Saturday, November 18, 2017

Turkey Talk

Well, a week from day before yesterday is Thanksgiving.  As I used to exclaim in the past, where DOES that time go.  Next thing you know, we’ll be seeing Christmas stuff in stores.. Oh, wait….

Anyway, in the past that absorbed all that time, I used to do rather exhaustive Thanksgiving research to help you through the day.  After a few of those, I came to the conclusion that all the hoopla revolved around trying to make an unwieldy and relatively tasteless fowl into something appetizing by  hours of brining in juniper branches, putting things under the skin, rubbing with this and that combination of exotic spices.  And then you have to cook the thing.  And given the construction of the beast, it doesn’t cook very evenly.  Moist white meat = underdone dark.  Dark meat done just right can result in dried out breast meat.  Hence the complicated and time consuming rituals of rocketing the oven temperatures around.  Blazing hot for … reduce to ….. for…. Finish with…; or cook this side up, then after… rotate for…. Flip again… etc.  Another approach is to deconstruct the whole thing and cook parts separately.  This year, every other photo of the bird has it “Spatchcocked” which makes the poultry look like it’s been run over by a Ford 150.  Poor little splayed out thing.  But it does allow more even cooking.  Probably those are the best culinary solutions, but then you miss the “ta daaaah! effect of bringing that bronzed beauty to the table.  And if you’re astute you may have a pretty good meal.

In this culture of social media want it right now, easy, quick, cut corners, this year seems to be bent on “no fuss”.   The Washington Post entitled their weekly food section devoted to thanksgiving "Simplified"

And that randomly selected foodie rag promises to fix all your previous faux pas..

The Post’s solution for simplified bird?  Sprinkle it with salt, leave it in the refrigerator for “up to two days” (and where you put all the displaced food is up to you).  Then preheat oven to 375 degrees,  place the bird on a raft of celery stalks, add water, and roast for 2 to 2 ½ hours until “it’s gorgeously browned firm to the touch, and the leg wiggles easily and the juice that comes out is clear”.   Easy, right?  The title of the recipe is “Simple Roast Turkey with Simplest Gravy”.

Okay, that's probably too much ink spent on the center of the table.   The whole subject of “sides” is a (now for something completely) different matter.  Their side is predictably “Easy Bread Stuffing” which continues the no stress theme.  But, as I’m sure I have stated before "sides" is where you can go nuts with your creative abilities.  Knock yourself out.

Personally, I think the best side of all is from that same issue of Bon Appétit

With (as the article says) Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, and French’s crispy onions.  Bet you had that at home growing up.  Canned is a must!!

And speaking of “sides”, this is a bit of a detour, but somewhat relevant.  There is a class of foods that sometimes get to be trendy, but to me have little distinguishing flavor of their own.  I put zucchini in this bunch, for instance.  People spend a lot of time dolling them up with this and that, mostly to supply something in the mouth with flavor.   So when I kind of disparaged Kale the other day, I received a typical response to my rants “well, you’ve never tasted MY recipe for…..”   So a loyal reader sent the following treatment of Kale:

About Kale, well I never grew up with it, and 15 years ago asked a born and bred S. MD neighbor how to cook it.  I lost the directions, but figured steam 10 minutes and add little butter and lemon to it on the plate.  Do this with young Kale leaves and eat it before it cools down and it is divine!

She further emphasized that it is very important to use young leaves.

Another such vegetable is the venerable Brussel Sprout.   Again, personally I don’t care for them, but received another recipe for them that was touted as “best ever”.   I pass it on without comment.

Shredded Brussel Sprouts with Maple Syrup and Pecans

3/4 cup pecan pieces
2 lb Brussels sprouts
1/2 stick butter
2 T (or to taste) maple syrup
1 T cider vinegar
Salt and pepper

Carefully toast nuts in 350° oven for 10 minutes. Don't burn.
Discard outer leaves and stems of sprouts and finely shred

In a 12-13 inch skillet melt butter over moderately high heat until foam subsides, about 10 minutes

Sauté shredded sprouts for 4 minutes until wilted, stir in nuts, syrup, vinegar, salt and pepper and sauté 1 or 2 more minutes.

Add more butter or syrup to taste.

Say: "I'll never cook these any other way ever again".

A snarky give away is the instruction to “finely shred” the little cabbage family darling.  Oh, and then let’s add some maple syrup….  But, having never (as I remember) tried them this way, I should shut up..

So enjoy whatever you decide!

Would not be a complete thanksgiving report without mentioning wines.   Again, kind of a difficult subject for this holiday, and I would probably go back to my “DWTHYL” theory of “Drink Whatever the Hell You Like”.  Almost anything can be acceptable, white, red, and this year a lot of the pundits pushed sparking of one sort or another.   Another new suggestion was (hard) Cider, which is very trendy and being produced in ever increasing numbers as sort of another “craft” product.  lots of them out there on the market

Okay enough...

In closing, I must mention again as I always do on these “special” days, that while the food can add to the enjoyment, the real joy is gathering at the table with friends and family, and remembering those who were there in Thanksgivings past and now are with us in memory.  Lift a glass to them, and give a thought of thanks to those in far away places enabling us to enjoy the day.  That’s what it is really all about… 

And okay, probably you should

Thursday, November 9, 2017

back to "normal"

Well, now that the tyranny of the travel (nice phrase, huh?) is finally behind us (collective sigh of relief) we can move on to whittle down the mountain of things that have been bugging me lately, tie on the apron, food writing and social media, and then maybe a little visit to the Buffalo Moon…

Blue Apron – well, Blue Apron has two edges we find out after quite an extensive run with them (every page is a meal)...

 The sharp edge is that you get some interesting meals using ingredients which you don’t normally run across, and the dull edge is that besides the cooking, you have to do all the prep work yourself.   Which is fine, but on those nights when you’re pooped, hungry, and late, “wash and carefully peel the carrots, slice lengthwise, then thinly cut on an angle…” is not exactly what you want to take on (along with the other many directions).  Not only that, if you enjoy a cocktail hour before dinner, sometimes you turn into a slave of the timer, popping up and down to do this and that.  Plus, there’s that bag of Kale in the refrigerator that you really didn’t want to “Carefully wash, inspect, and discard any leaves have……” and you’re still left with………kale. Something to think about. 

Tongs a lot!   As you might remember MFO was recently up in Annapolis for a conference on saving your collections in light of “water rise”.   Not just documents, but what about historic buildings, furniture, etc. But, despite her grumblings and misgivings, she begrudgingly had to admit that she did learn a lot of interesting stuff, one of which was about food (sort of).  As with most of these conferences food is sometimes supplied and usually in the form of a buffet.  As you know, I have problems with buffets in general (please give us money so you can get your own food) a companion of MFO made an observation which I will pass along.  One of those things which when you hear it, you go “Oh yeah!  Me too!”, and it’s not about the food, rather the tools you use to get it.  For instance, there might be a delicate scallop in bacon, or maybe a light spanakopita, and there are tongs supplied that might handle hot rivets.  And they are sprung so strongly it would take a riveter to compress them.  So you either maul the piece or drop it.  Then you move on to say, the pasta or potato dish to find a spoon handle attached to a glob of pasta or potato that completely fills the spoon so that getting some for yourself is impossible.  Or the soup tureen that has a 4 cup ladle for you to fill your small bowl.  Just another aggravation.

Speed Cooking (and drinking!) - And I guess lastly, just a general comment on our food culture (as perceived by me).  I suppose it is a spillover from the social media fervor to “get it out now!”  Instant information, no time, two thumb a text to somebody which is delivered in seconds.  Don’t think, compose, consider construction, grammar, just whack, whack, whack, ….send!   One of the myriad food mags I subscribe to is the post Christopher Kimball Cook’s Illustrated.   More and more articles are devoted to finding a way to speed up cooking.  “Caramelized onions can take over an hour to achieve the golden brown, sweet flavored consistency we are used to… I wanted to find a way to get the same results in under (exaggerated) 10 minutes!”   fine, cut corners, pressure cook, oven, etc.  I also get “Milk Street” Chris’s new effort which tends to be leaning a bit more toward international (“from Cambodia, a Savory Mushroom- Pork Omelet”; or Tunisian Couscous Recipe) and classical time honored techniques that, hey! Stock may take four hours!

So I was disappointed to see an article in sort of the “holiday section under “Cocktails” entitled “A Martini.  Blended, not Stirred”…   WTF?   It talks about infused liquors more in use by professional (ugh!) mixologists.

conventional wisdom is that infusing is a slow and persnickety process.  Traditional infusions call for letting a flavorful ingredient – fruit, spices, herbs, steep in a liquor for at least a day, but often for week or more, then straining”

 Yes, it does.  Very wise, and how hard is that. Fine. What else do you have to do? And then you get a quality ingredient for your well appointed bar.

Okay, then comes the bombshell from the author:

That’s crazy talk.  We get better results in about 5 minutes.  Our secret?  The Blender!” and then proceeds to tell you how to put your flavoring agent with the liquor in the blender, pulse briefly until finely chopped, strain, let it rest a few minutes, and voila!

His example is a Lemon Grass Martini. Goes through the rigmarole of the Lemon Grass…. Whirrrrrrrrr.  And out comes a CLOUDY MARTINI with entrained air.  There is no crime to parallel letting a pristine Martini get spoiled by all that air.   The joys of martini’s are that chilled,crystal clear liquid held high over a stemmed glass with a golden strip of lemon gracefully floating within.  (and the second crime is stemless glasses).  

Now I’m thirsty (is it five someplace?)

Okay, enough of that.   Last week was the full November (Beaver) Moon.  Being a noted couch potato I didn’t get out the tripod, trudge into the back yard mess with settings, I just sat on the couch and shot through our windows.  Hence a ghost image here and there and a doubling because of the thermopane.  Besides, I’m not going to publish them, just share with you.  I cranked the ISO way up, and had at it.  Not too bad..
Started with moon rise to a cloudy sky over the river...

And then as it climbed into the night sky more nice peeks between the clouds.

Kinda nice.

Speaking of sky, we’ve had quite a few Laughing Gulls assembling out back, sometimes on the river, sometimes in the air

They were feeding on something, all were pretty much


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Home at last, home at last..

Okay, okay, despite multiple promises and false starts this is REALLY (REALLY) the last time you have to suffer “the trip”.  The physical trip lasted from Monday July the 24th to Saturday August 5th.  The virtual trip lasted at least twice that time if not more… 

So anyway, our last night on the road was spent in Morgantown, West (By God) Virginia, home of the mountaineers (quick diversion:  did you hear the Coon Skin Capped, buckskin clad “mountaineer” that struts around with a musket at football games got arrested for DUI and a backup had to be run in for the last game?).  Anyway we got there in time that allowed us to try a place for dinner at a restaurant that was recommended by our good friends from work that attended a lot of the football games.  It is called “Olivero’s”… which they describe in part (with a few capitalization and grammar gaffes here and there) as

"Known as one of West Virginia's most respected restaurants for fine Italian cuisine and top notch service, Oliverio's on The Wharf, established in 2001, is located in morgantown's newly renovated Wharf District. The tuscan inspired eatery, with it's big city feel and small town charm is within walking distance from area hotels and downtown"

Well, it certainly wasn’t within walking distance for us, we were on “the other side” of some mountain and required GPS aided navigation to get there, up hill and down dale through odd places.

The restaurant was indeed in the Wharf District, in a renovated warehouse that had those trendy exposed trusses, and big HVAC ducts, all painted black of course.  "Wharves" imply water and indeed it was situated with a nice view (from the patio) of the Monongahela River  

We wound up there after a bit of await, they have some sort of turn your name in, go sit, and wait for your phone to tell you your table is ready!   Technology. There was a wedding party sharing the large patio with us, but they were pretty well behaved.  The menu had a decided “Tuscan” slant

With the normal “categories” of zuppa, antipasti, etc.. once again, being a college town most of the servers were students and ours was very nice.   Even got both our drinks correct.  Based on the recco from our friends we ordered a starter of the Bruschetta, and were quite pleased.

For main courses, MFO had a shrimp entrée which she liked and I tried the Chicken Marsala, which I didn’t.   Harshly speaking it was just a bowl of glop.  Tasty glop, but not a breast in a nice sauce.  Chopped up chicken swimming in a sauce..

Anyway, it was a nice evening and fitting for our last on the road.  Thanks to our friends for the guidance..
So the next morning, we arose, eagerly set out only to wind up........ going the wrong way… Nice.  Turned around and fetched up against an operation getting a dump trump out of a place it didn’t want to be causing us a delay

Morgantown is not far from far western Maryland, and shortly Larry welcomed us back to the Old Line State

Then it was just the usual slog past the usual Maryland landmarks

and scenery

Although there were some interesting things along the way (not brown, not in the vale)

And finally, National Harbor in all its glory loomed on the east side of the Potomac..

And ultimately we returned to the digs.  Quite a rewarding trip, with all the hard work of MFO preserving my Father’s record of life, as well as on the Craig side of things.  It is comforting that they will now be preserved, and available to see.  Not just stuck in a basement anymore, and not a burden to the FOJ’s…  nice.


Which leaves me just a little time for one (of at least three) news and notes…   Have you seen those Arby’s commercials where apparently “healthy” is out, and they’ve gone in for (envision James Earl Jones’s booming bass) “We’ve got the MEATS!” with pictures of mounds of various red stuff with onions, cheeses, etc.  Reminiscent of the “Guts, Glory, RAM!” manly approach.   Well, Arby’s has broken new ground in that they are going to add Venison to the line up.  Yes, Venison.  A few reviews are quite positive.  I suppose there are farm raised deer as well as beef. (and I'm not going to take the easy shot about road kill).What’s next?  Boar?  Bold move on their part..

I guess at Arby's you don't have to worry about


Saturday, October 28, 2017


Hello there, remember me??  it’s been a long (strange) two weeks since we’ve gotten together.   Not that I’ve been sitting around munching bon bon’s and vintage wine (not a good pairing, by the way unless the vintage wine is port and….. but I digress).  Far from it…but you deserve a quick update for heaven’s sake

A week ago today was the 51st annual U.S. Oyster Festival in St. Mary’s County and the 38th annual National Oyster Cookoff.  Being the Rotary coordinator of that Cook Off, it is always a busy time leading up to the event.  That kind of kept me busy with LMI’s and then helping out on the day of the cook off itself.   It actually went very well this year, and the grand champion winning dish was a Miso Mayo Oyster Gratin prepared and presented by chef Hidemi Walsh

Of course all nine recipes were outstanding and can be found in our cookbook. 

On the “shucking” side, Honor Allen, last year’s winner repeated and will be once again heading for Galway, Ireland to compete in the International Oyster Opening Championships next September.  His shucking plus penalty point time was the lowest recorded in recent history for our festival.

Above Photos courtesy of Reid Silverman

He is an engaging character and makes heavy use of Facebook, so if you would like to follow him, do so.  He did a great job while there this year. 

We also benefited from a new emcee, the gentleman who is the Director of Seafood Marketing for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, who prepared a press release for us, that is a great overview of the festival. You can check it out here


So that was one draw on my time and with apologies, another was we now have a new house pet we are dealing with.

It sits in the corner and hums…. No that’s giving it credit, much louder than that, like a small generator, it somehow sucks oxygen out of the air, and shoves it into that green (50 foot) tube off to the left, which is connected to (sorry…..) my nose.  24/7. It was prescribed to alleviate my shortness of breath issues.  Helps some.  Upon leaving the digs, I am one of those people you see with that bottle slung over the shoulder in a bag.   Yippee..   I’ll try not to dwell on that, we all have our little tribulations to deal with…  “Hi’, I’m Brittney, and I’ll be staring at you tonight”  

Okay, we have to get home from our trip.   Remember that?

The next morning after our lovely dinner at Kellogg Center we had to face reality and head toward our coast.  Our goal was Morgantown, West (by God) Virginia.  So we started out toward

Eventually leaving Michigan and into  

with it's (infamous)

Those glowering skies did give us a little shower at a rest area

But it eventually cleared and we passed interesting stuff...

And the shrine to our Holy Sport

And eventually found WBGVA

I don’t know what it is about that state, whether laws are more lenient or what, but it seems (to me) that very soon after you see the former sign, you always see one of these

But finally we got to the home of the mountaineers (who just put on a miserable display of football).

Based on a recommendation of a good friend who was familiar with the place, we secured a dinner reservation, but it will take another post to do that.   This is getting long enough.

MFO is leaving tomorrow for a conference on protecting collections from water rise.

Not sure if she’ll have to be


Saturday, October 14, 2017

More memories...

After we finished our little trip down memory lane (and Gunson Street) we went back and chilled at the not so nice Fairfield for a while.  Over the past few months, through good old Facebook, we kind of revived a friendship with another classmate.  Turns out they are “wine people”, and have a place in California as well as Lansing, and we mutually decided to get together for dinner on our last evening in East Lansing.

Michigan State has a very respected Restaurant and Hospitality school, and they are centered in the school’s Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center which they run as a “ real hotel” and training facility.  It contains a restaurant (The State Room), and our friends suggested we have dinner there.   Shortly before we got fully DFD’s they called and invited us to join them in a drink at a local watering hole in East Lansing.  Why not?   So we hustled into our duds, and found

They recommended a specialty beer from Iceland (?) which I had never seen before (no wonder)

It was quite refreshing, and despite the "Blue Moon" like ingredient listed on the label it was quite subtle and understated and very good.  I don’t think I’ve seen it here in the Mid Atlantic.
So fortified by the pre drink we drove over on campus to the

The dining room was quite well attended, with guests who apparently were at a conference (name tags still hanging around their necks).  We were seated at a nice table and given menus and the wine list, which was well thought out, very extensive and detailed, containing a lot of interesting varieties from both the old and new world.  If you have a second (and some interest) spend a moment looking at it.  I hesitate to say it was surprising, but it was better than many, many, lists we’ve encountered elsewhere.  There were some big boy wines on it.  How often do you see two vintages of Diamond Creek on a list?  Or from the old world: Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse Lalande Grand Cru Classé 2010 Pauillac?

The menu followed suit a good variety of choices.   And as a sign of the times, entrees to which it applied, was the little “GF” symbol which are more and more prevalent.  I guess it’s a good thing. 
Anyway, we finally settled on menu choices, which of course I now forget, and got a bottle of Four Graces 2014 Willamette Valley Pinot.  Food arrived when it should, MFO’s salad

And my fish, with my "beloved" Asparagus.  

All nicely presented and very tasty, ladies served first.   Which kind of leads me into a comment on the service.  I presumed that all the servers were students, or, “college kids” as we used to call them.  I suppose they were all in the hospitality program, but they were very refreshing.  They were enthusiastic, friendly (read eye contact) and actually cared if you enjoyed your food.   Didn’t come to the table every 7 minutes asking if everything was all right, or if you were “still werkin’ on that?”, which unfortunately is more common around here…  Delightful experience and meal..
Finally, we considered the dessert list

Those of you who are/were from East Lansing might notice that “MSU Dairy Ice Cream” is on the list. MSU Dairy has been around since forever, and the ice cream enjoys (or at least used to) kind of a cult following. But we decided against it as our friends invited us out to their house for a capper glass of wine.  They have a lovely house on the Grand River in Lansing, with a lot of art on display.   We very much enjoyed a glass of 2012 Denner Syrah, great stuff.  

Unfortunately, while we were enjoying dinner, there was a storm that blew through and upset many of the plants on their deck.
A great way to end our re-visit to our home town, enhanced by seeing people we went to high school (class of ’59!!) with.  Somehow gratifying to see that we still have bonds with them even though the world has turned many times…

As an interesting note, those that still live in East Lansing is having a “greater than 50 year” class reunion TODAY.  As time goes by, having a single year class reunion isn't real rewarding, hence expanding the base.  Obviously, MFO and I will not be able to attend, but maybe a few of the “East Lansing High School Trojans” will enjoy the fellowship.  After our experience recently renewing acquaintances makes us wish we could be there even more.  Enjoy and hope you are


and despite promises, looks like returning to the digs will require another posting..