Thursday, January 30, 2014

No Fluff, and unique weather...

Well, how’s your week so far?  We MIGHT see temperatures on the warm side of freezing for a little while.  Maybe until next Wednesday (imaginary "jaws" music clip here).

Last night I attended a little reception for one of the organizations I support. Since it was "tri-county" affair (meaning St. Mary’s/Calvert/Charles) it was held in Prince Frederick (PF).  The venue chosen was Stoney’s Seafood House, the one hidden in the shopping center down behind Applebees.  I had never been to this particular one before, and I believe this visit completes a sweep of those properties.  I can still honestly say that none of them have impressed me. The original Broome's Island is probably the best overall, mostly carried by the location - now that the oyster house is gone.  As far as their food goes I suppose they are okay for a waterside place, standard fare, crabs (no fluff), oysters, fish, usual selections.   And I won’t belabor you again about how I think their crab cake is highly overrated, I've done that enough.

Anyway the place in PF is tucked down amongst the mattress stores and boutiques.  As an aside (I always have an aside) they are moving across the street into the newer properties over by Nick’s.  They’ll be in the same row, down at the library end. I think it’s a good thing they are moving, the place is dark, dingy, and a weird layout in general.  There’s a “takeout” area which now seems devoted to kitchy “Stoney’s” stuff, a bar and a couple of dining areas separated by a fireplace.  Dark paneling, old tables, kind of depressing in a way.

The purpose of the reception was to honor volunteers, and so there was some short speechifying of appreciation and general camaraderie which is always fun.  And before going into the food, another (damn) aside:  Since I am involved in so many community organizations and non-profits, I get to attend a fair amount of these kinds of functions.  Usually the sponsoring organization picks up the tab, and being a charitable outfit they naturally try to do it economically (as they should).  Therefore you don’t expect really exceptional food.  I try to take that into account when wearing my hat with the feeder side forward.  Regardless, the food should be hot, presentable, and tasty.

Last night in Stoney’s Seafood House, we had zero seafood (which I guess I can understand from an economical standpoint?).  Instead, we had a buffet containing (pretty good) slaw, pulled pork (or beef; I think pork), some creamed spinach, and a tub each of chicken wings and drummies (if that is the name).  All were served in aluminum tubs over cans of Sterno.  Most of the food was lukewarm at best.  A fellow diner wondered if the chicken thingies were cooked in the same oil as the fish/crab cakes, as they did have a bit of an odd edge to them.  And a couple of the ones I had seemed almost burned in places.  If I wanted to be really snarky, I might suspect precooked, frozen, and warmed in oven..  hopefully not. 
But as I said we had a good time, we weren’t there for the food so it was a fun evening.  And as I will ALWAYS say they have great carvings…

Winter Wonders..

With the recent onslaught of temperatures expressed by a single digit, we were treated (?) today to a sight we have seen very few times during our dozen or so years of living on the Patuxent River.

Resized ice in river 29 jan 2014 T1 140130 – 5032

Ice rarely forms near us because of the open reach and the surface disturbance due to the winds.  But today we saw pretty big floes in the river

The other benefit (if you can call it that) of really cold weather is that the “creeks” freeze over, so it drives the waterfowl into more open water, like our back yard.

These ducks happen to be Scaups, (either lesser or greater, I won’t hazard a guess), and I counted somewhere around 200 in the raft. 

In a “normal” year, we see very few Scaups, so this is really unusual.  We get plenty of Ruddy Ducks, some Buffleheads, a few Goldeneyes and a scattering of Longtails, but never this many Scaups.  They are not uncommon or rare, we just don’t see them here very often.  It is really a treat to see all the waterfowl, we very much enjoy them. Our resident eagles swing by every once I a while and our feeders in the backyard are very popular.  We had some bluebirds out the other day.  Maybe, just maybe….and through it all, cold or hot, rain or shine, our dancer twirls and floats, oblivious to it all.

tonight, with a fresh bandage on my proboscis, we may venture out for dinner.  Kind of tough to be 


PS since I probably won't publish tomorrow, a note that there will be a Brian Ganz concert tomorrow (Friday) at 8pm in St. Mary's Hall.  He will be performing Chopin (no surprise there), and will be accompanied by the talented Beverly Babcock.  Free and open to everybody willing to go out.  and by golly, maybe it won't be so darn cold!!  Unique opportunity..

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Flumoxxed with Fluff!!

You know, just when you think you know what you’re doing..

I am always pleased when I find that my opinions and observations are shared by people I respect in the food business.  For instance recently I got puffed up when I saw Edward Behr said in his book that cheese may be the perfect food as I have often stated.  Or those lists of ten most annoying things servers do are pretty much the same as the feeder's.  So you tend to get to thinking you know what you’re doing and are pretty smart when it comes to food. 

Well, then you get brought back to earth.

In the very last Bottom Feeder, I lit into Diane and Carolyn’s article in Cook’s Country for talking about Crab Fluff!  Fluff? I said! Humpff... And I dug the hole deeper by claiming that I have been around the coast, am a savvy diner, never heard of crab fluff, and so on.  IDIOTS!

So then I get an email from a friend who is native (I think) Baltimore and spends a lot of time there and eats out fairly often..  She very kindly and tactfully informed me that indeed Crab Fluff IS found on menus in Baltimore, along with another local dish of “fried hard shell crabs”.  I asked her for places that might have them on the menu, and for lack of knowledge suggested Phillips.  Well, lack of knowledge was correct.  Phillips for a Baltimore seafood lover Phillips is like Olive Garden is to somebody from “the Hill” in St. Louis.. Ptoooie!!!!

She supplied a list of places that she and her husband have found and like for crab cakes mostly.  One is called “Jads Caddyshack” in the Essex area of Baltimore.  Third entry on the Seafood menu is:  “Crab Fluffs - Two 6 oz. jumbo lump crab cakes double-dipped in our special beer batter and deep fried golden brown”.  On the menu for Bo Brooks Crab House on Boston Street in Baltimore are “Crab Fluffs - our famous backfin cake beer battered and deep fried” and a bit further down: “Hard Fried Crab our classic backfin crab cake stuffed inside a hard shell crab, battered and fried.”, and finally on the menu at Schultz’s, Crab Fluff (on crackers) is served as an appetizer, and stuffed fried Hard Shells are an entrée.. 

It seems that “fluff” is a deep fried crab cake.  Somehow “fluff” doesn’t seem my idea of a deep fried crab cake, but…  So it turns out I have some exploring to do, and horns to pull in.  Better be more careful in the future.  And FWIW their favorite place for crab cakes is Friendly Farm (Upperco, Maryland).  It sounds like a really neat place, and a candidate for the “just right” list.   No fluff or fried hard shells on the menu.. Road trip!!

More Farms
Clever segue, eh?  A long (long) time ago, when I was chasing flutter model construction, our major supplier was Lee Wasserman who owned an outfit near Dayton, Ohio.  Of course as a fledging engineer, I was banished, er, I mean sent there to monitor construction of various models and make sure they met specs.    I went with another legend from the past, a Joe Anglin, who taught me ever so much more than flutter models.  Anyway our routine was to get up early and go to Bob Evan’s for breakfast.  It had wonderful (handmade patty) sausage, hot eggs, real potatoes, friendly servers and a lot of “regulars”. It has remained in my memory banks as a great breakfast.  Of course in the intervening years, Bob Evans has succumbed to the siren song of lunch and dinner, an outlet on every intersection and so on.  I have not entered one in years (as part of my expanding anti-chain mentality) so it was with a little curiosity I agreed to a breakfast gathering for one of my clubs last week.
The interior is sort of clinical with no hint of place, could be in Indiana.  Mostly booths, although there were a few tables, and I was (late) and greeted at the door.  I joined my friends and asked for decaf coffee which was brought in one of those thermal pots.  We finally got around to considering food.  The menu is a rather large tri-fold glossy laminated affair, and I THINK it may cover all meals since the do breakfast all day.  Anyway a group of four of us kind of had to juggle the menus with some overlapping.  The menu offers (for breakfast) various combinations of (duhh) eggs, breakfast meats (did NOT see scrapple), hash browns (more on his later), or home fries, biscuits, toasts, etc.  I ended up getting the “wake up and shine” or whatever it is called, eggs, meats, spuds, and breads for something like eight bucks.  Over easy, bacon, hash browns, no biscuits or toast.  Our server was generally kind and was indulgent of the four of us who kind of didn’t know what we wanted.
Anyway, mine appeared exactly like this

While it isn’t awful, do you think anybody looked at it?  How critical do you want to be?  Bacon almost falling off plate, egg unceremoniously drooping, “strings”, potatoes disturbed..  Not awful but not appetizing either.  Have to admit eggs were cooked correctly with hot yolks, bacon was a bit weird texture, maybe pre-cooked, but overall not bad tastewise.

So when it came time to leave our server presented our checks, and announced that they were having a contest as to who could sell the most soup.  We could get a quart for five bucks.  I don’t know what to think about that… I don’t remember if the money went to charity or not, but it did present kind of an awkward situation.  She left the checks without any explanation of “pay me” or “pay at the desk” which seemed the obvious choice since you walk by the cash register coming in..  My bill was $10.69, so eventually I fished out three bucks, left it on the table (yes, I know too much) and took the check to the stand.  I was already almost late for meeting number two, but not yet critical.  So when I got to the cash register I handed the guy a twenty and a one (cash on hand).  He rang up the check, and said that will be $29.86 sir.   Huh!  He again stared at the check (clearly showing $10.69), stared at me, stared at his machine, and I offered maybe she somehow put all in at once.  No, sir.  More staring and punching.  Without wasting more of your time what ensued was ten minutes of a parade of the server, the straw manager, and finally the big manager, all clustered at the side computer screen..  I don’t know what happened sir, just a moment. Apparently they could find no record of my order.   Okay circuit breaker blows.. I laid 11 bucks on the counter told them they would eventually straighten it out, and with half hearted “sorry about that sir” ringing in my ears,  I left.  Don’t think I’ll be back soon.

And I know your vision is blurring at this point, a quick follow on.  MFO had a friend who had a breakfast there also lately.  Ordered his eggs over easy, and also hash browns.  His eggs arrived “like hockey pucks”, and he asked his server “did you look at these?”.  Answer:  “why would I?”.  hash browns were cold, and only cooked on one side.  Upon checking out the answer to “how was everything?” was about the potatoes.  “Our policy is to only cook the potatoes on one side, sir”.  Astonishing, I would have no response to that.  Don’t think I’ll be back soon, if ever.

Too bad Bob, I miss you.  At that time I was

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Heading this way!!


Well, after a morning of sitting and waiting, it is finally starting to snow.  The trusty radar shows that SOMD is right on the southern edge of the stuff.  We’ll see what develops.  As you know, I sometimes lurk around Facebook, just to keep my finger on the pulse so to speak.  As an aside I see that FB may becoming passé among the millennials and teeny people on the cutting edge of social media.  They are migrating to some things I never heard of.  Anyway, there are a lot of postings resulting from the weather forecasts and predictions of inches on the ground.  It is curious to me that a lot of them are rooting for the snow, “C’mon snow, I can’t wait!” or “It’s about time we had some real snow, yay!”.  I suppose that once again I fall into the old curmudgeon category, but aside from providing some pleasant scenes, I really can’t think of much benefit to multiple inches of snow.  Driving sucks, you have to shovel or blow off your walks, it’s cold, the bird feeders freeze up, and other unpleasant side effects.

Hey you!! Get out of my yard!!


So what does one do while waiting for the impending storm?  Well one grabs the nearest food magazine!  What fell under my hand this morning was the newest issue of “Cooks Country”, that kind wierd publication coming from the Chris Kimball empire.  If “Art of Eating” is near one end of the spectrum, this one is almost at the other end.  It’s kind of a homey, folksy, simple, gingham apron approach to food and cooking.  Occasionally they come up with an interesting recipe, but mostly tend to go for the “cut corners” theories that you can make a quality dish without “all the fuss” or “the simple approach to….”.  For instance in this issue there is a recipe for Chicken Mulligatawny soup with the tag line:  we set out to strip away complicated steps in this classic recipe without sacrificing, complexity of flavor”.   And while probably the article should just be “you can’t”, they go on to eliminate this and that, and ultimately use a slow cooker.  Oh well.  Besides recipes, there are always “tips” included to help the hapless home cook.  I was bemused by one called “Magic Beans” submitted by somebody from Santa Rosa, California (which may explain it), and the person said that whenever he cooked with garlic “the smell lingers on my fingers.” Of course..  His remedy for this was to get some coffee beans and rub them back and forth on his hands.  Apparently he never ran across the time honored solution to just rub your hands along the kitchen faucet (stainless) to accomplish the same thing.

Anyway, a couple of recipes tweaked my interest.  The first was for: (and I am not making this up)  “Maryland Crab Fluff”  what?  Fluff?.... FLUFF?   The author starts out stating that “crab cakes are special occasion fare for most of us”, but that many crab houses and fry shacks in Baltimore and along the Maryland coast serve a more “blue collar, and possibly even more delicious version: Crab Fluff”.  Now you and I are pretty savvy diners and those of us who live along that Maryland coast have been in a lot of crab houses and what I presume he calls “fry shacks”.  Don’t know about you, dear reader, but I have NEVER seen “crab fluff” on a menu.  And, incidentally I hope I never do..  “Fluff” at Courntney’s?   yikes.. the recipe pretty much produces what we all know as “Crab Balls”, and yes “Dave”, it does include Old Bay..One can only speculate why they didn’t use that more common term.. Surely, they must have run into it (No we didn’t, and stop calling…)

The second even more repugnant is the cover recipe for (get this): “Pepperoni Pizza Monkey Bread” and the cover photo shows what looks like a Bundt cake with a couple of pieces torn away to reveal a couple slices of pepperoni peeking out with a lava like ooze of cheese.  Dear God..


Okay, now it is snowing slightly and I’m hoping the snow lovers won’t be too disappointed if totals don’t exceed the five inches.  A quick closing note, I received an email this morning from somebody at an organization I work with, and I expressed surprise she was at work in the face of the impending storm.   Her reply was perfect I thought… it was to the effect that she would keep a weather eye out and if it got bad would head home and do the “snuggle thing”, which she defines as: “roast beef in the oven, a whiskey in one hand, and a book in the other”.  Who can quarrel with that?


A little bit tough in rough weather, but figure out what it means to you today to


Friday, January 17, 2014


Well, at the moment I don’t have much on the foodie plate, although there is one thing I can mention at the end, which is where it deserves to be.  Cultural events are toned down after the holidays, the winter doldrums are in full effect (although NFL football playoffs have certain people in a lather over this weekend).   So maybe we can take a minute to muse about the cultural, sociological, lofty subject of…

Truck Commercials!  Over last weekend that launched the breakfast musings, I have to admit that I did watch some (well, most) of the myriad of football games.  Actually I should say watched some football presented among commercials.  I have not put a watch to it, but it seems it is a very close split between program content (game) and “other”.  And, it seemed to me that the “other” category was dominated by trucks, beer, and promos for various network programs featuring guns and car crashes.  I’m sure it is a reflection of what the moguls perceive as their audience, which I don’t expect says much about me.

Anyway, I try to take a cultural view of the various commercials and what they are really selling.  Over the past few months I believe there has been a shift in the theory of selling trucks (and autos).  It used to be that they tried to sell their product by telling you how well made it was, maybe the horsepower available, the amount of stuff you could stow or pull, performance and milage kind of stuff.  Well, “they” seemed to have abandoned that approach, with the notable exception of Dodge who still seems hell bent on sticking with:  “Guts, Glory, Ram!”  insert favorite guttural cave man sound effect here.  But Chevy now starts out (one commercial) with “A man; A man and his truck (fade to chevy vehicle); A man and his truck and his friends;”  Then it shows (in this case) a loving family all on dirt bikes tearing up the desert in clouds of dust and making ruts.  Then we cut back to an interior shot of truck with a proud dad at the wheel, and the silky voiced announcer intoning “three hard landings, one sore back, five hurting knees.. later (fuzzy images of a tired but happy family dreamily staring ahead looking like they have been smoking weed) and three hours of relaxation ahead in the lovely interior of the Chevy (skyline of LA appears in the distance) to let them melt away.  Ahh, the medical option...

And in order to appear (?) completely objective and not male centered, there is a companion commercial that starts out “A woman.  A woman, and her truck.  A woman and her truck and 1200 pounds of passenger (shot of truck pulling horse trailer)”.  Then shots of her riding the horse doing those cone things or something western (NOT dressage!) followed by a dusty woman putting the horse back in the trailer and driving off into the western country and our announcer telling us that she drives a Chevy and is the kind of woman who doesn’t wear her ribbons in her hair!”  No lie.  That’s what he says.  There are others, but the message seems to be that loving, hard working, vital people drive a Chevy, and by God if you buy a Chevy, you are too!  I’m sure that concept is not new in advertising theory, sell the vision, not the product.

Speaking of which only one more, the one that really has me diving for the remote and the mute button is from our dear loving friends who produce Subarus.  Actually if you listen to them, the produce love, not cars.  No caring person in the world would think of owning anything else.  Their latest entry shows a nice young lady straining with a tire iron, trying to loosen a lug nut, blowing hair from her eyes, obviously straining, and finally breaking it loose with aid of a fashionable “sneaker”.  Then jacking vehicle, removing tire, and replacing with another with more obvious labor, but being successful.  When the car is back on all four feet, a wider shot shows “Dad” coming out from behind the vehicle with a smile that would do justice to a saint, and says something to the effect of “good job , honey, I knew you could do it”  That’s why I bought you a Subaru.  Love.  It’s what makes a Subaru..  Huh??

And my usual verbal overuse has taken enough of our time that I won’t go into the beer commercials.  Just to prove I am NOT totally negative (mostly, but not totally) I do really like the Bud Light ones (not the beer, the commercials) about "it’s only weird if it doesn't work".  I especially enjoy the one about the guy going back down into the cellar.  Been there, done that.  Can’t tell you how many aching muscles I have had for staying hours in the same position on the couch until Michigan State wins the game.  It does work.

Food note

I saw in the paper today that we are going to be lucky enough to have the first Sonic south of the Beltway, and east of I95, right here in Southern Maryland!.  Will be near us, sort of across the Golden Corral (opening summer of 2013!) where BWW and Kohl’s are.  Oh boy!!  I sure am glad another chain is coming to town.  Maybe I should take a survey…

for them, i don't care if you are

Monday, January 13, 2014

The MISSING meal!!

After a Friday and Saturday of gloomy rain and an odd severe thunderstorm warning thrown in, we awoke yesterday pleased to see the sun illuminating a relatively calm river.  Beautiful morning.  With (for once) not much pressing, we had a leisurely breakfast of eggs and bacon.  If we are able, my usual ritual of a Sunday morning is play some classical music, have some food, coffee, and read (generally in order) the Washington Post magazine (briefly looking at Date Lab) and the Tom Sietsema restaurant review (this week he handed out a one and a half star rating to “Bluejacket”), and then the Sports section, usually the Travel section, and then the Arts.

Anyway, I got to musing on Breakfast.  Although MFO usually eats something every morning, I usually don’t, and yes I know it’s the most important meal of the day, yadda yadda.  I suspect the vast majority of the people either skip, or just do a grab and go (I’m lovin’ it) or hit a cart on the run, and off to school/work/business, etc.

Readers will remember (painfully, perhaps) that besides dinner, I relatively often extol the pleasures of “lunch” as an oasis in the whirlwind of a day, a time to reboot the mind perhaps.  And we’re talking here about an at least an hour, sit down, nice tablecloth, china and glass, not money in a slot or another fast food experience.  Excuse me, that term is no longer in vogue; I should say “quick service” food.  So for me, breakfast is generally a forgotten/missing meal.

However, comma, like lunch, breakfast can hold a special charm, and probably I’m speaking of Sunday here in general.  You’re fresh, probably feel the best you will feel all day (with apologies to the famous Dean Martin quote: “I feel sorry for…etc.”), and the cares of the world have not yet settled on your shoulders.  So it is a great time to linger, enjoy maybe some special food, perhaps a glass of bubbly or a mimosa, and generally slide yourself into the rest of the day.  It’s a chance to have food that you probably wouldn’t eat at other times of the day, and can have something special.  One of my favorite books kind of characterizes it.

Even though I seldom take time to make the recipes contained therein,  just the photos are worth lingering over.. you could make this if you wanted to…

And while preparing it yourself does have a certain amount of satisfaction, I find that a lot of my memorable breakfasts are taken “out”.  Probably my most cherished memories of breakfast are those I have had at the Hotel Del Coronado near San Diego.  Enjoying the soft California morning weather, seated outside overlooking the ocean and the magnificent “Del” is so nice. I have never had bad service, the food is always good

(From a 2010 Visit)

Another breakfast experience I always remember (keys? no; breakfasts? Yes!) is from the “pre-MFO” days when I was living alone here in Pax before she joined me, which means late ‘90s.  1990’s lest there be any confusion…  Generally we were working six days a week on the Hornet test  program, so Sunday was my only respite from the rigors of flight test.  Being a creature of habit, during those days I would buy a (Sunday) Washington Post, and go to the Roost.  In those days, they still had tablecloths, glasses, and nice servers. I could usually find a relatively secluded table in a bay near the window and spread out.  And, I would ALWAYS have the fried chicken livers.  I don’t remember if they came with eggs or not, but I do remember the crispy crunch of the coating followed by the creamy warm liver interior.  Wonderful.. and then it was the Phyllis Richman restaurant reviews.

And probably I should mention that if you feel like it, a special type of breakfast can still be had (I hope) at our local “Linda’s Cafe”.  It is the perfect example of the genre of the greasy spoon breakfast (like St. James Pub USED to be for lunch).  Red checkered oilcloth table coverings, water in a tumbler, white board menu besides the regular one, red basket of “stuff” in the middle of the table, ads on the placemats, the whole gamut.  The food follows suit, greasy fried eggs, mammoth omelets, sausage patties, and yes, you can even get scrapple.  Oh yeah and that basket of dryish toasted bread coated with (?) and the little tubs of Smucker’s grape or strawberry jelly.  Heavy china coffee mugs…  Perfect stuff.  Something to enjoy once in a while (and I am NOT being sarcastic)

So there you have it, a little trip down my memory lane for “petit déjeuner” which would be a whole other entry..once again, France has it…

And I guess maybe any treatment of the first meal of the day would be incomplete without a mention of the ubiquitous “Sunday Brunch Buffet” so common these days, which can be anywhere from simple to a major production.  Let me say right up front, this is highly subjective, so it only reflects my personal feelings and I won’t criticize anybody for enjoying their buffets.  First of all, I do not like buffets for any meal. Period. If I am paying money to go out to eat, I don’t want to serve myself from tubs, I want it brought to me on a plate, presumably prepared to order, not held over Sterno for hours.  Yes, there is a chance for great variety, but I think breakfast foods in particular suffer from sitting.  Bacon grease congeals, eggs dry out, sausages harden, French toast gets doughy and so on.   Again, that’s only my personal opinion.  Obviously some places do take care.  It’s just me.

And I am not quite sure what to say about

DF??? (B?)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Good Santa

Well, reality begins now, the ultimate college football game is decided, Johnny Football has thrown his (oversized) hat in the NFL ring, and Tom Brady and friends play this weekend.  Yahoo..

One of the nice things about Christmas is that certain gifts keep on giving (trite, but okay). Santa was kind to me this year and I got a couple of great gifts (among others) that I really appreciate (one came in a bottle, but that’s not the current subject).  In a way, they were kind of a match, with one coming from each of the FOJ’s.   They both were related to something dear to my heart: food; and more specifically cheese.  As you know, I have upon occasion talked about cheese and what a wonderful food it is.  The first gift will help us enjoy it even more, as it was a lovely slate (keeps the cheese at a nice temperature while serving) cheeseboard, complete with a little stick of chalk for labeling the items.  As you also know, I am a big fan of providing guests with knowledge of what they are eating. The board is shown here waiting for its first occupation. 

The other gift also related to cheese in a way.  It was in the form of a book by Edward Behr, who founded the magazine: “The Art of Eating”, a slightly esoteric (can you be slightly esoteric??) food magazine.  It provides in depth reporting on various foods, wines, and cultures.  Great reading.  The name of his new book is “50 Foods – The Essentials of Good Taste”. 

You will note that (mercifully) the “B” word does not appear anywhere in the title.  In fact, his preface states that although he presents his “50 top foods”, they are chosen because HE knows and loves them.  He does not claim that “mine are the absolute best and most delicious.  The world has too many great foods for anyone to settle on a mere fifty.”  Amen. So I will give him a pass on this use of the “b” word.
The book presents the 50 foods (alphabetically) from “Anchovies” (got me right there) to “Walnuts”.   You will note that the final entry is NOT zucchini, which is gratifying.  There are several interesting entries, such as Cod, Oysters Raw, Pork and Wild Boar, and Sweetbreads to name a few.  Each chapter on “X” is only a few pages long, and follows the same pattern of giving a history of the item, along with some world wide uses of ”X”, common preparations, sometimes with a recipe like passage, and followed by three paragraphs entitled: “How to buy and store X”; Complements to X”;  “Notes on Wine”.   Very helpful and a wonderful source.

Cleverly circling back to cheeses, he also says in his introduction that: six of the fifty are cheese, and you may wonder: why so many?  The answer is that (italics mine) cheese is probably the best food, just as wine is the best drink, and even six doesn’t cover all the wonderful basic kinds.”  In this case, I will a;sp not quarrel with use of the “b” word since it mirrors my opinion which I have often stated.  It may very well be true.

Which kind of brings up an interesting thought.  If a so called “expert” or at least a respected person in any field expresses an opinion that happens to match yours, one (I do) tends to think: “Hah! This guy is really smart/discerning/knowledgable/ etc”.  I wonder what I would have thought if he said “Cheese is crap”.  Which is a bit extreme but you get my point.. Anyway, it was gratifying to see my opinions reinforced.  I really do think cheese is the (absolute) best food.

Ah ha!

And speaking of gratifying I’ll include another quote from Number 19 (Blue Crabs) especially for a friend in DC who has an appreciation for fine food and a good palate.  For purposes of anonymity, I’ll refer to him as “Dave”.  

In this chapter about Blue Crabs, he talks about them as well as other relatives (Dungeness, Stone, etc.,) but centers on the Mid Atlantic Callinectes Sapidus, our “beautiful swimmer”.   He goes through the usual life cycle story, complete with the soft shell phase, peelers, papershells, and so forth.  When he talks about eating “hard crabs” he includes this remark which will warm “Dave’s” heart: 

“Too often crabs are flavored with Old Bay seasoning, a product that dates from around the Second World War and tastes of celery salt and baking spice.  A little fresh celery is an old flavoring for crab, but the seed and spice flavors of Old Bay have no precedent in earlier Maryland cooking and don’t complement any seafood).

So there!! There you go, “Dave”! as I said this guy is an expert!!  For reader’s edification the person I refer to as “Dave” does not eat hard crabs for precisely that (dislike of Old Bay) reason.. cakes yes, crabs no.  Hold your head up in SOMD!!

Anyway, a wonderful Christmas and continuing reminder of the FOJ’s 

....and now I’m getting hungry for some aged cheddar.

When we enjoy the cheese board we will of course be


Monday, January 6, 2014

The Unusual Vinifera

Well, on the day of the year’s most anticipated (college) football game (by some, who only live to see who is “number one”), I am going to talk about, guess what? Food!!

Every year, around the holiday season, the little outfit that continues to employ me has a gathering in DC for its employees, and they always invite the (my term) “country cousins” from down here in Pax River.  And so far, MFO and I have had the pleasure of attending.  It is a small enough group that they can avail themselves of local spots with side rooms for such a gathering.

Fortunately they have some employees with food savvy and have always picked interesting places around the DC and NOVA area.  This year, the selection was a place in Arlington called “The Curious Grape”, which the Feeder was not aware of (increasingly more common).  A bit of research on usual sites revealed that it was pretty highly thought of amongst the foodies who love to post on such things.

The company also thoughtfully provided a hotel room for us to stay in after the party, so the prospect of eliminating a drive back to SOMD wouldn’t limit the enjoyment of the evening… if you get my drift.  So we struck out for the big city, armed with Streets and Trips maps, detailed printed directions, and I even put the address of both places into the Flutter Mobile II’s GPS system.  I don’t want to start down a bunny trail of driving in DC here, but it always seems no matter how complete directions, GPS lady, and dead reckoning all go out the tail pipe with the gas.  They have this disturbing habit of mounting directions signs (Telegraph Road, Exit 74A) on the other side of the road than where the actual exit is.  So you see such a sign over the left hand lanes, so you position yourself for a left exit.  Wrong.  It’s a good thing that drivers in DC are considerate of confused outsiders and politely offer you the chance to change lanes.  Wrong again.  

Anyway, with only a little yelling and pointing we did arrive at the Courtyard and checked in to a rather nice room.  We relaxed for a while and watched the start of the KC/Indy Colts game, and left for the party assured that KC would advance in the playoffs..  Wrong yet again! So with only one more “THAT exit” cry as it flew by the car, we did find the Curious Grape(CG) with easy parking and went into the place.  

The Curious Grape (never did find the evolution of the name) is one of those places that are sort of: It’s a wine store, It’s a restaurant;  It’s a restaurant, it’s a wine store.  That place over in Ocean City (Liquid Assets) and more locally Blue Wind Gourmet come to mind.  In CG, approximately one half is given over to dining spaces, and the other half to wine racks.  It is nicely decorated in kind of a muted way, sleek and modern, glass and black leather, no table cloths.  There is a bar that sort of separates the wine stocks from the dining places. Since we were in a special room, I never found out what “the deal” was, sometimes you get X% off your bottle of wine for your meal.. we were ushered into a room off to the side with a view of the main dining room, (and vice versa) which was nicely set up for our party of 20 something.

Off to the left was a little table with a selection of five wines for tasting.  I believe that there was a Prosecco, an “off dry” Pinot Gris, an Unoaked (thank you very much) Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir, and a Rhone like blend (mouvedre,  syrah (?) and maybe something else).  There were three very enthusiastic (and for once, I’m NOT being sarcastic) servers who would explain about the wine, what it might go with, etc..  The labels were not ones I was familiar with.  Eschewing the sparking, I started with the Chardonnay, and it was quite adequate.. Fruit and no overwhelming oak.  Was from Santa Barbara County, I believe.. Pours were very generous.  There was a cheese plate for pairing with the wines

which featured a pretty nice variation of textures and tastes, along with some grapes, bread and the usual stuff you find on such a spread.  All were labeled, and one of the roving servers was again only too happy to describe the cheese and which wine it would go with.  Eventually some passed appetizers appeared from the kitchen, a bruschetta, chicken bits on a skewer with a spicy sauce, and also some spanakopita.  All were very tasty, arrived hot (due to the kitchen right outside the entrance to our room – which I like because I can watch!)

After the Chardonnay I went with the Pinot Noir, which I thought a bit thin and with less fruit, but still quite drinkable.  After a glass of that, I went to the blend, which was much better, probably my choice of the bunch.  Eventually everyone were satisfied with the cheeses and appetizers and gravitated to our places.   We each had a menu in Prix Fixe form (shown here for form only, don’t expect you to be able to read it)

Each of the choices for the starters, entrees, and desserts had a nice range.. entrees included pasta (vegetarian); Sea Bass; Chicken Roulade, and Dry Aged Beef.  Each of course carried a further description of the dish, for example the roulade had local mushrooms, mascarpone, dates, marcona almonds, and Marsala Jus.  
I need to move on to the service a bit, because it will be center stage near the end.  The three ladies took orders around the tables (MFO: Endive salad, Sea Bass, and the “giandujabavarian” milk chocolate dessert;  Feeder:  baby spinach salad, Chicken Roulade, and ricotta cheese cake), and didn’t take long.  And neither did the food, as the starters arrived in short order,  my spinach salad was quite nice

(Garnished with blue lake blue cheese, maple roasted apples, candied walnut and crispy walnut phyllo)

At this point the wine had rounded off my alertness to service, but I THINK dishes were placed in front of the correct person, no auctioning necessary.  This followed through to the entrees, although they COULD have been served by dish (chickens, fishes, beef) but I am not sure.  Service was rapid enough that we didn’t have to do the “go ahead… dance”.  Nicely done.  My chicken was hot, and very tasty

It’s hard to see in the hastily grabbed photo, but the “stuff” next to the chicken rested on kind of a flat piece of something which turned out to be rolled from those dates!  Nice touch.  Wines glasses were filled as often as desired.  This also applied to the water glasses.  MFO's fish was very nice although I guess I have to get used to "skin side up" service...

Okay, let’s talk about that service I promised.  The person who identified the date wafer on my dish was quite knowledgeable on the food and wine.  Didn’t have to “go check”..  So we went on to the desserts which were again delivered properly.  My Ricotta cheese cake (with semolina crumb and burnt honey orange sauce) was attractive enough (which is NOT reflected in the image – it really looked nicer.. still much to learn about food photography)

but upon trying to cut the little cake, my fork just forced it off its perch without making a dent in it.  Hmmm…  MFO’s Chocolate dish was served in kind of a tube affair, and she had the same luck..  A lady with the same dish down a couple of places started sawing on hers with a knife to no avail.  I soon discovered that the problem was that all were frozen almost solid.  Quite a bit solid.  Given they were sort of small portions, they would have melted in a bit, but still… 

So I caught the eye of that server and said ‘these are frozen”.  Immediately she apologized and whisked off to the kitchen.  Within a few minutes she (and the rest of the staff) appeared with platters of assorted pastries, little sweets of various kinds, daubs of chocolate, that kind of thing, and each and every one was described.   Besides that, small dishes of panna cotta were delivered for passing.  These were consumed while the frozen dishes thawed and then they were good also.

My point is that they immediately recognized a problem and took action to remedy the situation..  No blank “Sorry about that” and nothing, their mistake was acknowledged and a substitution was made very quickly.  Was it wrong to serve frozen desserts?  Of course, but they DID something about it.  So when you left, your memory wouldn't be: “the damn desserts were frozen”, but rather, “that was very nice of them to offer the additional items”.  Big difference.

If I lived up there, I would certainly return, all my/the food was very good and like I said it is a pleasure to have servers who care about what they are doing.  I would hope the same would apply to the general dining room. 

And, of course it was so nice to see some of the people in the company we never get to meet, and thanks to the “company” for caring about their people.

The whole room was

Go FSU, whom I would rather not root for, but just hate to see a two miracle play wonder team claim they are the best football team in the nation..

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Change!!!

Football Content follows, foodies jump below…

Well, yesterday before the Rose Bowl (and even after the first series) I was getting ready to start writing my yearly rant  once again about the utter failure of the Big Ten in post season bowl play.   I won’t bother looking up the record over the past few years, but it is abysmal and more specifically they have lost the Rose Bowl 10 out of 11 or something close to that.  So after seeing Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa all lose, I was buoyed a little bit by seeing Nebraska win (or maybe Georgia lose) by dint of a dropped desperation pass at the end.  And, just for the record, it is hard for me to think that the Huskers are in the Big Ten.. (and still more “outsiders” to come).

Anyway we settled in to watch the Rose Bowl, knowing we would have to suffer Brent’s homer announcing, starting out with quotes like: “There’s Tyler Gaffney, you’re going to hear his name a lot today!!”  Yeah, well Brent, we did.  You had to force out “Gaffney for a one yard gain!”  Too bad, buddy.  Or lauding Kevin Hogan’s talent (143 yards passing).  Sorry, maybe it’s just me.  What followed was (in truth) a great game, with the Spartans finally prevailing with a great stop on the goal line.  Despite not having their “soul of the defense”, they did a pretty good job.  It would have been a respectable effort if it had gone either way, no blow outs (Wolverines?). Dantonio is a class act, like Izzo…  for once proud to be a Spartan!!  And despite a lot of debate about cheering for your rivals and conference, I hope Ohio State comes back, but as I said, the Big Ten struggles against those fast ACC/SEC teams.. So this year I am able to change from the usual Rant on Big Ten...

(Okay, out and out Rant)

I have to mention another game that drove me to drink.  Short trip.  The Chick-Fil-A bowl between Duke and Texas A&M seemed to be dedicated to a worship service for “Johnny Football”.  Most time outs featured vignettes of the little twerp, posing here and there, showing his impish little grin.  I must have missed the one of him selling autographs..  During play we cut away from Duke action to see JF on top of the bench flapping his arms exhorting the crowd.. Anyway it turned out that despite little mention by ESPN’s Mr. Davis and his announcing team, Duke almost came out on top.  I think they led everywhere but on the final scoreboard.. A couple of unfortunate interceptions (the last with a little over three minutes left) tipped the balance to the Aggies.  There is no doubt that he is fascinating to watch leap around on the field, escaping tackle after tackle.  Word is that he probably is headed for the NFL.  I have two words to say about that: Tim Tebow.

An Aberration..

MFO and I are in the process of updating our Will which hasn’t been done for a few (lot) of years, and our appointment with our attorney this morning released us just about the lunch hour.  We decided to go over the bridge to CD Café for a nice lunch.  We arrived about 11:15 and were told that they didn’t serve until 11:30 so we waited in the hall.  While we were there, a family (?) of three came in, approached the door, and after receiving the same message we did settled on the bench next to us.  Upon sitting, out came Dad’s iPAD, followed shortly by Mom’s smart phone, and Daughter fished out a similar gadget.  No conversation, no interaction (unless they were texting each other), just head down, fingers and thumbs flying.  This silence lasted until the doors were opened and we were ushered in.  “Sit anywhere you like” we were told.  TIP:  if you are a party of two, pick one of the two corner tables on the far wall.  They are “four top” size, but due to the walls are just set for two, i.e., more room!  We were actually the first guests in the room and we took the table on the left.  We were approached by the server and I just tuned out during the complete “Hi I’m…” speech (a battle I’m losing along with the liberal use of “guys”, “no PROBlem”, etc.) and listened to a list of the (many) specials for the day. She did gain some points back by asking if we would like something to drink before she left the table.

The place began filling up and by 11:10 or so, was pretty much full. MFO decided on the Turkey Burger (and salad) from the menu, I took one of the specials: beef tenderloin strips over linguini in a gorgonzola cream sauce.  Our orders arrived fairly smartly (before I finished my wine, which is a good thing!).  I am not sure what “cream sauce” means to them, it was tasty, but it was rather thin and “soupy” and you had to chase the pasta around the dish to corral it on the fork.  I would prefer a pasta sauce to enrobe the pasta, not bathe it. The beef was on the chewy side.  MFO’s turkey burger was fine…  while we were waiting we saw two bowls of the special cream of crab soup go back to be “warmed up”.  I would balance that against our table(s) were the first of the lunch service.

Anyway, I have always put CD café on the list of “reliable” places to dine, so I was a bit surprised that for once the dish wasn’t to my liking .  I certainly would not remove them from the "reliable" list, nor change my recommendation, but as I say, I was a bit surprised..
The Beacon

After our lunch we drove past the “New Lighthouse”.  The parking lot was full of “contractor trucks” (HVAC, Electric, etc.), so I imagine the opening is nearing..  looks nice from the outside.. I also saw on FaceBook the other day that Clarke's Landing was offering tables and chairs for sale.
We'll see if you have to be