Monday, November 29, 2010

Eastern Shore, Soul part One

Scenes for the Heart, food for the soul - part one of two.

We arrived in Easton after a relatively easy two hour drive from the digs. We checked into the Bartlett Pear Inn, being greeted by the gracious Innkeeper and shown to a comfortable second floor room overlooking quaint South Harrison Street with its historical homes. It was warm enough that we sat on the second story outdoor porch for a bit and watched the world go by, slowly.

Eventually we got DFL’d and went next door for lunch at Mason’s. We had not been there before but heard good things about it in the dining scene in Easton. We had reserved (through impersonal “open table”), although I thought it might be excessive to reserve for a Tuesday afternoon. Well, guess what? In spite it being 1:30 on a non-descript Tuesday afternoon, the place was pretty much full. We were greeted by a person in a startling outfit, and without being overly graphic, I wish I could have a photo of her spider net stockings - of which you could see lots of. Nuff said. And as for the reservation, fortunately, the technology worked, and our seating was confirmed. The restaurant is in an old Victorian house, and your entrance through the front porch reveals a dining space straight ahead, and another room to your left. Beyond that there is sort of a deli area with chocolates, wine bottles for sale on the walls, and a coffee bar. The walls are in bold colors with contemporary art prints; there are no carpets, so noise can be an issue. We were seated in at a two top on the lower level next to the coffee bar, not my favorite choice, but it was a window seat and I’m sure our presence brought people in the door. All the servers were dressed completely in black, and ours whizzed by dropping off the menu and wine list, and said she’d be back in a moment. Well, almost, but they were busy. We immediately looked at the wine list (travelling can develop a thirst). It’s a pretty nice list with lots of options, several half bottles, although I thought there weren’t very many choices for wine by the glass. Anyway we decided to start off the “vacation” with a glass of bubbly. So we ordered a split of Moët. It was delivered eventually (they were busy), poured nicely in flutes, so we sipped and turned to the menu. Champagne is such a nice thing…It was a good menu, with choices of cold or hot sandwiches, starters, and mains, which consisted mostly of salads (Cobb, Shrimp, Chicken, Caesar) and there were also offerings of heartier options like meat loaf and steak frites. Knowing we’d be having a dinner in the evening, we opted for lighter salads, with MFO taking the Grilled Marinated Beef Salad, and I chose the Grilled Tuna Salade Niçoise. When asked how I wanted the Tuna, I said seared (is there any other way), along with a glass of Angeline Pinot Noir. People watching was rewarding, with tables ranging from “old money” looking folks in tweedy coats (nicely DFL) and heavy jewelry, to a table of young people, one in a tee shirt, another in a short sleeve shirt with one of those knit caps like garage band musicians wear pulled around the ears that stayed affixed throughout the lunch. I think maybe because it was lunch, in sort of a “vital” setting it didn’t annoy me as much as it would have at dinner. Finally, our salads arrived, pleasing to the eye

As you can see the tuna was butterflied, enabling it to be just seared on the outside and coolly soft and moist inside. The greens and the other necessary ingredients for the Niçoise were just fine, although the haricot vertes were more like green beans. MFO’s salad was a bit “chewy”, but flavorful. We finished off the meal with a slice of bourbon pecan pie (a sucker dish for me) and a piece of (unremembered) cake. A cappuccino and coffee rounded out the lunch. In re-reading this, it may sound a bit negative (me? Negative?) but all in all, we did have a nice lunch, an eventually good conversation with our server, and it provided a good start to our respite in Easton. I would return, and maybe try for dinner, but not in the coffee shop. If you go, hold out for the dining room or porch if weather permits.

Following the lunch and after the ride to Tilghman Island we once again repaired to the room, read (and sipped) a bit, and prepared to DFD for a return visit to Scossa. We had such a wonderful lunch there earlier this year that we were eager to be there for dinner. It’s always somewhat hazardous returning someplace after an initial good experience, but it’s a mark of a good restaurant not to disappoint you. Despite my wishes that it weren’t so, I have to admit that I was disappointed in our return experience. Those damn expectations.. and what was really disappointing was, unfortunately, the food. On our last visit the food was the star and the good service and setting just heightened the experience. Hard to know why, maybe having a second “gourmet” meal in a day could be a factor, or the fact that it was that Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving, plus maybe we were a bit tired. The restaurant was not crowded, but by no means empty. I still really like the space and décor; it’s comforting and pleasing to the eye. Service throughout the evening was good. Water filled, things cleared, attentive without being intrusive. They did execute the drink test flawlessly, and the lemon twist was cleverly tied in a knot, the portion was hearty. We won’t recount the menu; it’s a nice one with good choices. They offer a Prix Fixe menu along with a la carte options. I ordered a starter of ($13) sautéed calamari and mussels in wine and faro, and the ($25.5) “Tuesday special” of Roast lamb shank with risotto parmigiana, while MFO took the ($37) PF option of Sautéed scallops & mushroom al balsamico and Veal loin scallopine with lemon & caper sauce. Nice bread was brought to the table, along with a second dry Manhattan, and life was good. I did notice in the interim that the “maitre d’” while attending our table also visited others. He was very astute about topping off the wine glasses no matter how full they were. I am of two minds on this subject. Is it the restaurant’s responsibility to mind the wine, or should they let the diners take care of it? I think I favor the latter approach, and although I have to “serve myself” as it were, I can drink at my own pace. Does the restaurateur take this as a sign of neglect? I don’t know. Of course this may eliminate the necessity for a second bottle. Who knows?

Our first courses arrived, mine a ring of mussels around the plate circling a little mound of the faro and calamari, and MFO’s the scallops with mushrooms. Hers was very nice, the scallops caramelized on the tops while still opaque inside, with the earthy balsamic mushrooms giving a good base. Calamari is a difficult dish. Battered and fried can be great, but sautéed requires a nice touch. Unfortunately the all too trite description of “rubber bands” kind of applied. The little rings were to say the least, “chewy”. The mussels while plump, tended to not hold together when forked, and I’ll leave it to the reader to envision the outcome. They were flavorful, but kind of unappetizing. I didn’t finish them. My glass of Nero D’Avola was fruity and good. After a bit our main courses arrived, and the veal piccata was tasty (although a bit toothsome according to MFO). My lamb shanks were large and well done, in a kind of demi glace sauce, falling off the bone and with good flavor.. The risotto however was heavy, gluey, and I’m sorry, reminded me of Macaroni and Cheese. Maybe that’s the way it should be.. I don’t know. Risotto is another sucker dish for me, it can be heavenly, but this was more earthly. I think there should be a third visit and there will be, but not with such high expectations next time.

So a new place visited, and another one re-visited. I would whole heartedly endorse a visit to both Mason’s and Scossa, and I will attend each again I hope. I think Scossa can do better, and I would like another experience at Mason’s. What a nice town with great options..

Editor’s note: In the interest of the reader’s time, I am going to devote another episode to our final meal in Easton. I thought being behind Mason’s and Scossa might imply some ranking, and nothing could be further from the truth. The dinner we had a Bartlett Pear Inn stands so far above two quite good meals it should be an entry on its own. And it will be..

Oh, and for all, we were


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Eastern Shore, Heart and Soul

There are some places that just sort of pull at your heart, and just knowing they’re out there somehow gives you a little place you can go in your mind when you’re all caught up in black Friday TV deals, untangling and putting up Christmas lights in balky crepe myrtle trees, finding that special ornament, and so forth. Somehow, for me it’s the Eastern Shore of Maryland that resides in that little collection of brain cells. How can scenes like this not please you?

It’s out there. Nobody “made” it, nature (or whatever deity you might subscribe to) gave it to us to enjoy. Whether or not you’re present, it’s there.

As you might remember, we decided to return to Easton again (third time this year) for a couple of days of food, peace, and tranquility before cranking up the holiday madness for real. Besides the food, we wanted to get out into the country side and enjoy landscape inhabited mostly by Canada Geese and other wild things. Tuesday after arriving we drove to the very end of Tilghman Island in the gathering twilight, and Wednesday we re-visited the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. While there is a new visitor facility under construction, you start out at the (get this) Visitor Contact Center, sort of a makeshift stop while the new center is being finished. It’s where you can check in, get folders, and if you’re lucky have a protracted conversation with “Chuck”, a volunteer who is very eager to point out things to see, the best viewing places for eagles, waterfowl, and trails you “must do”..There is also a good selection of guidebooks, pamphlets, and field and trail guides.

One of the sights you are supposed to see there is the resident White Pelican, a relatively rare bird for this area. It broke a wing somehow and so cannot fly, but is able to feed itself so the naturalists let it be. A couple of other birders (from Ohio!) who were in the shop and let us know its whereabouts when they saw it a bit earlier. So, armed with a fistful of little brochures, maps, local knowledge, and our “lifetime” pass to all Federal reserves (ten bucks, for a good cause) we started out. We soon located the White Pelican, and although a bit far for a good picture it was no doubt the bird, so it goes on my mental “life list”…

After enjoying the pelican for a few minutes we then took a walk on the 1/3 mile Marsh Edge Trail (highly recommended by Chuck) which afforded more nice views of far

And near

We saw a Hairy Woodpecker (too fast for the lens), some unidentified little birds, but there are always the stately Blue Herons willing to pose for you

Unless you get just a little toooooo close!

Our gracious hosts at the Bartlett Pear Inn (next edition) prepared a little box lunch for us to enjoy (a lovely chopped roast beef sandwich, house made chips, nice pickles, and of course a pear)

So we parked the momster

Rolled down the windows and listened to the thousands of geese talking to each other, saw a bald eagle, another unidentified raptor, and I think some Northern Shovelers. And oh yes, a very nice Riesling (don’t tell anybody).

Given the time of year (maybe) we didn’t see many other cars nor people, mostly avian friends and after lunch we navigated our way back to Easton through more gorgeous scenery

What a peaceful day. Slow down, you move too fast. It’s just nice. What more can you say. Get out and enjoy what’s there and get at least a day of inner satisfaction..

After returning to the Inn, we relaxed a while, and then had a wonderful dinner that will also stay in a special place for a long time. So next edition we’ll leave sights for the heart for food for the soul...

And needless to say we were very


Monday, November 22, 2010

Turkey Day 2010....

Well, here it is again. Thanksgiving! Although there are various traditional “food theme” days throughout the year, such as ham on Easter, ribs on the 4th of July, “Thanksgiving” has pretty much a rigid menu: “By God, when I was growing up we had Turkey!!” Hearkening back to our (or at least mine) youth, we remember Mom getting up at some ungodly hour in the morning, wrestling with the now thawed turkey putting it in the oven in that big blue oval roasting pan, eventually with Dad offering (un)welcome suggestions – “I don’t think that’s done!” leading to the occasional fight in the kitchen. After a morning of preparation and grief, we finally all assemble at the table set with the best silver and china, thimble sized flared glasses for the Mogen David, and maybe a kids table jammed in the corner. Somebody stammers out a semblance of a blessing and then we start to pass: the green jello 7 up salad, the canned yams with marshmallows on them, heaping dishes of mashed potatoes, Pepperidge Farm Dressing with gravy (there was always great gravy), the little dish of cranberry sauce still sporting the rings from the can, a dish of (Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup) green bean casserole with the Durkee Fried Onions on top, a cut glass relish tray of mandarin oranges, ripe olives, shriveled gherkin pickles, and maybe pickled onions. Baskets of mealy white parker house rolls were passed with strawberry jam, and at last, the piece de la resistance: the bird. After Dad got through flourishing the battery powered slicing knife, it could be dried out and cool, but on a platter for all to see. Then “I only want white meat!”; “I hate cranberry sauce”. Remember the year Gramma Moody dumped her complete plate in her lap? Ahh, fond memories, but we’ll return to those later.

Over the years, as we have gradually escalated the Chef to Superstar status, Thanksgiving has somehow morphed into this glorious culinary opportunity (nay, necessity!) to show off your cooking skills. Nobody thinks about whether the pilgrims might have served “Soy Sauce and Honey Glazed” or “Pimenton-Brined” Turkey, bathed in a brine of a hundred ingredients (add freshly harvested Juniper Berries…). No, it was to survive. And It is after all, just a bird that somehow snuck into our culture as the paragon of Thanksgiving Dinner.

So in the face of all this, every year your loyal Bottom Feeder dutifully scans the foodie publications to see what this year’s nuances on the menu or the hot procedure is. Most publications still show that bronzed bird on the cover, along with tag lines such as (Food and Wine): “Thanksgiving Made Easy!”, or (Bon Appétit): “How to cook the perfect Turkey”. The same as last year, and probably the same as next. So, I perused over a dozen magazines, looking at some 20 recipes, reading numerous articles, each trying to come up with something new. It gets kind of silly.

For instance, the aforementioned Food & Wine regales me with a story about a well known Boston Chef and her husband who is “legendary” baker and how they prepared a wonderful dinner for their groovy friends. Gimme a break. Martha Stewart also wants me to learn how to prepare that Heritage Bourbon Red Turkey like her extremely vital Farmers at Stone Barn do. Who gives a crap?

Anyway, after reading all this stuff, it appears that cooking techniques have sort of calmed down a bit, like there was no mention of the deep frying frenzy (although I suppose it still exists), only one suggesting that “Start at 500 degrees – after checking the battery in the smoke detector). Generally the bird went into the oven at something like 450 and cooked a bit then reduced to 350 until a “instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest…” reads whatever. There is still some inversion, starting with breast down, then flipping, and maybe tenting. This year there are more recipes that call for either dismembering or butterflying the bird so as to attempt to get all the white and dark meats cooked just right. Not a bad idea. There is still the “bag” approach which appears in Cook’s Country. Of course Cook’s Illustrated (Perfecting Glazed Turkey) has to be somewhat different so they butterfly and cook at 275 degrees for up to 3 hours (internal 155 degrees let it rest, up the temp to 475, then several cycles of 7 minute brushing the glaze operations.. The venerable Joy of Cooking just says stuff the turkey if desired, put in a 475 degree oven reducing immediately to 350 and roast, giving you an idea of how long by how big the bird is. It also has a wonderful treatise on how to pluck and singe, truss, and so forth.

Saveur just listed 5 interesting preparations including a very nice traditional roasted bird with oyster stuffing. If you’re still casting about for ideas, you might check out Bon Appétit, they had several nice recipes.

Wines to accompany the bird similarly were all over the place, mostly matching the wine with the sides and the degree of spice. A lot of them recommended Pinot Noir, but there was also Syrah, Carignon, Shiraz, Malbec, Merlot, and Valpolicella, Chardonnay (of course), Sauvignon Blanc, Temperanillo, and a LOT of sparkling. I like the latter suggestion a lot. You can’t go wrong, but don’t do Tott’s or Cook’s. Spend a little to love a lot…

What it tells me is that there isn’t a single “best” preparation, seasoning, or wine. It’s back to that “do whatever the hell you like”. Turkey is not an easy protein to deal with. Do what you want, it’s pretty much the same. Show your flair with the sides, but remember the initial Thanksgiving was simple food. Maybe that’s the best idea. Leave the froo froo stuff to the wonderful people that run around with Martha, the hoi polloi in boutique places, all the “I love me” folks. Their food is forced and overdone, just for show. Oh, I should mention there was a dearth of “non-poultry” options. No lamb, no beef, pretty much concentration on fowl.

Okay, you know why I so vividly remember the 50 year old days of the 7-up salad and green beans? It’s not the food, it’s because it was a shared time with your family. Who cares if the turkey is overdone or cold, who’s sitting next to you? Do you love them? Do you enjoy being with them? There’s the attraction of Thanksgiving, being together, sharing experiences (even dumping the plate in your lap) and creating memories that you will cherish forever…

But, dear friends, I still admonish you to


ps tomorrow we leave for a couple of days of relaxation and dining on the Eastern Shore with a return to Easton

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Serene Scenes....

Getting ready to head down to the Chapel at Historic St. Mary's City. And, there wasn't much shaking in the food world, we've been eating at home for the last few days (some hickory smoked herb stuffed pork chops last night). So just a few nice Sunday shots in the "serenity now" vein from the back yard at the digs.....look around you it won't last too much longer

and a boat happened by

The bridge does have it's attraction in certain lights..

and lastly a borrowed image from a friend with a nice eye and touch...

so enjoy this season and day because tomorrow marks the beginning of "holiday madness'. next thing you know we'll be in January.. sigh...

and don't forget next thursday is coming when you will have to


PS - the little counter in the Blogger screens tells me this is the 365th(!)posting. a year's worth... where DOES that time go

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Serenity Now....and other

No foodie stuff today…

I often think in the Fall that this is the “prettiest” season, until Spring when I think this is the prettiest season. As the years pass, I am tending to believe that fall indeed is the most pleasant time of the year, or at least what I enjoy the most. After the rigors of summer’s heat and sun in your eyes at 4:45 am, now the more leisurely arrival of sunlight and shorter days just seem more peaceful. Yes, I admit there is a factor of “Gee, I can’t mow the grass now, it’s getting dark” releasing you from some chores with good reason, but there is the psychological aspect as well. Nature is relaxing from the growing frenzy of the summer and getting ready to slumber for the year. The plants are slowing down, and the trees show us that wonderful display of colors. Just today I was driving down Millstone Landing road on the way to the digs, and was really struck by the reds, yellows, oranges, and browns of the trees along with such a wonderful quilt of textures. I suppose one might draw some conclusions from this attitude as I approach another birthday divisible by ten, and there might be something to that. Slow down, you move too fast..

Which provides a nice little segue into another of my favorite subjects: our local traffic. Why some people believe that their personal time is ever so much more important than mine, I’ll never know. Last evening I was heading north on Route 235 towards a little gourmet place, and it was “rush hour”, which now occurs anytime between 3 and 6. All three of the traffic lanes were moving, certainly not at the speed limit, creeping yes, but certainly not stop and go brake lights. I was in the right hand through lane, just minding my business, going with the flow as it were. Well, the person in the little car behind me had enough.. darting into the right hand “right turn only” lane accelerating past all the other idiots obeying courteous driving practices (and the law), they shot up the road until the next intersection. If there was an “island”, they just forced their way back into the through lane “go ahead and hit me sucker, I put all my money into the exhaust system on this beauty!”. If no physical impediment, “Hey! I am not turning right, I’ll just keep going”. MUST turn right at intersection is only a suggestion. Or maybe they can’t read. Of course this technique works just fine, they probably save maybe, a whole 15 minutes over the other slugs and me…But just once! Just once!! I’d love to see these guys get pulled over, but nope. Sigh….

Or just this morning as I was exiting from the parking lot at Starbucks (no comments please) at the exit furthest south, I fetched up behind a van also wanting to turn right. It was past peak, but there still was some southbound traffic in the various three lanes. SO we wait. And we wait. All the while the “merge lane” as I like to call it, was empty and there were enough spaces between the vehicles that a thoughtful merge could be easily accomplished. But, we wait. Finally, as it always does within only 6 or 7 minutes, all three lanes were clear. Okay, how about now? Oh, wait… there’s somebody coming out of the north exit. So hold your horses. That car did a rapid transit to the far side (probably to do a “U-e” at the light) so finally after he cleared us, the van moved straight across the so called merge lane into the…..RIGHT!! hand traffic lane and proceeded south. As it worked out, I followed said vehicle south, and it remained in that lane until it turned off right into San Souci. Am I missing something here?

Slow down, you move too fast.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Food Foursome...

As I said, over the long holiday weekend, I had several opportunities to eat/dine at some local places. Thursday provided a chance to have a long planned lunch at Courtney’s. My friend had indicated a hankering for fried oysters, and since it was closer for him, we decided that Courtney’s was the proper venue. I survived the post Veteran’s day parade gridlock in Leonardtown, and managed to get there a little before my friend, so I went in. There were several tables occupied, and the venerable Tom was waiting on them in his own order. When he got to my table I said that my friend was running behind, but wanted fried oysters and wanted to make sure they were available, and ordered a Miller Light (hey, it’s just right). He checked with the kitchen and returned and said that there were indeed some left but would reserve a couple of baskets worth for us. After a few sips, my friend arrived and found the table. It turns out that he had been a regular over the years, and although he had not been there recently, he was remembered. My friend being very civilized ordered a glass of Merlot and we settled in for some good conversation. As is customary here at Courtney’s dishes trickled out of the kitchen, first to this table, then that, then the other, and after another bottle of Miller (with the internal rifling) our baskets finally arrived. The oysters were just barely coated with a light batter, more blond than brown, but the oysters they enrobed were plump and flavorful. The fries, which were probably Sysco, were sort of just right, and we had an enjoyable meal, punctuated by interesting political conversation with Tommy. It’s an institution folks, be sure to enjoy it while it’s still there. Nothing is forever…

That same evening, MFO and I journeyed over the bridge to the Ruddy Duck to hear a long time friend from the golden years of the Dry Dock perform. We arrived as the setup was in progress to a rather packed bar area with several revelers there for the football (first Thursday night Pro game), hockey, and some second rate college football game. With help from the “maître de”, we secured a table generally in front of the performing duo. We were shortly approached by the server, and geez, I still don’t like the “hi I’m and I’ll be….” crap, but there it was. Friendly and well meaning, but just take my order please. Despite being in a brew pub we succumbed to the two dollar wine deal and had glasses of the house chardonnay, probably equitably priced. Anyway we ordered a starter of “Chipas a la Carlos”, those little Argentinean cheese balls, and a burger for MFO and a “mucho meat” pizza for myself. Meanwhile the music began, and I wish I could have been in a quieter venue. They had a great repertoire, Bob Dylan, Sweet Baby James, John Prine, and other music we could relate to, but the general din made it hard to listen to. They also had a nice selection of instruments, flute, soprano sax, and mouth harp along with the guitar. I really don’t know their stage names but Kathy and her partner put on a nice show. As for the food, the little cheese balls are always good, and I think the pizza there is among the best to be found around here, and MFO’s burger was, well, if you order medium rare for a processed patty, it isn’t so much done on the outside. The Ruddy Duck is a good gathering place, it’s loud, but maybe okay for that kind of venue.. It seems to be popular…and for a wine guy, their beers are really good.

Saturday night, after we enjoyed the gallery show at Carmen’s, we stumbled across the parking lot and entered DiGiovanni’s, our first visit under the new regime. An immediate positive reaction was that the entrance is now into a little ante room, not straight into the dining space which is a welcome change. Other than that, not much is different from our previous visits. The layout is unfortunate, but that’s the hand they’re dealt. It’s sort of backward of what you would wish, with the necessaries (bathrooms) near the kitchen, making you feel sort of uncomfortable using them, and the “walk in” refrigerator at the opposite end of the bar, away from the kitchen. That results in the kitchen staff continually traversing the length of the bar, “scuse, me, pardon me” returning with ingredients. Not the prettiest of pictures. Anyway we settled in at the bar, figuring we would only have appetizers. There was a bit of skirmishing over what we wanted, but finally we had menus, wine list, and the “events” list before us. I levied the drink test, and MFO selected a glass of Vouvray from the voluminous “by the glass” wine list. Happy to say the drink test passed with flying colors and a full pour of wine for MFO, although my cocktail was sort of diminutive. Sip, sip, “another please”. The menu contained the usual array of neo Italian dishes, but we decided that small plates were called for, so ordered the “antipasto mista – possibly for two”, the Calamari with marinara, and the baked mushroom with crab meat and “monalisa” sauce. Meanwhile the service staff congregated at the end of the bar, carrying on their own social life conversations which we didn’t care to share; “so like, I went, and he, so like….”. Given all of this, I didn’t have very high expectations for the food, but I was pleasantly surprised by the antipasto plate, it was nicely presented, the ingredients were fresh, with the tomatoes as good as could be expected this time of year, layered with a passable fresh mozzarella and balsamic drizzle, and freshly cut charcouterie. The Calamari was not quite up to par, smallish rings of slightly tough stuff, and the sauce was sort of medicinal. MFO’s mushroom was topped with acceptable crab stuffing, but the mushroom itself was sort of flat and not very appetizing. The accompanying sauce was better than mine. All in all, it was acceptable food, but not memorable. We were eventually joined by some friends who were “regulars” and of course they had a great time. Maybe repeat business would engender a little better experience, but for instance the bartender dividing her time between bartending and dessert preparation is distracting. We will/would go back, but won’t be in a hurry to do so. We never did see the white coated "chef" that was featured in the advertisement guised as a review in the "around town" section of the local newspaper a little while ago..

And lastly, although this is more “doing” than “dining” we finished the weekend by attending the fall meeting of the St. Mary’s Historical Society, held at the Rivers Edge Conference Center. I learned that you don’t call it “The O-Club” anymore, as the nice young man at the gate corrected me. Anyway, it is a nice new building with a different but still nice water view and housed the Society group just fine. With the demise of the J. T. Daugherty center outside the gate, this remains one of the few options, but it’s inside the gate with all the attendant hassles of gaining entrance. The brunch was a buffet, and it was quite an improvement over my last experience with the buffet at the old place. Usual stuff, scrambled eggs, bacon (which nobody can screw up), nice potatoes, some wild rice, pork with dressing, and a seafood stew/newburg dish which I thought didn’t work, and salad. A nice array of choices, and as I said improved over previous experiences. The program for the meeting was a look at “reading” the landscape at Historic St. Mary’s city, looking at what you could learn from the depressions, mounds and stuff. You always learn something.

So we pretty much had a tasting menu of restaurants, from the classic waterfront “crab house” to better dining. And not one of them was a chain..thank god… and for each we were appropriately


Monday, November 15, 2010

Doing, Dining, and Planning....

Sometime I have to find out where that time does go…when last we got together (Wednesday ?) it was meatballs (see postscript) and now all of a sudden it’s a new week so there’s a few things to talk about..


Thursday we attended the Veteran’s Day parade in Leonardtown. I was told that it is one of the few actual parades in Maryland, so there were a lot of folks gathering

Along with some other eager spectators waiting for the parade to begin

which it finally did

What followed can only be described as a slice of Americana, with all manner and age of vehicles and beasts

Of course there were all the foot traffic, kids, more kids, then some kids, followed by kids of various organizations,

And the music makers

And eventually the end arrived

It was kind of refreshing to see so many people participating in a local event, there were almost as many people IN the parade as AT the parade. All of the marchers and riders had a seemingly limitless amount of candy which they strewed about the streets as they went, causing a lot of little kids to dart out and gather it in. I can only imagine some moms thinking “oh no, I survived Halloween and now this!!” Of course with all the fun came the more sobering reason why they were gathered, to celebrate all those who served their country (and those currently doing so) making it possible for us to enjoy the day and our freedom. We should thank them every day, not this special one, so give it some thought.

Doing II

We also attended a little show for a new exhibit at Carmen's Gallery over on the Solomons. Sometime you ought to stop in, they have some pretty nice art in there...


Well, after the long hot summer all of a sudden Thanksgiving is only a week away. All the food magazines dutifully send out the “Thanksgiving Issue”, usually with a golden bird on the cover, along with some tag about “Easiest Dinner Recipes”, or “Five Ways to prepare the perfect…”, Best this, Best that, and so forth. How many freaking ways can you cook a fowl. Anyway, I’ll try to distill some of them, and see what’s “hot” this year and what wines they like, and do my annual thanksgiving diatribe. As for us, we’re throwing in the towel and are going to spend a couple of days on the Eastern Shore, dining and driving in and around Easton. Then we’ll return to the digs on Thanksgiving day, but with no feasting plans in mind.

As for you, if you’re planning on the big feast scaled large or small, you better have your menu at least floating around your brain, and think how many stores you’ll have to visit to procure the stuff. Around here, a lot of people order a “fresh” turkey from the Amish, and it’s probably too late for that.


In the interest of your time (and eyeballs) I will postpone the “Dining” portion until tomorrow where we will recount visits to The Ruddy Duck, Courtney’s, Rivers Edge, and DiGiovanni’s over the weekend…

And a loyal reader passed along notice that even in the animal kingdom

They still, with black tie, no less


Meatballs (last one, I promise)

At great personal sacrifice of eyeballs and fingers (and battling MS Word, who constantly thinks I need help in formatting) I managed to type the recipe into a document, along with cooks notes and modifications. If anybody would like same, drop me an e-mail (from your real e-mail) at the blog account, which is (phonetically) bill @ billsbottomfeeder dot com.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Molly....Move on over!

Sometimes things occur that make other things worthwhile. We had our “Ireland reunion” last night, and as you remember we decided to take the Cook’s Illustrated meatballs despite the Ireland theme. It was potluck, so exciting opportunities to graze. There were many good dishes, a couple of Irish stews, a Sheppard Pie, some Guinness Bread, and other tasty stuff. There was also liquid Guinness, alas, in a bottle which just doesn’t seem to be the same, but hey, it’s still good. We were at a venue close to the water, so we also had some freshly shucked and steamed oysters:

with the basement team in control.

They were really good.

But anyway, as I said we took our Meatballs, and put them on the table. Some folks who had read the blog today knew about them, but mostly people did not. We wound up sitting at a table with a son of our tour hosts. One of their sons brought a plate to the table, and said without any prompting: “Hey, these meatballs are great!”. You know, that’s what it’s all about: Food that makes people stop and say “wow”. And, although I’m probably not exactly objective here, they were pretty good. Okay, very good. I think there’s a couple of tweaks we could make, but they were nice. Worth all the chopping, mixing, forming, baking, saucing, etc. Better maybe bests Perfect!!

There weren’t many left.

or much else for that matter....

Again, the important thing was that we had another evening with friends. We also kept in mind those travelers that couldn't be there in person, but I’m sure they were in spirit. Especially our dear friend Katie...

And of course everybody was


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Not Perfect, but maybe just Better....

Somehow, after reading the silly Molly Wizenberg “Perfect Meatball” lunacy in a recent magazine, the thought of meatballs lingered in the gray matter. And, when our latest copy of Cook’s (cooking for engineers) Illustrated showed up with a recipe: “Better Spaghetti and Meatballs”, it drove us over the edge. We’re going to have a reunion of the Irish travelers tonight, and somehow the thought of bringing meatballs to the party was intriguing (Ireland/Italian – it all starts with “I”). So we embarked on creating the “better meatball”. One attraction of this recipe was that the little spheres started out in the oven, avoiding that always messy “brown the meatballs on all sides” step so common for this dish. So we assembled just a few simple ingredients

And began the basic prep work

Gradually filling up the bowl

And at the end adding the buttermilk and panko bread crumb paste

Combined everything (with good safe food handling practices)

Until there was a homogenous lump o’stuff

Then forming the little orbs for the oven – Note we DID NOT use the Molly recommended “Form your hand into a claw” approach. Sheesh…

Meanwhile the sauce was prepared (with the San Marzano tomatoes of course)

Then they were baked in the oven until “browned”, then added them to the sauce and cooked and reduced until we had the final product.

Of course Cook’s has to be different, some of the nuances included the panko breadcrumbs, the use of gelatin (“adds suppleness”), buttermilk, eggs, and some thinly sliced prosciutto added to the ground beef and pork. The sauce calls for white wine and tomato juice, but no tomato paste.. another quirk. The recipe is a bit long for inclusion so just refer to your Issue 107 of Cook's Illustrated on page 14 and 15.

While we won’t taste them in the sauce (we separated them of ease of storage) until tonight, a sneaked cold meatball was fairly tasty. Even had a little bite to it. So maybe they might be a little “better” we’ll let you know. Wonder how they’ll taste with Guinness!!

We're looking forward to the Irish reunion tonight, be great to see each other again, relive some stories (the next potty stop is HOW FAR!!??!!) and of course since I trained them, they will all be


Friday, November 5, 2010

Showing No Quarter...

In my never ending quest to understand the intricate workings of social media, I met an expert (compared to my luddite status) Wednesday evening in the Coffee Quarter in San Souci plaza. Usually a bit less frenetic that other venues around town with wi-fi, we thought we’d meet there after work for a lesson, a snack, and a beverage. I arrived first so that I could be “set up” when the professor arrived. When I walked in, it was apparently between shifts as the “outgoing team” was deeply involved in conversation with the incoming team, at one of the tables in front of the unoccupied counter. Ha! I thought… Must be going over the menus, portions, tasks, and plan for the evening. Well, not. It was unavoidable to overhear them, but instead it was a story about somebody’s adventures with an emergency room someplace, how long it took, on and on. Finally one broke free and came over to take my order. I ordered the Hummus and Tabbouleh plate which I had enjoyed on a previous visit. I also ordered a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and retired to the back to hook up my machine.

Meanwhile the medical conversation continued unabated, nurse stories, etc.. As I was getting the ‘puter fired up, a young woman came over and said that they were out of Tabbouleh, and I could order something else or they would be glad to “add extra Pita chips”. I wasn't quite convinced of the equity of the proposed substitution, but reluctant to start over, I said okay. Medical briefing concluded, and the off shift people bid their fellow workers adieu and departed, wherein the new team went back into the kitchen. I then discovered that the “free wi-fi” entails looking at the daily code on your receipt, so make sure you retain yours. My tutor arrived, set up her machine, we chatted a bit, and then we prepared to begin class. You might note that the order had still not arrived. We were a few pages into the News Feeds, Walls, Find a Friend screens, and so forth when the plate arrived. To be fair (as I always am) the hummus was quite good, creamy and drizzled with a red chili oil (?), and a nice little cluster of olives. There indeed were “more” chips as the plate was mounded with them. We continued the lessons and a mutual friend came in, ordered a sandwich and took a seat. After observing her order sitting on the “out” counter for a while, she went over and retrieved it herself..

Anyway, I would prefer the team meetings occur in the back rather than amongst the customers, and maybe get some more Tabbouleh in the house or at least tell me they're out when I place the order. They should know that. And, a little more attention to the customers by the staff rather than themselves would have been appreciated. Maybe another time will be better....

So I am starting to understand “friends”, “my home”, chat, and so forth. I am trying to see if maybe I can assault you with the bottom feeder through face book. And don’t even mention “Tweeter” to me. Yet. Four Square? (I’m checked in to the toilet). Egad.


And apparently the new occupant of the Tavern at the Village/Woodlands Grill in Wildewood has opened their doors. Called La Tabella (Latin: Writing Tablet) it’s an Italian Restaurant (Ristorante Italiano) that asks you to: “Enter a world of sublime sights, scents, tastes and elegant atmosphere, at prices that will make you smile.” ........Indeed.

The menu is populated with the usual items you expect. Pastas stuffed and plain, specialties: chicken, seafood, veal piccata the usual stuff. A carbonara, fra diavolo, scampi, a typical neo Italian menu. Without dining there, I can’t say anything about quality or service yet. I’ve never felt very comfy in that space, it’s too open for my taste. But, God love them for opening another independent place in the face of the onslaught of Cracker Barrels and Road Houses. Good luck to them. And this from the web site: “Were waiting for you to come home...”Given that they’re in a retirement community, I suppose I just might be true!

Oh, a stringer from the Seattle area passed along a link to a review in a local paper. I thought it was particularly well written, and expressed a lot of my sentiments better than I can (but I’m trying). It’s pretty long, but when you have time take a look.., or at least read the first part.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Clothes, Cookies, and Chilis.....


Before moving on to other topics, just a short footnote to the DFD piece. You, as do I, probably (wish and) wonder why responsible restaurants don’t refuse to seat people in cutoffs and flip flops. I have often thought about this, and after some consideration I can understand (which is not endorsing) why they don’t turn them away. As we mentioned before, society has moved in the direction of “casual” in more and more situations that used to be “formal”, such as businesses (casual Fridays and more) and dining spots. But as we have also mentioned before, restaurants are after all, businesses. So while you order that $100 bottle of wine, sitting next to the guy and seeing his feet, remember that his money is the same color as yours. Maybe he has (more thoughtful and considerate) friends who will come to the restaurant bringing their wallets. FIne, But however, comma, it is in the restaurateurs favor if he also makes me want to come back. Perhaps they could sit the Raven’s jerseys next to the wait station, or next to the kitchen door. I know one server who used to say: “There are hooks in the hall if you would like to hang up your hat while you eat”. After all they are professionals, and although it’s a thin line, I would hope they would think about such things (remember, we’re talking fine dining places here, not the never ending salad bowls). Although I would still admonish even their customers to consider their surroundings and other people and dress appropriately.


I mentioned the other day that MFO and I were going to a talk at the Lexington Park Library Monday night on “Graves”. Turned out to be a two part presentation, one on “above ground” and the other on “below ground”. Scott Lawrence, a gravestone and graveyard restoration guy was “over” and Ruth Mitchell, an archeologist from Historic St. Mary’s City was “under”. Scott talked about family, church, and various kinds of graveyards, showed lots of different examples of grave markers, tablets, etc., and Ruth told of a dig she did on a family graveyard on the Eastern Shore. Both were fascinating talks, but what was really neat was the cookies that MFO prepared for the event..


These things seem to come in bunches. I was asked by my old work office to come and judge their annual chili cook-off for charity. So I arrived a the “hangar” to take on the task. I joined the other two judges in front of a long table of 11 crock pots of bubbling reddish brown chili. Well, actually there were a couple of “white” chili’s, but the other nine were the traditional color. Armed with a bowl and spoon and several bottles of water, the intrepid judges got down to business, evaluating texture, consistency, color, spice, taste, and so forth. We only had about a half hour before the room was “opened for business” and folks could have a never ending bowl (not salad or breadsticks) for ten bucks for a good cause. With the abbreviated time period there wasn’t much time to sniff, savor, dissect, and reflect and we moved right along. I was happy to see that nobody adopted the “hotter is better” theory of chili preparation, searing the tongue and immediately bathing the forehead and neck in perspiration. To be sure by the 7th or 8th taste, the use of Kleenex was warranted, but the spices were all in balance. As I have noted several times, chili is one of those dishes that there is no “best”, sort of like crab cakes, it’s all in personal preference. So we were somewhat surprised when all three of us selected the same bowl of red as our favorite. It had good texture, a good blend of spices, and deep red color.

But, that’s not why I’m telling you this. It was a chance for me to once again be with a lot of people that I worked with for 10 years on a daily basis. People asked how I was, how “retirement” was going, and so forth. It really brought back to me the value of friends. That’s what I miss most being retired. Being “retired” is nice, but no matter how hard work seems at times, take a moment, slow down and consider what’s really important.

And, when I got home after a good day, there was:

And it goes without saying we were

DFD – even though in the digs..