What’s Cooking, Neighbor?

Nancy McKeon

When Nancy McKeon invites longtime friends and neighbors for a holiday dinner, the set-up and menu are the same, year after year. No problem from this end. As a returning guest, I find her no-surprises tradition comforting. My former editor and mentor at the Washington Post Food section has a firm grasp on what she knows works, what she does best.

On the living room coffee table of her Victorian townhouse near Georgetown University, there is always a bowl of bright-tasting lemony white beans mixed with plump shrimp, seasoned with a profusion of oregano. Alongside, there’s a stack of pretty, sometimes quirky, late 19th-century European eight-inch plates from her growing collection of sets, acquired piece-by-piece on eBay. I help myself. Everyone sips a sparkling Italian prosecco.

Once seated in the dining area, the main course is sure to be a rich and labor-intensive beef bourguignon, made from a recipe attributed to the Duchesse of Devonshire. (Nancy will tell you no other variation on the dish will do.) For dessert, out comes a platter of lemon bars from Trader Joe’s.

“I’m a big believer in sticking to the same stuff,” she tells me, as we munch on bagels on a recent morning in her sunny kitchen.

“And I’m a very nervous hostess and don’t like to experiment on people.”

For the bean-shrimp combo, she uses canned Goya brand alubias/cannellini beans. “Always remember to rinse them first.” Prepare the dish a day in advance “so that the flavors meld and the beans slowly soak-up the lemon juice,” she says. With the appetizer at the ready, there is more time on event day for everyday pleasures.

A year ago this week, she adopted “Jeremiah,” an eight-year-old Saint Bernard mix, who enjoys long walks, twice a day, along the C & O Canal and to Volta Park. Both get a good workout and more. “I’ve met more people in the last year than in all of my 26 years of living in Georgetown,” she shares.

Up next: February will see Nancy and a clutch of her media colleagues launch the web destination mylittlebird.com—a site for “grown up girls,” with Washington-centric home, design, fashion and well-being Best Bets. Says Nancy, “What will set us apart, for sure, is our interactive retail neighborhood maps.”

Shrimp with Cannellini Beans Makes 6 appetizer servings Ingredients: Finely grated zest of 1 lemon 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves Salt and pepper to taste 6 tablespoons olive oil 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and cooked 2 cups cannellini or northern white beans

Directions: In a medium-size bowl, mix together the zest, lemon juice, vinegar, oregano and salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil. Add the beans and shrimp and stir to combine. Refrigerate for 5 or 6 hours, or overnight, mixing occasionally so that the beans soak in the liquid. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Nancy’s white bean salad comes from an entertaining feature she co-wrote with Washington Post columnist and recipe developer Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.

Nancy’s two current favorite restaurants are: Estadio in Logan Circle for the tapa of sausage, cheese and quince and 1789 Restaurant in Georgetown for the appetizer of foie gras on brioche toast.

What’s Cooking, Neighbor? visits with wine, food and entertaining professionals, who call the Georgetown area home. Georgetowner dining columnist Walter Nicholls is the food critic for Arlington Magazine, a former staff writer for The Washington Post.

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