Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Great Day


Last weekend, MFO and I enjoyed what turned out to be a nearly perfect Saturday.  It involved the three things we really enjoy:  friends, food, and fine art (in this case crafts). 

We try to attend the Smithsonian Craft Show each year, but for various reasons have not been able to make it for a couple of years.  This year, the crafter who made our clock was selected for the first time so we decided to get there this year, and Saturday was the only day our schedule permitted travel.   And when we asked our friend who lives up there if he would like to join us or at least do lunch, he said that he had relatives visiting from Phoenix, and would love to all get together for a brunch before MFO and I did the show. With a little bit of research, we settled on Estadio who does brunch starting at eleven (Saturday and Sundays only, normally only open for dinner).  So on a lovely spring day, we drove up to DC in my lovely Flutter Mobile Two, whizzed by the National’s Ball Park before the game crowd assembled and joined up with our friend and his niece and nephew.  He was gracious enough to drive us all to the restaurant, which believe me is a relief because he knows where he is going and is used to the driving “tactics” employed in our Nation’s Capital.   With minimal gasps and deep breaths, we navigated to the restaurant. 

Estadio (Stadium in English) is a Spanish themed place, which is reflected in the décor, with heavy wooden tables and massive (for a restaurant) chairs, tiled flooring, open beamed ceiling and so forth.  There is an “open kitchen” which might give the “stadium” moniker credibility at one end, a bar in the middle, and seating kind of around the perimeter, many against the windows as it is on a corner.  The only table available for five was a high top, which isn’t bad since it gives one a nice view of what’s going on. The restaurant is (not surprisingly) a “Small Plates” format and specializes in Basque and Northern Spanish cuisines.  The brunch menus were left on the table after we were seated, a one page paper affair with food on one side and wine on the other.  Brunch was broken down into four categories:  Starters; breads and sandwiches; Breakfast and Eggs, and Entrees.    Most prices were ten or under with only a few of the entrees in the thirteen dollar range.  By the time we got there, it was very close to noon, so a small chilled glass of Albariño from the ample wine list hit the spot.  It was served in a tumbler rather than a conventional wine glass, which matched a rusty memory of my time in Spain.  The server was a young lady, and although my antennae were probably down a little, I don’t recall a name or the use of the word “guys”.  She was quite pleasant and answered a couple of questions about the menu so we could make up our minds.  Before we each made our choices, we did order a cheese plate for the table.  Meanwhile we considered our food with many (almost too many) good choices to tempt us.  I settled rather quickly on an Egg Tortilla with Jamon, Green Beans, Alioli & Mahon Cheese,  MFO took Creamy Polenta with Breakfast Sausage and Fried Eggs; other selections were the Soft Scrambled Eggs, Goat’s Cheese, Mushrooms & Scallions; Torrijas, (Warm Spanish Toast) Almond Butter & Vermont Maple Syrup; and Grilled Hanger Steak & Eggs with Patatas Bravas.  I was glad to see that nothing on the menu seemed to be too spicy. (reflective of Spanish as opposed to Mexican cuisine).  Pretty quickly the cheese plate arrived with three cheeses, some dates, quince jelly, and nicely toasted baguette (probably a Spanish version) slices.  The cheeses were a cow’s milk San Simeon, a goat Cana de Cabra, and a blue semi soft Cabrales.  Although the portions were probably a bit scant for five people, we each had a taste (except our DC friend who doesn’t like blue cheese…. yet).  They were very fresh and had great flavor.

The food began arriving, brought by runners.  Now, since I fancy myself a “critic”, I have to find something to be critical of, it's my job.  They easily obliged me with one of my pet peeves.  As you probably know, each table in a restaurant has a number which goes on the ticket that is spit out (bad choice of words) in the kitchen.  I cannot imagine that it takes very complicated software, or just a hand written note that the person in seat X at table Y ordered the Egg Tortilla.  Or maybe even a good memory by the server.  But alas, no.  Runner arrives at the table with two plates in hand.  “Who had the Egg Tortilla?... who had the Polenta?”.  Auctioning off the dishes is not what you should expect at a well regarded restaurant.  On top of that, there was an awkward time span between delivery of the first four plates and the steak and eggs.  I’m not sure there was the “oh, go ahead and eat” stage, but close.  The only other thing I could be critical of was that there were two flat screens over the bar which faced us, and they were both on, showing Saturday morning Kiddy Kartoons.. a bit incongruous I thought.

Most importantly I cannot criticize the food.  It was all served (eventually at the correct spot) hot, nicely presented and everybody liked what they had.  my Tortilla



(about seven inches in diameter)
 
The encased jamon/ham was salty (sorry diet) and tasty.. those Spanish have a way with ham.  The green beans were pencil thin, retained a bit of crunch, and the Alioli added just a nice bit of snap to the dish..  we all declined Postres.  We really all enjoyed the experience (with only those couple annoyances to the Bottom Feeder) and had a great lunch.  The visitors from Phoenix enjoyed hearing about Historic St. Mary’s City and “my” Chapel, and vowed to visit the next time they came..  Excellent lunch. (oh the regular wine list is something to behold, and the “cellar” is just inside the door)

After that, we walked to the car, passing a few outdoor cafes which were full of people enjoying themselves on a nice day.  There is just something vibrant and energetic about that kind of thing.  Something you can enjoy in the “big city”.  Then we went back and changed cars to the Mobile II and all rode to the Building Museum where the Craft Show is always held.  We parted company there as they wanted to tour some of the museums.  It was great to make new friends, maybe we’ll see them in Phoenix someday.

The Smithsonian Craft Show is always an enjoyable experience.  There are so many beautiful things, and the Smithsonian folks would have you believe that it is just the crème de la crème.  Pretty much go along with that, although there are some crafters that seem to be perennial participants.  Like the “basket lady” from North Carolina.  They do seem to respond however, because there were a fair number of “new exhibitors”, including Jim Borden who made our clock.  In fact if you take the time to click on the link to TimeShapes the little video that pops up is exactly like our clock, although I’m not sure it is as large as ours and we don’t have the little weight off to the side, ours is high enough on the wall that it is under the clock.  We still love the thing, I sit and watch it, sometimes with a DMOTRWAT!  Anyway, we talked to Jim for a while.  He is such a nice guy.  The only purchases we allowed ourselves were a couple of glasses from Dan Mirer, who does very nice work with glassware.





We have other pieces of his work, they are quite pleasurable to look at and use.  A good thing about the Smithsonian Show is that you don’t get “craft fatigue” like at the Baltimore show.  There are far fewer booths which keeps you energy and appreciation skills from becoming dull.   So eventually we returned to the car, and with only minimal aid from the GPS were able to navigate to Suitland Parkway (past a full National’s Stadium, or Estadio) to the route home.  We stopped at Nick’s of Calvert in Prince Frederick, picked up a couple of steaks, came home and grilled them.
So ended a great day with food for body and soul, shared with friends.  Doesn’t get much better.

On the Road Note..

Tomorrow MFO and I will get in the MOMSTER and head for Providence Rhode (Road??) Island, where MFO is attending a preservation workshop for Archivists.  I am going along as baggage so will have time on my hands for photos and finding food.  Reports to follow.. and yes, we are taking duds to be
DFD

Saturday, April 27, 2013

More Oyster thoughts...


Back to our little bivalve, for another wonderment I came up with.  And I don’t have any answers, that will take some research.

Now that we know we may encounter edible oysters in summer months, here’s something else to ponder.  I have a friend who has relocated to to Virginia Beach, and I had a note from him the other day in response to the diploid/triploid discussion.  He has a friend who “farms” oysters, and is now in the business sort of.  Somehow his little oysters have found traction in some DC bars and so on, and he markets them under a name something like (not his) “VaBeach Beauties”.  Apparently they are very popular, and he gets compliments on “the best oysters around” and such.  That got me to thinking (which doesn’t usually take much).

A little background and digression:  Worldwide, there are several verities of oysters, but here are the most common ones found in North American Oyster bars:

Crassostrea Gigas:  oyster farm raised in the pacific northwest and some in France with common names such as Pacific Oyster (US); Creuse (France); Cupped Oyster (Great Britain and Ireland).

Crassostrea Sikamea: the “Kumamoto”; oyster from Japan, also grown in the Northwest

Ostrea Conchaphila:  Olympia Oyster, “Oly”; Indiginous oyster of the Pacific Northwest

Ostrea Edulus:  European/British, called Bellons, Plates in France, or “Natives” in Great Britain and Ireland

And the one we are most familiar with (whether you know it or not), our East/Gulf Coast native Crassostrea Virginica, known by local names such as Blue Points in Long Island, Wellfleets in Massachusetts, and so on..   each of the oyster species vary in size, shell cup depth, and so on.

So anyway, to return to the subject, what got me wondering was the story about the “VaBeach Beauties”.   They are Crassostrea Virginica which most likely would be the same variety encountered up and down the Chesapeake Bay and into the Gulf, and Texas.  So whether they are called “VaBeach Beauties” or some other cute name up to the famous Blue Points they are all the same creature.  Assuming they are all fresh in good shape and stored and served properly, why would one taste any better than another?   Is it mental?  Ahhh these Beauties taste a lot better than Clyde’s Clunkers”.  Doesn’t a golden delicious apple from Washington tastes pretty much like one from New York? Striped Bass from Maryland are a lot like ones from Georgia.  So why should an oyster from Virginia be different than one from Long Island?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I got to thinking about wine.  The Pinot Noir Grape (or Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.,) is a single grape variety.  It is grown all over the world (well, mostly) but there is a wide variation in the wine they make.  To be sure, that is heavily influenced by the skill and tastes of the vintner, but more and more these days there is a trend toward “natural” wine, where there is minimal interference with the basic fermentation process.   Allegedly this lets the true character of the fruit come through.  I think most wine aficionados are familiar with the term: “Terroir” which roughly means the characteristics of the location are reflected in (this case) the grape and hence the wine.  Is the vine grown in gravel?  Limestone?  Clay?  A Cool or Warm climate?  Elevation? on a slope or flat ground for drainage? and so on.  The debate is (and I think there is a debate) how much these factors impact the grape and wine.  Here’s a quote I found about terroir and Pinot Noir: “because this grape is hypersensitive to its environment, reflecting the slightest nuances of soil and climate in its aromas, tastes, textures, structure and aging curve

Without solving that issue, is it possible that the same theory applies to an oyster?  It seems reasonable that the little organism filters those large amounts of water each day and hence would reflect the character of that water.  The salinity, clarity, type of bottom/reef they are attached to and “stuff” in the water might have an effect on the character of the oyster we eat.  I think this might be an excellent chance for some research!!  Maybe an Oyster Tasting in our future..  Something to ponder as you

DFD (or O)

Off to the Smithsonian Craft Show today…check book in chains..  have a good weekend!!

 

 

 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Burrito Bites....



We’ll let the oysters by themselves another day or so and go over some goings on...somehow mostly related to Mexican Food...

The third of the holy trinity of restaurant signs has finally appeared on Plaza Tolteca




And guess what?  The very first day (a week ago, Tuesday or Wednesday) the sign was hung, the parking lot was full.  Certainly the novelty and curiosity of a new place will bring people, but it sure seems like there are a whole LOT of people who eat out a LOT.  And as I have mentioned before it’s not like there is a paucity of Mexican restaurants to choose from around here.  In fact, this place is pretty much right across the road from Chipotle (okay, not quite the same) but only maybe a half mile from Monterey in San Souci.  Pizza, Chinese, and Mexican... can't have too many (apparently).

And as fate would have it, we were coming home from one of those lectures I have been lecturing you about lately, and we were kind of hungry as we had not had dinner prior to the program.  It was also kind of late, and we came to the realization that there probably wasn’t much to choose from at the digs.  So kind of on a whim, MFO wheeled MOMSTER II into Plaza Tolteca and I went inside to see if they did do carry out.  As in the previous incarnations of the building the "stand" is right inside the main doors (with bar right, dining space left).  As I approached the stand, there was a heated discussion going on amongst four of the employees and what I assumed to be a straw manager.  It was not being conducted in English so I had no idea of the content, but none of the participants were smiling.  Finally I was acknowledged, and yes, they did do take out.  They handed me a four paneled, two sided menu, one side of which looks like:


(Demonstration purposes only, do not attempt to read)


containing an astonishing number of choices (in astonishingly tiny print).  I am not sure what it is about Mexican, Chinese, and maybe Thai restaurants that they feel the need to provide hundreds of items.  Might be an interesting culinary/cultural research project. To save you the trouble of squinting, the menu had all the usual (Tex) Mexican dishes we have come to expect: Appetizers (Guacamole, Nachos, and 17 others); Fajitas (6); Burritos (8); Quesadillas (4); Seafood, beef and steak, Chicken, Pork Dinners (27 all told);  Especialidades de la casa (15); you get the idea.  A little nuance is that there is a section called “Healthy dining (9)” which seems to be all vegetarian.. Desserts, sides, a bewildering amount of things..  Everything has a number, but they are not consecutive.  The ten entries in the Seafood section are numbers 99, 135, 146, 7, and 8, and some in the 160’s. There is a luncheon menu, and something called “Street Food” which are all Tacos so they are up on their current food trends.

I went back out to the MOMSTER, we perused the menu (held close up), MFO decided on steak fajitas (#139), and not knowing what to expect I did my sort of chicken Mexican dish, Enchilada’s Suizas (#184). I have found this dish to be relatively safe, being composed of chicken, a tomatillo sauce (which is usually mild) and melted cheese which oddly enough is NOT swiss, but cheddar, Monterey Jack, or a traditional Cotija..  don’t ask me why.   We didn’t notice anything special about the food, pretty much standard stuff, but again, newly opened and carryout.  Keep seeing a full parking lot there..

Hopeful?

Was driving into San Souci yesterday and saw what I took to be an encouraging sight at another purveyor of Mexican food:


Busily Working
 


A chain being demolished and eliminated?  Upon further consideration, I suspect it is probably just a makeover.  We’ll see.

The Cycle Begins Again

Further into San Souci I discovered yet another first in the holy trinity of restaurant signs




This one is affixed to the window of the space that the Subway vacated to move across the street.   So, instead of a Subway the front now looks like:



announcing that "coming soon" will be:




So yet again, somebody thinks “we can make it!”  It occured to me that the motif and the cuisine are kind of reminiscent of the shuttered CoCo Cantina.  One of the reasons I heard they left the Lone Star site in the park was that rent was too high.  This is much less square feet, so maybe it would be attractive to them.  Just a speculation, I’ll talk to some sources.  At least it appears to be independant...

Surprise

Since we seem to be mostly devoted to Mexican/Latin food subjects today, a little factoid for you:  You know that little Mexican Market on Great Mills near the dry cleaners and the Dollar General?  Apparently they have a few tables and serve food.  A loyal reader told me about it and said that he has a co-worker who hails from Mexico and swears by it.  Says a rudimentary knowledge of Mexican language is a big help.  Sounds encouraging..  maybe a “just right” place??  not sure how you would

DFD
 
EXTRA TO DO:  not mexican food, but yet another lecture.. tonight at the Historic St. Mary's City Visitor Center will be a free program centering on the Calvert house, the dig there, and what they are learning...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Tale of Two.... Tales



My mind is a sponge! (as opposed to spongy)..  After the Thursday night lecture on Oyster Restoration we kept going with two more..

The First Lecture (or second depending…)

Friday night was the first in this year’s series of free lectures (sponsored by my old employer) at Sotterley Plantation.  Turns out it is the 8th year!  In my community relations position, I was able to fund the first one, and they have grown in popularity over the years.  I am gratified that the company continues to support them.   If you haven’t had the chance to go, you should.  Sotterley has managed to find an amazing array of speakers, mostly historically related but not always.


So, back to the subject at hand.  This presentation was by two members of the Archival Recovery Team from the National Archives, and it was entitled: “A Conspiracy to Steal History.. The Theft of America’s National Treasures”.  Of course MFO was extremely interested.  Turns out there were two people; Barry Landau and Jason Savedoff who managed to steal over 10,000 (!) original historical items, including hand written documents by FDR, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and many more.  They sold them for personal gain over many years, but neither became fabulously rich, and in fact Landau is now residing in jail for seven years as of last year.  I am not sure of their motive, actually. They were finally discovered to be actually stealing documents by an employee from the Maryland Historical Society.  Both of the speakers were involved in the investigation and gave a fascinating account of the eventual apprehension.  The thieves had special clothing with pockets for the documents, Landau’s apartment was found to contain thousands of documents, which contained a pretty elaborate cataloging system. 

Their technique was to go to various institutions (like Yale, and the Library of Congress) and ingratiate themselves over a period of time, passing themselves off as legitimate researchers and “presidential historians”.  Not quite. They established sort of personal relationships with clerks and so on  to the point where they were often left alone with the documents they checked out.  Then they stuffed their pockets.  Mr. Yockelson also threw a couple of brickbats at the institutional employees for not being more careful and letting their (perceived) association with the thieves play a part.

Anyway, my point here is that it was a great program presented by intelligent, dedicated people, and a very informative evening.  Okay, that’s one lecture.

 

The Second  And now for something completely different” (the readership may know where this quote originated).  
 Saturday night we went down to “the College” to hear the 7th Annual Twain Lecture.  The speaker was “John Hodgman: Author, Actor, Humorist, and Correspondent on the “Daily Show”.  Now if you are too young to recognize the Monty Python phrase above, I am apparently too old to know who the speaker was.  Never heard of him, even in his many roles.   Author? Nope, Actor?, nope, nope, nope, and what is the “Daily Show”.  I guess it is bviously different than the Today Show which I am familiar with (but don’t watch anymore).

The program was held in the Athletic Building on the campus, and we had decided to arrive early enough to get a parking spot and maybe a good seat.  Pretty much yes on the parking spot, but definitely not on the seat.  We ended up in the “bleachers” in order to see the stage. You may remember that MFO is an extremely harsh critic of seats, not only in restaurants, but in other venues as well.  These were dubbed “possibly the worst I’ve ever sat on”. They were plastic with some flexibility enabling them to poke you in bad places, and were too narrow for our anatomy and liking.  I think the “too old” comment applies here as well; as most of the students around us didn’t seem to mind (and after all, they were bleachers).  We arrived early enough (shortly after seven for a half past program) that we were treated to a full half hour (plus more) of the music from “The Rusty Spurs”.  You would be correct if you guessed they were a country music band.  They were a group of three: a female vocalist who also strummed a mandolin continuously, a male guitarist, and the third a male who was only a dedicated harmonica player (at least while we watched).  I guess you could say they were a cover band (“I heeer thuhh traaaain a’cummmmin”) for many of the classic country songs.  Given the seats, I guess I was kind of in a of negative frame of mind at that point, but the singer seemed to have a range of about half an octave..

Anyway, about ten minutes late (and forty grueling minutes in those seats) Prof. Ben Click finally appeared, joined in with the band as did the speaker before the Spurs retired.  Mr. Click then introduced Mr. Hodgman who started off by reading the various Osprey signs on the walls of the gym, and how the Maryland flag might induce epileptic fits or something to that effect.

He seemed to be quite popular with the “college kids” who appeared to know full well who he was and were quite enthusiastic over his appearance.  Mr. Hodgman talked about a lot of things, not many of which had anything to do with Mark Twain, but covered what jobs he has had, did a shtick about impersonating himself, and stuff like that.  A lot of his things were kind of inside jokes between him and the college audience who got them.  For instance he kept talking about “420” the meaning of which escaped me and only after getting home did I learn it had something to do with a legal decision and marijuana.   Toward the end he did talk about Mark Twain some, showed a clip of a Twain impersonator in a “planet of the apes” head piece, and often disparaged Hal Holbrook.  He did say that Samuel Clemens probably started standup comedy which I think might be fair.

And while all this may sound negative (which, in rereading it, is a fair assessment) I will say that it was an “interesting” evening.  It was not what I had expected (or hoped for), but then Mark Twain was all about shaking up the status quo, an iconoclast, and not afraid to speak about unpopular subjects.  So in that respect I suppose the Twain Lecture lived up to that heritage.  It is good to be exposed to unfamiliar topics, so maybe I’ll go find out when the Daily Show is broadcast.  The younger generation seemed to enjoy his performance.  And they were in no way at all

DFD
 
ps thanks to all who thought the oyster piece was informative.  I thought so too..  working on a second edition (a tease....)

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Noisy Oyster...


Last night MFO and I attended another in the series of PEM (I think Paleontology, Ecology, Marine) lectures at our Calvert Marine Museum on the Solomons.  Once again it concerned our little friend the Oyster which has led me on a chase lately.  It was given by Dr. Ken Paynter, Director of the University of Maryland College Park's graduate program in Marine, Estuarine, Environmental Science (MEES) program.  He is also the Director of the Paynter OysterLab. His subject was: “Restoring Oysters to the Chesapeake Bay”.  Although this is a pretty popular and socially hot topic these days, we found it to be a very informative presentation.  Not just a bunch of platitudes, condemnations, and touchy feely wishes, his presentation contained a lot of actual data including statistics, things like distribution maps, density numbers and other things that engineers appreciate.  We heard about diseases like MSX and Dermo (Protozoan Parasites) and their effects on the oyster population (not so much in areas/periods of low salinity);  showed us some underwater video of a reef that has silted over, and some footage (is that still a word?) of a restored reef.  He was very strong in his opinion that reefs were the key to restoration of the oyster population in the bay.  They not only produce a nice home for Ollie Oyster and family, but also provide environment for benthic animals such as mud crabs, Gobi’s and so forth.  Of course there were charts with arrows and bubbles illustrating the life cycle of a healthy oyster reef.  His message was fairly positive, but not overly optimistic.  He talked about threats of nitrogen, run off from development, the usual stuff.  Also had numbers that supported the usual statistic of a healthy oyster reef can filter: 1.4 million gallons of water PER HOUR, per acre:..  Just imagine.  Busy little creatures.

Although he didn’t talk about aquaculture much, preferring to consider the bay in general, there were (what I assumed were) several oyster “farmers” in the audience.  The question and answer period that followed his talk had some pretty interesting discussions.  Ken was more interested in a healthy bay/oyster environment than farming for market use. Speaking of aquaculturists, the “Shore Thing Shellfish” folks from Tall Timbers were in the lobby before the talk and were shucking some of their farm raised oysters.  Other “farmers” had literature available (Hollywood Oyster Co., Patuxent Seafood (Broome’s Island)).  There is also an organization called “TheSouthern Maryland Oyster Cultivation Society” which I had never heard of, they seem to be primarily an advocacy society.


Anyway, the shucked Oysters were plump and very good..  Since we didn’t have dinner before the lecture I tried to be courteous, but darn it, somebody had to eat them!!  There was also some wine from a local winery for tasting or purchase.  A nice little event.  Just another nothing to do event in Southern Maryland.  I was encouraged by the enthusiasm shown both by Dr. Paynter and the members of the audience.  Maybe there is some hope…

Culinary Thoughts

You all know about the conundrum: “don’t eat oysters in months with no “R” in it”,  April still qualifies, but May is next and you will still see Oysters on the menu… why is that Mr. Bottom Feeder?   Well, I decided to look into that..  First a little summary of the life of a native Oyster (with help from “Sex, Death, and Oysters” by Robb Walsh).    Of course, it is all about reproduction which, when you think about it, is why we are all here…At the end of the summer, when water temperatures begin to cool, the oysters begin storing a carbohydrate compound called glycogen, which to humans tastes sweet, like sugar.  As the water gets colder and colder, they store more and more, thus getting plumper and taste (to us) really good.  They stay that would throughout the “R” months.  Then, when the water starts to warm up (around now) the little guys (or gals, a difficult call) convert the glycogen to reproductive material.  At this time they lose their “sweetness” and take on what some people call a “fishy” flavor.   Then, when the spawning begins, millions of larvae are formed and those that survive predators fall to the bottom hopefully finding a home (reef) to begin growing.  In summer, after spawning (hard work!) the oyster has lost much of its body weight and almost all of their flavor. A term I’ve heard of is “Spawny”. Also summer is the time of year when those little diseases are most active.  So, yes, DON”T eat a wild oyster (from the bay) during all this time until the cycle starts again in the fall.

So why do we still see oysters on menus in "no R” months?   Well, it gets a bit more interesting and we have to get into the genetics of the oyster.  How can a simple little thing get so complicated?  Well, native oysters are “diploid”, meaning that they have two sets of chromosomes with the egg and sperm contributing equally.  The two chromosomes combine to form another diploid oyster which go through the cycle described above.  But now enter the “Triploid” oyster which are produced at spawning by a process which causes the egg to contribute two sets of chromosomes and the sperm one set, resulting in what is called a Triploid oyster.  Without getting too deep in the process (which I wouldn’t understand anyway), the bottom line is that Triploid oysters are essentially sterile and therefore don’t go through the reproductive cycle like the diploid  and so maintain their meat quality because they do not become “spawny”.  That means that they will remain fat and tasty all year.   While Triploids do occur in nature, they are minute compared to diplods.  So, many commercial seafood companies pride themselves on production and raising Triploid oysters.  In addition to remaining edible, the Triploid oysters grow faster, a key factor for aquaculturists, who after all are in it to make a profit. 

So here you are in your favorite seafood restaurant in July, and you see “Oysters on the Half Shell” on the menu.  You’re tempted, but what should you do?  You could ask your server “where do these oysters come from”?   Hopefully the answer will be “from so and so oyster farm”, and let your eye tell you if they are diploid or triploid –  although hopefully the server knows.  But, if the answer is “Blue Point” or some other answer there is another avenue.  Each bag of oysters is required to have a tag attached that specifies the origin, the harvest date and location, and type.  I looked at one that came with the Shore Thing samples and it contained all the information. If you ask to see it in a restaurant, they are required to show it to you.  Yes, a bit complicated but is some assurance of a quality product.

So it’s no wonder that the simple little oyster remains a thing of wonder and mystery.. As Jonathan Swift mused:  “He was a bold man who first ate an oyster”.. and I bet he was

 

DFD

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Food for Body and Brain...



 Assume you did your citizenly duty yesterday and got those taxes in...

 And just a belated little wrap for the weekend, and other than right now, the words “Tiger, drop, DQ” will not appear..

We launched the weekend Friday night by having dinner on the Solomons at Bistro Belle Maison, housed in the Blue Heron Inn.  We preceded that by having cocktails at the back end of the CD café.  That progression provided a very nice evening.  The Next Door Lounge (correct name) is a nice place for such activity, and has pretty good drinks.  Our server was apparently new, and had no clue what MFO’s Gimlet was, nor not much of an idea what a “dirty” Gray Goose Martini meant.  Fortunately the barkeep was near enough that he heard, and explained it to her.  We got there early enough that it wasn’t filled with people waiting for tables so conversation was easy.  Nice prelude.  After that, we proceeded down to the Bistro.  Second visits can sometimes turn out to be not as successful as the first, but I am happy to report we very much enjoyed our dinner.  The food was outstanding.  As I said before, I struggle a bit with the “little plates” concept, because of the specter of “sharing”.  Makes selections a bit difficult for the whole table.. but that’s just me.  Anyway we settled on the table sharing a Cauliflower Squash Bisque and a green salad for starters, and main courses of Pan Seared Rainbow Trout, Tuna Tartare, and Seared Scallops.  While I am not a cauliflower fan, the soup was quite tasty.  Maybe it’s the floret of the real thing I object to.  The main courses were quite fine.  Everything on the plate was good, from the center of the plate to the “sides”.   The portions are just nice, each person can have a bite or two with the result everybody is satisfied and you get to taste more than one dish more than once.  Nice way to experiment.  

The dining space is kind of awkward being a living room most of its time, but it works okay.  And now that it is light later, there is a nice view toward Back Creek. With a fewer number of tables conversation is easy and we enjoyed that along with the food. Of course you have to have “Kim’s Key Lime Pie” for dessert and we did.  A most enjoyable evening.    Our server was youngish man, did a good job with the table, didn’t hustle us, and was quite pleasant. 

Now I know I am relatively alone in this crusade, but once you are sensitized to it, you are doomed.  Our table consisted of two females and me, generally recognizable as a male.  From the time we sat down until we left there was a barrage of “you guys” directed at us.  “would you XXXX like the wine list?; how is everything XXXX?; can I get you XXXX dessert?”.  Sigh.  More wine please.  Thursday through Saturday only, so a reservation is definitely recommended.   If you haven’t been I am now fairly confident that you will enjoy dining there.  We will certainly return for the trifecta.  (DFD certainly appropriate – business casual fit for Bistro). And try to endure the XXXX.

 More Food...verbal

Then Saturday, I went out to that lecture at Sotterley Plantation, on the impact of African American Foodways on modern cuisine.  The program was given by (I think) the Education Director of Historic London Town and Gardens, which is up in Edgewater.  I have not been there but probably will make a visit one of these weekends.   The program began with a lot of material on Slavery and Slaves in general, going over the origin of the slaves that mostly wound up in Maryland, “Senegambia”.  One of the things that came out during that part was the importance of Yams (NOT sweet potatoes) in the process.  She said that Yams were imported from Portugal which I didn’t know.  They provided one of the mainstays of food during the crossing from Africa to the colonies.  Thousands were necessary.  Once here in “America”, new foods were introduced, like Sorghum and Maize/Corn neither of which were available in their native Africa.  That represented another break from their familiar culture.   There was, however Okra, and the Melegueta Pepper which were more familiar to them. She did demonstrate one of the dishes, a vegetable ceviche  (lime for acid, garlic for flavor!)





 

Besides the ingredients, cooking methods used by slaves evolved into today’s things like roast and fried chicken, slow cooked stews, and of course barbeque.  I am not sure that I came away with a newer knowledge of the impact of African American/Slave foodways on “modern cuisine”, but it is a convoluted subject.  Anyway, it was a nice way to spend part of Saturday..
 
The rest of Saturday was unfortunately (?) spent in front of the Tele, watching the golfers play their way around Augusta National Golf course.  Having been there last year, of course I had to yell out “I’ve been there!” several times which had MFO looking for the human mute button.  For dinner we had some beef sausages from the WAG meat farm.  Quite good.  On Sunday I helped start a little project you may hear more about, but it involved food and photography.  That finished in time to watch the conclusion of the Master’s, one of the better finishes there has been lately.  Somebody actually WON it with good golf rather than somebody collapsing at the end.  And how can you not like Adam Scott?  He and Angel Cabrera made a fine statement about the game of golf.. and see, I didn't use the "T" word once!!
 
DFD
 
More on R-sters to come

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday Fun...(best i could do)



Just a few Friday this and that’s while waiting for the rains to pass..
 
Food Knowledge

First a “to do” item..  tomorrow (Saturday) at noon, Sotterley Plantation is putting on a little lecture program entitled: “A Taste of History:  How African American Foods Influenced Our Modern Cuisine”.  There is a charge ($15) and they don’t do “walk ins”.  Yes, this is late notice but it just dawned on me this morning.  Of course during last week I blithely scheduled the irrigation start up people to arrive on …….. Saturday at noon.  It’s always something..  don’t like to saddle MFO with the handling of the sprinkler people, never comes out well (“Why didn’t you ask….?”) so not sure what I’m going to do there, leaning toward going..

Down on Maggie’s Farm… in a way

This morning I had a chance to visit the home of WAG meats, a farm near Leonardtown.  I have mentioned in the past that I have had some of their products purchased at our local Farmer’s Market and they it’s good stuff.  In fact, last night we had two of the pork chops which were very tasty, and actually had some fat!! So this morning as chance befell, I went with a friend to the source, Willie A. Goddard’s farm just south of Leonardtown.  Turns out it is the place where L’il Margaret’s Bluegrass Festival is held every year, famous for great bluegrass music and bringing in sweltering temperatures.  Mark your calendars; it is August 8, 9, 10 this year.   Anyway, we drove to the house which also doubles as his “shop”, and rummaged through a couple freezers full of chops, steaks, ground meats, sausage grillers, and ribs.  Bacon was in the “other building” but he went and brought us some.  Since I didn’t know I was going to visit, I didn’t schlep the camera gear (subject of a future visit!!), so can only show you the fruits of our shopping




He also runs a thriving saw mill business, but again that may be in another posting..  Meanwhile, you can buy his meats at the Local Farmers Market, open most Saturday’s from nine to one.  Plus, you also get to talk to Willie..

Sign, signs, everywhere a sign…

Of course two of the most popular signs in our county are




I see the “open” sign is lurking in the background…

These editions are from the long “Coming Soon” of Plaza Tolteca




Apparently Mexican Restaurants, like Pizza and Chinese places there can never be too many in any given community..

And, whenever Plaza Tolteca is finished with the county signs, they can move them up the road because now we’re hearing that we will “soon” have our very own Potbelly Sandwich Shop.  It will be located in the same building as the Sweet Frog and the new Nail Parlor (can't get enough of those either), next to LongHorn Steak House.  A quick look see on their site indicates it is sort of an upscale Subway, made to order sandwiches, most of which apparently get toasted  (Didn't Quiznos try that?).  More processed foods!!

And while we're on the subject of signs, you might recall that I did give a little praise to corporate restaurant row because their road signs apparently were limited in height to four or five feet, still visible but at least not on huge poles like you see elsewhere.  Good on the developers or commissioners for at least holding down sign pollution.  Whoops!  Not so fast!  A sign was recently erected for the whole area which is called: “Park Place”


Anybody notice a  little discrepancy in the height of that sign and the "regulated" Olive Garden one in the background??  Rules are for you, but maybe not for me....As a friend of mine would say "SOSM"  (SO Southern Maryland).  and since I won't be going there, I don't have to worry about

DFD

 

 

 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Hoops Hoopla...


Well, since we were kind of academic in trying to find Miss Ann, maybe I have a little license to descend into a (mercifully short) mild rant and despite drivers giving me some justification, this has more to do with sports.

This last weekend kind of kicked off a special time for those of us who like college sports, in that both the women and men basketball players were finally to their ‘final four”, the “frozen four” will febe played this week, and although it is not college, it is “Master’s Week” at Augusta.  A special time.  So, we did spend a fair amount of time watching the  various contests.  But what really gets me is the scheduling of such broadcasts.  I suppose the TV pundits have to try to satisfy a nationwide audience, but why must they schedule games to start after nine at night?  Want to watch Michigan play Syracuse?  Caffeine yourself, it tips at 9:20!  Tonight’s “championship” game is estimated to start at 9:23.  Did you watch Notre Dame (women) play UCONN last night?  What time did you finally get to sleep?  After midnight.  Don’t the “kids” playing need some sleep too?  I can maybe see it if they are playing on the West Coast, three hours from a decent time there is late here.  But the men are playing in Atlanta, and the women are in New Orleans (okay, there’s one hour), so why can’t they start at, say, seven or seven thirty?  I suppose the answer is that they don’t want a four o’clock type start on the west coast, but that could be a nice excuse for an early out and watch the game with happy hour.  All I know is that it takes me a week or so to recover from this run of late games.

And good friend Domer, I can’t let this go without comment.  In probably what will amount to the women’s championship game last night, UCONN finally beat the lady Irish.  And yes, this is more of an indictment of the “media” than the player, but if I had a buck for every mention of Skyler Diggins, I would be having a really nice bottle of wine. Skyler this, Skyler that, the cameras barely left her with close up after close up, up the court, down the court, on the bench, in time outs, features, on and on.  And in the end, I couldn’t help but think of another Manti T’eo situation wherein the media hyped Notre Dame player just doesn’t show up on the big stage.  A three for fifteen shooting night with ten total points, four of which came on free throws.. okay I’m done.

And to try to end on a more positive note, did you see Jim Furyk hole out on eighteen yesterday in the last PGA event prior to the Masters?  What a shot.  But what I really liked was the fact that he actually laughed and enjoyed it.  Think Tiger would have done that?  Nope, stone faced as usual.. oops that isn’t too positive.

Okay I feel better, go Michigan, hope I can stay awake after I have

DFD

Friday, April 5, 2013

Chase-ing Miss Ann


 

A couple of posts ago (“Hunkering Down”) I yakked about that cookbook I found (Oysters, a Culinary Celebration) which contained a recipe/receipt for “Sotterley Oyster Pye”, attributed to Miss Ann Chase’s Book from 1811.  (errata: somehow I got the idea there was a Mary in there..  wrong, just plain Ann).  I sort of decided to try to find out more about Ann and her book.  Besides I am coming up with the next piece for the Tourism clan and thought maybe that would make a good basis for a story.  Googling only drove me to that Maryland’s Way book from which the oyster book people pulled the Pye receipt.  So I sent out a couple of notes to some historical buddies who were kind enough to share some of their amazing knowledge of local and regional history.

So, with their able help, a little light was shed on Miss Ann Chase, but kind of low wattage..  She was the daughter (b. 1771) of Samuel Chase (1741 – 1811) of Annapolis.  Savvy American history folks will know he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court (who endured an impeachment movement, another story) and moved in pretty high circles.  Ann Chase was also a contemporary of an Ann Elizabeth Tuttle (or Elizabeth Anne – depending on your source) who eventually married John Rousby Plater.  Alert local historians will immediately recognize this name as being the name of the family who operated Sotterley Plantation during the last half of the 18th century.   Sooo, that would perhaps establish some connection between our Miss Ann and Sotterley, explaining why some of her receipts referenced Mrs. Plater’s way.  Don’t know if Ann Chase ever visited.

The second piece of good fortune was that one of my friends said that his wife had a copy of Maryland’s Way, and would I like to borrow it!  Of course!  So with a little logistic jockeying between here and Leonardtown I got a copy of the book containing Miss Ann’s receipt(s)




 

And contains many receipts from Maryland History gathered from various sources.  A great little book.  There were actually about 15 attributed  (which I marked with stickies) to Miss Ann Chase including the Pye one that got all this started.  Anyway, she apparently included little remarks about the receipts where appropriate, quite often of the form: “Peach Jamb – Mrs. Snowden’s Way”, or: ” Cabbage Pudding or Stuffed Green Cabbage - Sophia Ridgely's Receipt revised”.  Besides receipts she also had entries for technique, like “Mr. Paca's way to Dress Crabs”.  Mr. Paca was William Paca a fellow signer of the Declaration with his buddy Sam Chase.  Apparently Ann moved in pretty elite circles.  Don’t know if she was a cook, or just assembled the receipts. Wish I could find out more about her and her “book” begun in 1811, but can find no reference to it.  It would be fun (and hard work) to go trace down who the Sarah Ridgelys and Mrs. Snowdens were..

The book has many more recipes from all counties of Maryland, and the ones from St. Mary’s are usually by what we would now call “county names”.  Like “Kenneth Duke's Bean Soup” (by Kenneth), which MFO speculates is associated with Duke’s Bar in Leonardtown.  Many of the recipes one could make today, others you might think about



It is fun to read them.  I am going to try to get a copy of the book for my very own.  You never know where a liking of cookbooks, a passion for food and cooking, plus a nose for history will lead you.  And given Miss Ann Chase’s (presumed) social status, I have no doubt she would admonish us to

DFD

 

 

 

 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Ham, Hoops, and more...


I was going to try to come up with some creative take for April Fool’s day, but I couldn’t top Google’s announcement of their version of Emeril’s “Smell o Vision”.  They’re pretty clever those google folks..

So just a few items of interest, at least to me..(with no jokes)

Ham

First, a small clarification about my “ham” comments in relation to Easter.. I was limiting my remarks to the product we normally see in the grocery store from Smithfield, Hormel, and other such mass providers.  Pre-cooked, salt soaked, water injected, boned, generally “assembled” from pieces, and ready for slicing.  I know there is another world out there that includes wonderful Jamon Iberico and Serrano from Spain, Prosciutto, Pancetta, Speck, from Italy, Jambon de Paris from France, and of course our own smoked and  “country cured hams” from small local producers.  All pork, big difference!!

Hoops

Anyway, our Easter mostly consisted of watching the drizzle, and yes, a lot of bouncing basketballs, some hockey pucks (NCAA road to the Frozen Four), and even some golf balls.    With our colds we were not fit to visit or be exposed to anybody so it was a quiet day capped off by a small grilled pork chop from WAG meats and a baked potato.   After my Spartans bowed out to Coach K once again , I was surprised at what Michigan did to Florida.. Will be interesting to see them play ‘Cuse.  I don’t know how much you watch coverage, but I am greatly enjoying seeing Charles Barkley. Says what he thinks, pulls no punches and I’m sure producers are shaking every time they go live.. Even his commercials are entertaining.. And on the distaff side, Brittney Griner and the Bears got shocked.  Interesting stuff.

Another final four

Garden and Gun, the magazine of southern culture and food is doing a Battle of the Brands "Bracket" asking voters to pick their favorite in a play off of (Southern) Sodas, Snacks, Pantry, and Sweets.  You can look at it (and vote if you wish) here.  Kind of cute and Duke’s Mayo (the Feeder’s Favorite) is in the final four.  Oh, and speaking of G&G, I thought the cover was...... interesting, and not up to their normal standards...Nashville Sleaze...

Words and Phrases (couldn't come up with an "H" title)

As somebody who uses them a lot, I pay attention to common usages and misuses of words and phrases that come and go in popularity.  For instance, (mercifully) on the way out are things like:

Take it to the next level

We're gonna give 110%

Back against the wall

All the bells and whistles

I could go on…  But as fast as these die out they are replaced by things such as:

The way we roll

Game Changer

Give Him/Her Props

(I don’t even know what that means – where did it come from?)

Jaw Dropper/Dropping

They are maybe funny the first six (?) times you hear them, but tire rather quickly.  Just say what you mean…

And I can’t leave a section on words and phrases without a mention of “you guys” mentality.  I was cruising facebook the other day, and came across a posting by a lady that contained a picture of three rather comely women dressed for a festival or something, who were um….  “well endowed”, and were flaunting it with well tailored but revealing dresses.  Her comment was to the effect that “they” were pretty spectacular (Jerry Seinfeld), and she personally had nothing “like the <…obs> on THESE GUYS”. Sigh.  how wrong is that??
 
Wheels 
 
I was going to end on that note, but another traffic incident on the way home today deserves some comment.  Some may remember our intersection of Millstone Landing and Route 235 is controlled by demons in the stop lights.  I was coming south on 235 today wanting to turn left into Millstone landing, and of course the demons arranged for an interminable green for through traffic which usually allows a buildup in the left turn lanes..  There are two “left turn lanes” to go into Millstone.  It is always a crap shoot on which lane you should be in.  There are many people who want to U turn and go back north, to turn into the bowling alley or something, and while that is fine, a bunch of them doing that will take a fair amount of time while making the 180 degree turn, allowing time for the demons to turn off the arrow before you can make your 90 degree left turn.  But if you go into the “outside” turn lane to avoid the many U folks, you are apt to get a bunch that doesn’t want to reverse and just make a normal left turn, and then you’re stuck in the outside lane and have to merge where Millstone reverts to two lanes.  You often see folks in that outside left turn lane floor it so that they can beat anybody who just wants to make a normal left turn.  Anyway, getting to the point at last, today with only one car queued in the inside left turn lane, I fell in behind them.  Next to me in the outside turn lane was a small white car driven by a young female. Got the picture?  Okay, demons turn on the green arrow and car in front of me just makes a normal left turn.  Knowing the car next to me will have to merge with us I (uncharacteristically) slow down a bit to provide a space for her.  Left turn signal goes on and she immediately cuts hard left in front of me with the objective of turning LEFT into the AAMCO/PNC lot which is right there.  Guess what? There’s a car coming at us… She hits brakes, I hit brakes with her 90 degrees to me, ready to be T-Boned,  it passes, she calmly pulls into lot (oh, did I mention I leaned on the horn?) and gives me a "what the hell is wrong with you mister?” look.

DFD