowless skiing will take off here in the states.

FENSTON

So this is the beginner slope?

WASHBURN

Yeah.

FENSTON

In the meantime, down I go. My first run on plastic. I'm Jacob Fenston.

SHEIR

Want to see a video of what it's like to ski on plastic snow? You can find one on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

So if snowless skiing doesn't exactly float your boat, how about a more traditional winter pastime, like say, ice skating? The new Canal Park ice rink opened at 2nd and M Street Southeast about two months ago. It's part of a much larger effort to redevelop a neighborhood once home to vacant lots and warehouses. In the latest installment of our D.C. Gigs series, we sent reporter Jocelyn Frank out to meet the woman running the show at the new outdoor rink.

MS. NANCY BUTLER

I drive a Hyundai in real life, which only cost me a couple of thousand, but for my day job I get to drive $140,000 Zamboni, bright red. My name is Nancy Butler. I'm general manager here at Canal Park ice skating rink. We opened November the 16th. I started working here early November, getting it started, getting the whole thing started. I felt like a construction worker. And here we are a month and a half later and I'm general manager. So I'm very proud of myself.

MS. NANCY BUTLER

I'm a Washingtonian, born and raised in Washington, raised on Capitol Hill. And I'm glad we have this ice skating rink. I was raised at the one on Fort Dupont, the indoor one, but it was indoor. It was just kind of dreary. The first time I put on a pair of skates I remember everybody wanted to be Dorothy Hamill. So my dad took me to the ice skating ring. He wouldn't get on the skates, but he would sit there while I would make it around ring. You know, he didn't get the full effect of it. Like, out here, we have sun, we're outside. It's something new.

MS. NANCY BUTLER

This is where we collect our money. And this is where we also pass out the skates over here. We have approximately 40 kids that work here. They're all from D.C. Most of them are from low-income housing. They're very good workers and we all make this thing work together. I knew this neighborhood when it was strictly housing projects. Never thought that this neighborhood would look like this, but some of the old residents were able to come back on some type of voucher program or some type of public assistance, so that worked out pretty well.

MS. NANCY BUTLER

What used to be the old Star Building is here. We have the Department of Transportation. We're a block over from the Waterfront. We've got the Navy Yard two blocks down. Our nation's capital here. This is Washington. It feels like Washington. It's a new Washington.

SHEIR

That was Nancy Butler speaking with reporter Jocelyn Frank.

SHEIR

Do you have a distinctively D.C. gig you think we should know about? You can reach us at metro@wamu.org or send us a tweet. Our handle is @wamumetro.

SHEIR

Well, while we're on the subject of outdoor sports, we're actually going to turn to an outdoor activity that isn't necessarily the first one that comes to mind when you're doing a show called Out in the Cold. It's sailing. And around these parts, sailing isn't really a big winter thing. But if you happen to be like Richard and Jessica Johnson of Oxford, Md., sailing is a year round endeavor. We first met the Johnsons a few months ago when they were getting ready for an around the world sailing adventure, from the Eastern Shore to New Zealand.

SHEIR

Well, since then, the Johnsons set sail with a recorder and a microphone. They sent us this audio postcard from the chilly rough waters of the Atlantic ocean.

MS. JESSICA JOHNSON

Hi, this is Jessica Johnson, sitting on Elcie's aft deck. And we just rounded Cape Hatteras. We departed Oxford on Saturday with eight people on board and spent a couple days making our way down the Chesapeake.

MS. JESSICA JOHNSON

It's a challenging time of year to depart the Chesapeake and waiting for the right weather to go offshore. So that's one reason we're heading now into Beaufort, N.C.

MISS EMMA JOHNSON

I'm Emma. We're on Elcie in the mid Atlantic and we're about three days out. And I'm talking to Annie. She's our second mate on board and she's 22 years old. Annie, how do you like Elcie?

MS. ANNIE RAE

Oh, I love it so far. It's really different. I haven't sailed on a catamaran before, but I'm loving the experience so far. And it's a great crew. And it's beautiful out here today so not much complaints.

JOHNSON

We just departed Beaufort, N.C. and we're on our way to the Caribbean. The crew seems pretty excited. It's a beautiful sailing day. We've got about ten knots of northwesterly breeze, not a cloud in the sky, full sail, full main, full mizzen and our staysail flying. And it's a really nice day to get going offshore.

MR. RICHARD JOHNSON

Good morning. This is Richard on Elcie. If flying fish are the sign of getting to the tropics, I think you could say we made it this morning. Through the night the deck has been pelted with flying fish. We have three in the netting right now. That's the first night that we've had them. And a sure sign that we're into the warm and tropic water.

JOHNSON

It's about 4:00 a.m. and we're about 12 miles north of the Virgin Islands. And we can see the shadows of islands and the lights on shore. And we've taken down most of our sail. We're trying to slow down so we can arrive in daylight.

JOHNSON

So far the trip's been rather bumpy. From all signs in the weather it looks like it'll be smooth sailing ahead for at least three or four days. So onward.

SHEIR

That was Richard Johnson on board his catamaran, Elcie. We also heard from his wife, Jessica and daughter Emma, along with crewmember Annie Rae. Their story was produced by Tara Boyle. If you'd like to follow the Johnson's itinerary across the world head to our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Up next, out in the cold on the President's big day.

MR. MARK MICHAEL

Inauguration brings a pit into my stomach every four years. It's sort of like going into war on a ship, in a fog.

SHEIR

That and more is coming your way on "Metro Connection" on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I’m Rebecca Sheir and this week we are going out in the cold. In this part of the show we're actually going to focus on food, starting with Eating in the Embassy. Our ongoing series with the local food blog, Eater D.C. This time around we're heading to Northwest Washington, inside the House of Sweden…

SHEIR

Great place, by the way.

MR. ERLINGUR ERLINGSSON

Yeah, quite nice.

SHEIR

…to the embassy of Iceland or one door down, I guess I should say.

ERLINGSSON

So the embassy is literally next door. And the way it works is that we made a lease with the House of Sweden so we'd have two units.

SHEIR

We're in the unit that's set up as a residence for this guy.

ERLINGSSON

My name is Erlingur Erlingsson. I'm counselor at the Embassy of Iceland in D.C. I've been in D.C. for about nine months.

SHEIR

And today, Eater D.C.'s Missy Frederick and I are here to taste some Icelandic cuisine. Though, the way Erlingur explains it…

ERLINGSSON

We don't have a strongly developed concept of Icelandic cuisine.

SHEIR

See, the Vikings first settled Iceland in the 9th century.

ERLINGSSON

And they were migrants from Norway. So that's sort of our origin and a lot of our culture is very Norse.

SHEIR

After the Vikings, Iceland was independent for a while.

ERLINGSSON

And then there was a civil war in Iceland in the 15th, 14th century.

SHEIR

Then Iceland came under the rule of Norway.

ERLINGSSON

And then Norway came under the rule of Denmark. And so we became a Danish holding for several centuries.

SHEIR

So Erlingur says his country's cuisine is kind of a conglomeration of all these Scandinavian cultures. But, all the same, the island nation of 320,000 people does serve up plenty of things it can call its own. Like the first item Erlingur serves me and Missy.

ERLINGSSON

Harofiskur ysuflok, which literally translated is hard fish. And you traditionally use haddock that gets hung up and dried outdoors, preferably. So I just refer to it as just another jerky or something like that.

SHEIR

Now, when you bite into the fish jerky it's kind of hard to chew.

ERLINGSSON

It takes a minute for it to sort of reconstitute. Yeah, you have to work on it.

MS. MISSY FREDERICK

A bit tough.

ERLINGSSON

It's not a first-date food.

SHEIR

But eventually, it softens up and this really potent, salty, fishy flavor kicks in.

FREDERICK

I like it more than I would have expected hearing the phrase fish jerky. I'll give it that much for sure.

ERLINGSSON

Okay. We'll rethink our marketing.

SHEIR

Another Icelandic item Erlingur has us try…

SHEIR

That is so tasty and the texture…

FREDERICK

Great texture, yeah.

SHEIR

…is on the sweeter side. It's called skyr.

ERLINGSSON

It's essentially like an Icelandic relative of Greek yogurt. Technically, it's a cheese, sort of a filtered dairy product and it has sort of a medium-thick texture.

SHEIR

Skyr's been around since the Vikings and has three times the protein of regular yogurt. And speaking of protein, Icelandic cuisine is loaded with the stuff, mainly because Iceland…

ERLINGSSON

It's about the size of Ireland and I think it's quite close to the size of Virginia.

SHEIR

…doesn't have a lot of great cropland.

ERLINGSSON

Mostly the interior of the island is volcanic deserts and mountains and glaciers and stuff.

SHEIR

So the country produces a lot of dairy, fish and something Erlingur says he's been missing ever since he came to the States.

ERLINGSSON

I do miss the lamb. I think our lamb is quite special. So all our sheep, which were originally brought over by the Vikings when they settled Iceland, they're not penned in, they're not restricted in terms of movement. So they're practically like wild sheep in that sense.

SHEIR

And while you can serve Icelandic lamb roasted or grilled or smoked, one of Erlingur's favorite ways to eat it is a little faster.

ERLINGSSON

Iceland even has its own fast food. There's a hot dog stand in Reykjavik, known as the town's best hot dogs or Baejarins beztu. And they're lamb hot dogs, in a soft white bun, usually with both raw onion and roasted onion, ketchup, mustard and then a mayonnaise relish.

SHEIR

Unless, that is, you're the 42nd president of the United States.

ERLINGSSON

Bill Clinton, when he was in Iceland in 2004--I was working actually for the U.S. embassy at the time, in Reykjavik. So we're doing a walkabout. And my deputy chief of mission, then decided, oh, we should stop there and have a hot dog. So, you know, there's a famous order at that hot dog stand. You can have a hot dog only with mustard, which is known as The Clinton.

SHEIR

Okay. So we've covered a few different Icelandic foods. Let's turn now to beverages, specifically boozy beverages. Interesting thing about alcohol in Iceland, prohibition started in 1915 and basically didn't end until 1989.

ERLINGSSON

But then since then, we've sort of come a long way. Beer initially was all imported. And now we've got a lot more microbrewery-style things going on. And they've done pretty well, in competitions. Even internationally they've gotten some awards.

SHEIR

The can Erlingur serves to me and Missy contains one of those award-winning brews.

ERLINGSSON

Egils Gull, literally means Egil's Gold. So that's like their premium lager.

ERLINGSSON

And we'll do sampling portions.

SHEIR

Great.

ERLINGSSON

But there's more.

SHEIR

He also busts out a bottle of what may be Iceland's most famous drink, Brennivin, called the Black Death, sometimes.

ERLINGSSON

That's another word for it.

SHEIR

You make Brennivin from fermented potato mash and caraway seeds. And with an alcohol content of 37.5 percent, the stuff is strong. That's why, legend has it, it was developed to wash down something Icelanders have been eating for centuries.

ERLINGSSON

Hakarl, which is Icelandic for shark. Iceland used to be extremely poor until the middle of the 20th century. And so we were obliged to eat whatever we could get from the sea and on the hoof in Iceland.

SHEIR

So with plenty of sharks in the sea, Icelanders began using the animals for oil and meat, which they'd cure and then ferment for months and months and months.

ERLINGSSON

And, yeah, some people like to say the reason for Brennivin is you take tiny bites always of the shark and you need to wash it down and to sort of get the flavor quickly out of your mouth after you've had it.

SHEIR

Now, we're not eating any fermented shark here in Erlingur's apartment, but after our little feast of Icelandic goodness, what else to do but finish it off with a shot.

SHEIR

Bottoms up.

ERLINGSSON

Skáli botn, it' like toast to the bottom.

SHEIR

…of Black Death. That'll warm you up.

FREDERICK

Yeah.

SHEIR

We have plenty more about Icelandic cuisine over at metroconnection.org, including a recipe for white chocolate skyr pie. Plus, I actually paid a visit to Iceland not too long ago and you can see a few photos from that trip on metroconnection.org, too. We have all kinds of food up there. Like those hot dogs Erlingur mentioned. And also, geyser bread. You actually cook this stuff in the ground, no joke. And trust me, it is delicious. You can find all that and more on metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Well, now that we've feasted on fish jerky and skyr, we'll keep dishing on food and turn to catering. Washington's a pretty event-heavy town, right? So caterers in the city are pretty much accustomed to cranking out hundreds or thousands of hors d'oeuvres and such without breaking a sweat. But every four years one single day puts tons of pressure on the city's caterers. We're talking about Inauguration Day. The first time President Obama was sworn in extreme crowds, coupled with extremely cold weather made for some unusual challenges for those in charge of feeding inaugural party goers.

SHEIR

This year, things aren't expected to be quite as off-the-hook, but as Jonathan Wilson tells us, local caterers will still be in a frenzy.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

Ridgewells Catering CEO Susan Lacz is making her way through the maze of kitchens at the company's headquarters in Chevy Chase, D.C.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

Staffers here are ramping things up as inauguration weekend approaches. It's a routine with which the city's largest catering business is a little bit familiar.

MS. SUSAN LACZ

Well, we've been doing inaugurations since Eisenhower's era. And so every four years, you know, Ridgewells is there to be found somewhere along the parade route or at an Inaugural ball.

WILSON

There will be just two official inaugural balls this year, compared with the 10 held in 2009. Even unofficial inaugural parties are expected to be less extravagant in light of the country's current economic struggles. But the amount of food pushed out of Ridgewells' kitchen will still be massive, at least 80 pounds of salmon sides, 125 pounds of mashed potatoes and 3,000 empanadas. But Lacz says the volume of food isn't the real challenge on inauguration weekend.

LACZ

We could have just as busy of a day, any other day of the year. But you don't have the security and the parameters of getting in and out of event space.

WILSON

Across town, the kitchen at Occasions Catering is humming with the sounds of dicing knives and sizzling oil.

WILSON

The company is coming off one of its best holiday seasons. And the kitchen itself sits in the middle of a brand new building. Occasions moved into the $10 million facility in April. Co-founder Mark Michael has reason to smile from ear-to-ear, but right now he's feeling, well, tense.

MICHAEL

Inauguration brings a pit into my stomach every four years. It's sort of like going into, you know, going into war on a ship, in a fog.

WILSON

Michael says the last time around, the trickiest part was making sure key staffers were inside the security perimeter before the rest of the general public flooded in. Enrique Sanchez, a manager at Occasions, remembers securing lodging, if you can call it that, for 200 employees.

MR. ENRIQUE SANCHEZ

We had people sleeping over at the American History, Natural History, any museum. We secured spots for a lot of our staff, waiters and cooks, to spend the night in there so they wouldn't have to go through the security lines.

WILSON

As magnificent as many of our downtown museums may be, few are known for an abundance of cozy places to curl up for a good night's rest. Just ask Occasions cook Sam Jones.

MR. SAM JONES

You're sleeping on the floor. But Occasions gave you, like, a blanket, you know, so you were pretty cool after that. I mean, you had to do what you had to do, you know, to get down in those venues early.

WILSON

Mark Michael says after you do a couple of inaugurations, you just accept that security is going to get a little tighter each time and you deal with it. But the unprecedented crowds that showed up in 2009, coupled with colder than average temperatures that week brought something else, lots and lots of coats to check. Yes, caterers have to worry about that as well.

MICHAEL

There weren't enough coat racks in Washington, D.C. So we were finding creative ways to both hang outer garments and secure them during events. And literally we were bringing in rods and hanging them with, you know, chairs and things like that.

WILSON

With smaller crowds and fewer inaugural balls, some of the bigger challenges D.C.'s top catering outfits faced in 2009 will probably be moot. But undoubtedly there will be other catering caveats for these folks to tackle. Michael says that's all just part of the busiest time in a D.C. caterer's life.

MICHAEL

Everybody both loves and hates inauguration. They hate it just because it's a couple of nights of no sleep, but everybody loves it because it's sort of a badge of honor, in the catering world, to be a part of such a big celebration.

WILSON

But just maybe if you are headed to a big inaugural ball or party you could, well, leave your coat in the car. Just a thought. I'm Jonathan Wilson.

SHEIR

Are you heading to this year's inauguration? You can be a part of WAMU's coverage by tweeting your photos and tips for getting around. Just use the hashtag wamuinaug that's W-A-M-U-I-N-A-U-G. We'll map your photos and tweets on the WAMU website, wamu.org.

SHEIR

For this next story, we're going to get out of the cold actually and head to a warm and humid spot in Arlington, Va. It's the headquarters of another caterer, a guy by the name of Joel Thevoz. His facility includes a fish farm and a hydroponic or soil free garden. And the thing about the farm and garden is they're connected to each other in a pretty unusual way. Sabri Ben-Achour has more.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

Walk into Joel Thevoz's Main Event Catering operation in Arlington and you'll see a sleek test kitchen with brushed steel stoves, a wine tasting area, and then in the back...

MR. JOEL THEVOZ

It's a garden inside our warehouse. I mean, we're an old industrial section of town and we happen to have a garden with fish.

BEN-ACHOUR

It's actually much more than a garden. It's a greenhouse fish-farm combo. It looks like a massive two-story bunk bed with at least four levels. On the upper levels, broad-leafed squash vines spill out the side and around the metal posts holding the thing up. On the bottom bunk are chest high tubs full of auburn colored water.

THEVOZ

As you can see here, what we have is a series of fish tanks in which we house tilapia. We have at least 500 full-size fish in the range of 2 to 3 pounds.

BEN-ACHOUR

Thevoz throws in a few handfuls of little pellets, the fish gobble them up in seconds. This is Thevoz's attempt at a closed loop aquaponics system. What that means is the fish waste feeds the plants, the plants help filter the water for the fish. It's almost self-contained, almost like a little ecosystem.

THEVOZ

What happens is the fish excrete their waste and it's an ammonia rich waste. In aquaponics what we do is that we introduce these naturally occurring bacterias which are called nitrobacters to process, to convert, the ammonia into a nitrate and that is the base element of a fertilizer. The plants absolutely, it's like crack for plants and they absolutely love it and this is how you're able to get these beautiful greens with absolutely no soil.

BEN-ACHOUR

Thevoz climbs 12 feet up a ladder and points to the second level, where a green carpet of seedlings is lit by LED lights.

THEVOZ

In here we have arugula, we have chia seeds, we have amaranth, we have lettuces. We probably have 15 different varieties of plants. One of the beautiful things about systems like this, is in a recirculating system there's almost no waste.

BEN-ACHOUR

Thevoz's goal is to scale this up and one day have aquaponic greenhouses on the roof. He wants to replace the fish pellets with larvae from his compost bins, if he can get approval from the local health department. And he wants this system to provide fish and more vegetables to his catering business. So far he hasn't harvested any fish yet.

THEVOZ

I got to tell you that first when I was putting this together, people thought I was nuts. My employees, my spouse, my friends thought I was completely out of my gourd. But I got to say I proved them wrong, I mean, the system is fully functional, it works.

BEN-ACHOUR

It works, but it isn't economical for Thevoz right now. It'd be cheaper to just buy tilapia and he's getting mostly micro-greens as opposed to vegetables.

MR. STEVEN NEWMAN

If you're trying to market to the person that's going to go to the large grocery store, you're not going to meet that market demand.

BEN-ACHOUR

Steven Newman is a Greenhouse Crops Extension Specialist at Colorado State University.

NEWMAN

You need to focus on a higher end market that's looking for, that's willing to pay the price for locally produced food and these sorts of things.

BEN-ACHOUR

But there are other ways this could become doable besides simply focusing on shi shi niche high-end markets. Don Bailey is a research specialist at the University of the Virgin Islands Agricultural Experiment Station.

MR. DON BAILEY

It can be economical, it is quite doable.

BEN-ACHOUR

One of the big reasons why urban agriculture is a difficult proposition is that land and water in the city are expensive compared to their cost in, say, rural Mississippi, where catfish are farmed by the acre. But that's exactly why Bailey thinks aquaponics is a good idea.

BAILEY

The reason we've started studying it in the Virgin Islands is because our land is very expensive. So farmers need to be able to intensify their productive into small parcels of land.

BEN-ACHOUR

So if you can farm intensively, you can get enough bang for your buck to the system work. For now though, Thevoz says he isn't really worried about the money making angle. It's really more of an experiment.

THEVOZ

One of our goals is how to have an efficient vertical farm. So right now it's just trying to mitigate our waste.

BEN-ACHOUR

And that goal, at least, he's succeeding. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.

SHEIR

Ever wonder what a tilapia micro-greens closed-loop system looks like? Well, consider it your lucky day, we have photos on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

And now our weekly trip around the region. On today's "Door to Door" we visit Tenleytown and LeDroit Park, in Northwest D.C.

MS. LAUREN CASE

My name is Lauren Case, I'm 45 years old and I live in Tenleytown, Washington D.C. It is between Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues, the Tenleytown Metro stop is about three blocks away. So it's upper Northwest.

MS. LAUREN CASE

You have people who have lived here for a long, long time. you have a lot of families with kids of all ages ranging from infants to toddlers, elementary school, middle school, high school, and then kids that have gone on to college.

MS. LAUREN CASE

Being able to walk around having your kids know how to navigate the Metro and buses, access to parks and all that D.C. has to offer is just really great. My favorite part is the maple tree in my neighbor's front yard, particularly in the fall. But I think just the people and the sense of commodore that we have in this neighborhood and looking out for each other.

MS. LAUREN CASE

If you want to live in a neighborhood where you have access to public transportation, access to great schools, and to all the great things that D.C. has to offer this neighborhood's for you.

MR. ERIC FIDLER

My name is Eric Fidler and I'm 28 and I live in LeDroit Park. LeDroit Park was founded in the 1870s and started as an exclusively white neighborhood and then a few decades later around the turn of the century it became notable as the home of Washington's black intelligentsia and a lot of notable people lived here.

MR. ERIC FIDLER

LeDroit Park is really notable for two things, its architecture and its history. And I think the more I research its history, the more I realize that it actually plays a very important role in African American history in the United States. It's the people who lived here. You research it and you find, you know, there was people here who were, you know, doing protests and sit-ins long before the Civil Rights movement, they were really ahead of their time.

MR. ERIC FIDLER

The three and a half years that I've lived here, I've seen numerous houses that were vacant or run down, renovated and repaired. There's a new park which sort of highlights the fact that there a lot of kids here in this neighborhood too. There are people who have houses that are over a million dollars and then we also have public housing, so it's a pretty diverse community.

MR. ERIC FIDLER

And The Howard Theater was just renovated and it's beautiful, especially at night, to walk home after work or class and walk by it, it looks almost magical.

SHEIR

We heard from Lauren Case in Tenleytown and Eric Fidler in LeDroit Park. Your neighborhood can be part of "Door to Door" too. Just send an email to metro@wamu.org or visit us on Facebook. That's facebook.com/metroconnection.org. And to see a map of all the doors we've knocked on so far, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jacob Fenston, Emily Berman, Sabri Ben-Achour, Jonathan Wilson and Tara Boyle along with reporter Jocelyn Frank. WAMU's managing editor of news is Meymo Lyons. "Metro Connection's" managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Rachel Schuster. Lauren Landau, Rachel Schuster and John Hines produce "Door to Door." Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts" and our "Door to Door" theme "No, Girl" are from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can see all the music we use if you go to our website, that's metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song.

SHEIR

Also on metroconnection.org you can find our Twitter and Facebook links. You can read free transcripts of stories and if you missed part of today's show you can hear the whole thing by clicking on the this week on "Metro Connection" link. To hear our most recent episodes click the podcast link or find us on iTunes.

SHEIR

We hope you can join us next week when we'll be Taking Chances. We'll see what life is like in the tiny town of Chance, Md. We'll hear how folks are coping with a big spike in heroin use in Ocean City. And we'll talk with law makers enmeshed in the gun debate and find out why each side thinks the other is taking big chances when it comes to safety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1

In Maryland that view that I just expressed to you, which makes all the sense in the world to most people in America, falls on deaf ears in the General Assembly.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
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