Monday, April 14, 2014

Choose Civility!!

One of my (local) friends and I talk about having “civilized” lunches (and I’ve probably mentioned it), meaning not something in a bag, pushed through a window, or handed over a counter; but a sit down, tablecloths, silver, glassware, and most importantly: no schedule!.  So “civilized” behavior has become sort of my goal whenever possible.  Well, last Saturday, was a very civilized day for me.  

It was the weekend of the 2014 edition of the Smithsonian Craft show, and I wanted to talk to our “clock guy” who was an exhibitor.  We have a small problem with our clock (which is probably trivial to all but engineers), so I called him and he said to come up, and we'd chat.  Using that as an excuse I arranged to meet my long time friend up there for lunch and then “do” the show.  MFO was still under the weather and didn’t want to make the journey, but was well enough to stay by herself for the day.

So I got in the Flutter Mobile II, set the GPS and off I went.  By this time, I pretty much know the route, but it is always comforting to have the electronics on your side.  I stopped off in Dunkirk to get a Starbucks, and saw one of the people working there that used to work in our local shop.  Nice to see her.  A relatively easy 40 minutes later found me at his apartment, a few blocks from the mall.  I cleansed the rigors of the road with a civil glass of chilled Prosecco, fruit, and some excellent aged Gouda, a cheese we both greatly enjoy.  Properly refreshed we started out on foot with no particular lunch destination in mind.  He lives not far from the Eastern Market district and we headed in that direction.  Between the wonderful weather, the cherry blossom festival, and the popularity of the area, the streets were packed, mostly with people just enjoying being outside and with friends and family.  We stopped in at a little place called Sona, a wine and cheese store which also serves sandwiches (and wine and cheese!).  They had a lovely selection and we sampled a couple of cheeses at the (strenuous) urging of somebody behind the counter.  After that we went next door to another little store called “Sapore” which specializes in “artisanal oils, vinegars, and sea salts”.  They had rows and rows of containers for sampling all of the above.

A similar experience here at home would be the “Cooking Items” aisle at Giant, except you’d get arrested if you tried to taste.  A bit of a stretch, but how nice to see what I would call a civilized shop in DC.  I bought a bottle lime infused olive oil for MFO, a flavor she is particularly fond of, especially at cocktail time.
From there we proceeded over to the Eastern Market with its outdoor stalls of produce,

and “stuff”, for browsing and people watching…

Nice Hat!!

We then went inside to look at the rows and rows of cases

Of anything you might want or need

While I’m not sure everything is authentic or local, a lot of it is.  A great place.  Kind of like our local farmers market on Steroids!
We then wandered over to 8th street, where there are a lot of restaurants, none of which I knew as chains.  Every cuisine you might wish for, many which had outdoor seating and it all made for kind of a café scene.  Most are casual, so DFD isn’t much of an issue (I certainly verified that!)  Just a lot of people enjoying friends over food.  Very nice.  Kind of Parisian.  Anyway my friend finally wanted to take me to a place that features Belgian Cuisine

It is pretty highly thought of, so we went inside (skin cancer kid here) and got a table.  The lunch menu contained a lot of stuff you might expect, mussels, frites, and (duhh) Belgian waffles.  Normally you would think that there would be fairly heavy stuff, and you would be correct.  Note the second choice of sides...  wish i could have seen one!!

Knowing we would be doing more walking, I decided to stay light, and eschewed the bucket o’bacon and went with “Prei Soep” a described as Leek Soup, smoked salmon, and crème fraiche.  My friend went with a waffle..  It was fairly noisy inside, I suppose bistro like and it was pretty packed.  They did a good job of taking orders, and it appeared food moved fairly rapidly.  They had of course a huge selection of beers, so I went with a Belgian.  Our food arrived in a timely manner, not rushed, but just about right.  My soup was smooth and very flavorful.

It was served in a civil manner, with the ingredients brought in the bowl, and then the soup was poured over it.  I like that.  The waffle was, well, quite as you might expect

This one was topped with mangoes, peaches, figs, and mascarpone cheese.    I would like to go back for dinner sometime, they had some very unusual dishes (unless you are Belgian, I suppose) on the menu, like: STOOFPOTJE VAN KONIJNEBIL ..Braised rabbit legs, turnips, bacon, pearl onion, potatoes, carrots, prunes, mustard beer sauce.  Not your light dinner fare!

Anyway we left the restaurant, returned to the car, passing a Metro Station and the normal street musicians playing their hearts out

and drove over to the National Building Museum, annual home to the Smithsonian Craft Show.  I know I’ve waxed eloquent about this in the past, but it is a show that features the top of the line crafters in the US.  I was pleased that our “clock guy” Jim Borden was selected for the second year in a row.  His wooden clocks are amazing (note I am not using this term for food, I think it is warranted here).  Ours was having a little clocking problem, like when the minute hand was exactly on “twelve”, the hour hand was lagging a bit. Drove me nuts.  I explained the problem to Jim who promptly took me over and showed me how to fix it, right in the middle of the show.  By and large, I find the crafters are very friendly, and in Jim’s case he is from Zumbrota, Minnesota..  really nice guy as you might expect, ya, you betcha!!.

I also have mentioned that the prices are pretty extraordinary to go with the extraordinary objects.  Here’s a shot of some little glass things about the size of a salt shaker.  They are a wire frame with glass powder and then fired.  They are indeed beautiful and my grab shot doesn’t do them justice, but mostly I took it for the price tag in the lower right of the image.

And, the little red dots are the universal sign of “sold”.  So you are looking at over ten large.    But, it only costs fifteen bucks to get in and enjoy the objects even if you can’t own them!

So I would say that I had a pretty civilized day with a good friend.  There are certainly advantages (cafes, shops) to living in a place like that, but of course there are also associated disadvantages (traffic, parking).  I guess it is nice to be able to drive to civility, but maybe not live there.  I am sure there are more occasions there to


PS:   there is a Brian Ganz Piano Talk tomorrow (noon, SMH).. bring your small change, there is a fee…b*****ds… not sure I’m going, we’ll see..

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Goodnight, Annette, wherever you are

Back when I first began writing the Bottom Feeder, I tried to hang around (as much as they would tolerate me), people at work who wrote for a living attempting to learn as much as I could.  People such as the marketeers, PR folk, and the like.   One of the terms I picked up was “green” in reference to stories.  That term was applied to stories that you could essentially publish any time and they would still be of interest.  Stories about say, climate change, or the civil war are pretty much in that category, but a robbery or restaurant closing that happened yesterday isn’t quite as interesting a year from now.

So anyway, I may be taking “green” to an extreme here, but I want to go back to last May (at least before it’s THIS May) to sort of follow up on a story I started then..  You may recall we took a road trip to Providence, RI so MFO could attend an archivist workshop. While there, we dined at a little place I found called Chez Pascal, and had a wonderful dining experience.  I did blog about it at the time, but as you possibly might remember, it was there that I came across a cocktail called a “Clayburn Martini”.  It was described on their menu as: “Plymouth Gin with a splash of Lillet, and a lemon twist”.  We inquired as to the name of the drink and were told it was the special drink of a regular customer, a Ms. Clayburn and was named in her honor.  On a whim, I tried it and really (really!) liked it.  It was served “up” and that experience may have been the impetus for my current preference for that presentation rather than on the rocks.  It’s just nice.

Intrigued by the drink, when I got home I messed around a long time trying to duplicate it. I purchased a bottle of Lillet and Plymouth Gin

and went to work.  A noble project, having no choice but to consume multiple tries of mixtures of 3 to 1, 4 to a half, and so on.  Kind of like Cook’s Illustrated..   After many tries, I finally had what i thought was a reasonable facsimile, although I still kind of wondered what a “splash” was considered, and what proportions were actually used at Chez Pascal.  Also I wondered further about the namesake of the drink.  So I sent a note to the restaurant asking about the drink and any information on Clayburn, and much to my pleasure, I got a very nice note from both the bartender and the owner in return, who were able to fill in a few more facts.
Annette Clayburn was a regular at their bar, visiting many (three to five) nights a week.  She suggested the recipe to the bartender who made it for her, and that is how she would begin her evening.  She passed over a year ago, and occasionally Chez Pascal will honor her by putting her drink on the menu.  We were fortunate that it was included on our visit.  Their bartender also contributed the fact that she would normally request Plymouth Gin, but occasionally would have it made with Junipero.  The Junipero is more fragrant (and expensive) than the Plymouth and also packs more of a punch with a hefty 98.6 proof!  That of course led to more experimentation.  In small sessions.   So aside from the lemon, a Clayburn Martini Kit would include:

My research ultimately settled on the Plymouth version, made with about 5 parts to a scant one of Lillet, a thin slice of lemon peel, stirred in a shaker of ice and strained into a classic Martini glass.  As for the “splash” the bartender said that she views a “splash” as a quick tilt of the bottle into the shaker.  Apparently Annette didn’t like her drink too sweet, so Deb said it was more of a gesture than a taste..

I can think of no more fitting an epitaph than to have a drink named after you.. I should be so honored.  It makes me glad that the folks at Chez Pascal will (hopefully) continue the tribute to her by offering the drink now and then.  I’ll bet if you go there and ask for it, they will make it for you.  And if you are ever in Providence, be sure to dine at Chez Pascal, you won’t be disappointed.  I of course never knew you, Annette, but you must have been quite a lady.  Somehow it is fitting you were in Providence, I hope you still are and are being served your drink..  Here’s to you!!

And I can only imagine that you were always

I browsed through some of my “Martini” books for perspective on the subject, looking at hundreds of recipes (for such a simple drink – a lot of them were silly). I ran across the fact that none other than that quintessential man of the world James Bond had what came to be known as a “Bond Martini” (now sometimes called a Vesper).  In Ian Fleming’s novel Casino Royale, Bond ordered a “Martini” made with:
Three measures of Gordon’s Gin (remember this was 1953)
One of Vodka
Half a measure of Kina Lillet (the company has since dropped the Kina)
Shaken very well until it’s ice cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel

Bond and Clayburn… do you suppose?????

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Subs of Fire

(all words today!! no pictures)

You might remember that I used to rant about the “reviews” of local restaurants that routinely appeared in Friday's weekend insert of local newspaper.  It did lead to meeting the author of those pieces who turned out to be a pretty nice guy. And (with his help) I did finally realize that “review” was not the correct word for the piece, maybe something more like: “infopiece”; or to be more snarky, free (?) advertising.   Formula was to basically talk a little about the owner(s), sort of highlight the menu and pricing, include a picture of something, and invariably have positive reports about the reporter’s experience.  He eventually left for new horizons, and since then the volume of “reviews” has drastically decreased.

Well, last Friday’s weekend insert contains a similar piece about the new Firehouse Subs recently opened in part of a carpet store on the Route 235 raceway.  One thing about the previous articles that I did appreciate was that he never wrote about a box or chain store.  It was always an independent, which I applaud.  Well, I think they may have abandoned that policy with the latest entry about Firehouse.  That of course brings up the dialog of what is a chain and what is an independent restaurant. A few thoughts:  “How many stores do you have?”  Firehouse boasts “over 700 locations and counting”; “are they local?” a map of the US shows a pushpin for each one, heavily populated east of the Mississippi, but quite a few on the other side as well;  “Where is your headquarters?”  Firehouse is located in Jacksonville, FL.  Given all that, I would think that one could make a strong case that they are indeed a “chain” with local franchisees.  Well, then why are we now reading about what i would consider a Chain restaurant

Perhaps it has something to do with the thing that distinguishes this particular chain from the myriad of other sandwich outlets (Subway, Potbelly, Quizno’s, Jimmy John’s – hey! We don’t have one of those…Yet) is that they want you to know that it was “Founded by Firemen”, which the other's can't claim.  Subway: Founded by Businessmen!  

And, I may have this mentioned before, I’m not sure of the relation of firemen and food.  There used to be the folklore that they are good cooks because they have a lot of time on their hands between fires.  Even if true, I'm not sure that applies anymore in the era of volunteers. The story says our owners came from the construction business.

While I have never eaten in any of those other sandwich chains, (well, okay I have had a tuna sub at Subway on occasion) I suppose the quality of the food could be a discriminator.  I notice in the latest article (that started all of this) reports that they steam their meat.  I guess that might be unique.. A quote from one of the owners: “…with the steaming process it really brings out the amazing flavor of the meat. And with fresh produce, it makes an amazing sandwich”.  By the way, that word “amazing” in relation to food is right on the cusp of being added to my list, so using it twice is a bit much for me.  I seldom find food “amazing”.  I guess you would have to try one to see if steaming meat has any effect.

So I guess the question that arises in my mind is: “should I patronize them in preference to other choices just because they tout their allegiance to firemen?”.  I did do some poking around their site and didn’t see anything about direct support of fire people. They do have a community foundation, but community giving is available at all those others as well.  Your money, your choice.  So anyway, as I say, pick your spot for your personal reasons, but there are plenty of other real independent sandwich outlets around.  And I guess for sandwiches, I will back off a bit on


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Round 'em Up!!

Way back when, I occasionally documented the demise of our “corner” McDonalds, here at the intersection of Millstone and 235, across from San Souci, home of the demon infested stoplights.  I have to admit I kind of miss the place, as the Feeder (true confessions) would occasionally swing in for a quarter pounder with cheese after a late meeting, and if you caught the fryer timing correctly the fries weren't bad.  Speaking of McD, have you seen the commercials lately for their dollar breakfast items, one of which is a sausage muffin with “a fresh cracked egg”?  What the H is a fresh cracked egg?  The evil little brain of mine kind of figures that is corporate hooey speech for something that is anything but fresh..

But, I digress.  First there was the McDonalds.  Then one day the equipment showed up

And in short order McDonalds was as flat as the griddle used for those freshly cracked eggs

And then…… it sat.....time sat.  the following image was taken on the 24th day of August, in the year of our cheeseburger 2013.

I would say August 24th qualifies for the “summer 2013”  look open to you???

More time passes…. Then sometime in November more activity

Then somehow there was a flurry of activity (working Sundays) moving earth and pretty soon, here it is in all its glory

If there is an uglier building (IMHO) around here, I don’t know where it is.  It might not be SO bad if it were in a shopping center with buildings of a similar age and style, but unfortunately it is situated next to that gray cinder block building that houses Twist, Day’s Off Deli, and the tag and title place.  the Twist folks have tried hard to dress up their corner, but still you have:

So, now when I come home from the north, I spend my (very long) time waiting for the demons to turn the light green looking at:

Really attractive, eh?  Waldorfization marches on..

And I don’t know if you've noticed but lately we are being beset with TV commercials for Golden Corral,  letting you know “every night is a special night” (Monday: shrimp and seafood; Thursday: best of BBQ, Tuesday $2.99 Kid’s Night , and so on. And somewhere in the commercial telling me they only use “just picked” produce, there is the phrase “and we only use USDA Sirloin”.  Notice the lack of mention of grade of said sirloin?  Scary.

And according to the sign below the shield in the street sign, (green above) they will be “Opening Soon”.  Oh, and that sign is one of those that is so bright you have to avert your eyes, even in daylight.  I suppose it will improve safety on Route 235 at night as it will be bathed in light from it.

I can only imagine that when “soon” occurs, the place will be packed with diners.. or maybe eaters.  

Here’s a diner at our backyard feeder lately

And, you will note that she/he knows that a requirement for this feeder is that you will be


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Up the banks and over to home...


First, we’ll come home from the OBX, and then I get to catch up with some mild ranting..

After our lovely afternoon on Ocracoke Island, FOJTE prepared a nice meal for our last night in the house.  Speaking of which, I don’t think I ever showed you our local “digs”.  Here’s a picture of "our" house

This is pretty typical of the “houses” you see down there.  Most are built/configured to accommodate anywhere from ~6 to 12 couples (bedrooms), and in general they are “managed” by real estate companies that coordinate dates, rates, etc.  Prices follow the temperatures, that is as the temperature rises (warmer months) so does the rent.  And, given the potential for storms, they are generally built up so that living quarters are on the second and third floor.  The lower levels are for cars.

(the neighborhood)

Consequently there are stairs involved, and we had 32 of them from car to living/dining/kitchen level.  Ours was nicely appointed

And had a lovely view from the back deck

All in all, it is a great place to gather the family and enjoy the company which we very much did, especially our chance to be with our Grand Dog, Stanley.  It certainly will remain a cherished memory of our 50th anniversary, thanks to our “kids”!

Oh, one of the interesting phenomenons of the OBX we should comment opon is the existence of these stores:

The "stores" are virtually everywhere, regardless of the size of the village or little town, and are of varying sizes from smaller to mega stores.  One of those things like Stuckey’s; eventually you HAVE to go into one, you can’t help it.  There are rows and rows and rows and shelves and shelves and shelves of beach stuff, T-shirts of every design and silk screen imaginable, hundreds of hats, visors, caps, etc...  we managed to come out with only one of those little oval black and white OBX magnet thingies..  won’t be on our automobiles but maybe on the kitchen door..

Anyway, with the able help (and younger knees) of FOJTE we re-loaded the MOMSTER

And threaded the needle up the shore

Past Norfolk

And finally to home..  what a week..

Other stuff:

Maybe you have noticed, but Starbuck’s has re-invented most of their food line, with a promotion called Le Boulange, after a bakery chain (?) in San Francisco. Kind of a cheap take off on Boulangerie, the proper name..  Anyway, SB now has revamped their scones, morning buns, croissants, etc.; and added some savory squares along with keeping the sandwiches.  I have now tried a square and the croissant, and they are much better than the previous offerings.  Not a plug, just fyi..

Speaking of plugs, have you seen the latest wrinkle from Subway?  They are now introducing “flatizza’s” which just happen to be a hunk of flatbread, with “your favorite toppings” such as pepperoni, cheese, and tomato sauce.  I don’t think there is a patent on the word “Pizza”, but geez, if it looks like, tastes like, why not call it that..  Sheesh.

Speaking of TV, have you seen the series of commercials now for KFC featuring some harried “Mom” at a table with a grinning “family” in the background eagerly digging into the Colonel’s Bucket, hand to face.  The dialog goes something like mom saying “I never could get the family to eat, and now look at them..I’m such a good Mom”.  Really?  Way to go Mom…

Better Stuff:

You never know what is out there..  There are a group of volunteers who help with the State’s “Big Tree Project”.  They have a list of “champion trees” (their term) being the biggest of a specie (red oak, silver maple, etc.,) and every few year they revisit the trees to re-measure and look for candidates.  A lot of people call in and say “I have a big tree!” and if vetted they come and tromp around and look.  Last year we hosted three of them, and were planning on doing it again this year, but given the lousy weather this weekend, they postponed.

Sports Stuff:

By the end of today there could be three Big Ten teams in the final four!!  Go MSU!

Last Stuff:

Speaking of crummy weather, yesterday’s fog afforded this picture of the bridge, just for interest – bridge to nowhere