Thursday, August 27, 2015

Vets, Bivalves, and Buzz

Wow.   Been a week since we’ve talked!  Besides having “minions” all over the place (painters, dry wallers, downspouters, landscapers) which always stresses me out, I somehow got what turned out to be a bug that was one of the most worst I’ve had in a while.  Could hardly get out of bed, dizziness, nausea, muscle pain, on and on.   As usual, I thought I had had a stroke, heart attack, combination of both, dengue fever, and was ready to follow the light.  Well, turns out a couple of friends noted (social media IS good for some things) similar symptoms which helped and today with minions gone, fresh paint, tidy drywall, etc., I am feeling whatever generally passes for normal.  Okay, end of self pity.. and a few things to talk about.

Guess we’ll start with the more important and descend into restaurants and food trivia.

Ground Operations
Last night I attended another in the series of Boeing Lectures at Sotterley Plantation.  I (through Boeing) funded the original series years ago and my old company has had the wisdom to continue their support.  To Sotterley’s credit, they have continued to present excellent programs and speakers over the years.  Last night’s presentation was a film entitled “Battlefields to Farmfields”.  I saw the notice and figured it would be something like the evolution of Civil War battlefields into agricultural use.  Wrong, oh Bottom Feeder!  It turned out to be a documentary about engaging returning veterans into farming and food production.  It followed some individuals who came back with disturbing mental conditions that prevented them from entering and surviving a “Cubical environment” and getting involved with farming.   The calm and quiet of farm life along with animals and watching the ground produce food for human consumption seems to be a restorative environment for them.  I can’t do it justice here, it just made you feel good to see young veterans finding a passion for some of the same things we do.

Besides following the individuals, the film made a strong case for organically produced foodstuffs including produce, poultry, pork, and beef.  Free range, grass fed product resulting in healthy food that provided not only the farmer but surrounding families with better foods.   I won’t get this exactly right, but it was stated that (something like) 70 per cent of existing small farmers are over the age of sixty.  Hopefully this movement will provide a resurgence of small farms and farmers.  Goodness knows there are (unfortunately) thousands of veterans

Although the producer of the film couldn’t be present, there was a young couple who were in the film and have a farm up near Annapolis..  In their introduction, it was stated that they both graduated from the Academy and were veterans.  They spoke about running their farm with three small boys, and the joy they received from the effort.  In the Q&A somebody asked what the young man did in the Navy and he casually said he was a Navy Seal of 6 tours at “all the garden spots in the near East”.  Maybe there is some hope after all.  Here’s a link to their web site.  Take a peek...


My gastronome friend up in DC reported on a lunch he shared recently with a student from St. Mary’s at Hank’s Oyster Bar on Capitol Hill.  Reports were quite favorable with his guest giving it “Five Stars”.  He started with a plate of Oysters (obviously Hank’s specialty)

I also had a half dozen oysters on the half shell. They had 6 types of oysters on hand, all of which came from different regions of the East and West coasts. All were incredibly fresh and delicious, but I preferred the midler, saltier East coast oysters

Entrees included a Lobster Roll

And “I had a salad that came with a filet of some type of white fish. The fish was cooked perfectly and you could taste the freshness”.

One sort of nuance was that food was served with a little jar of Goldfish (if you notice) and there was complimentary dark chocolate for a final note.  Can't argue with that!.

Service was reported to be very good and server was educated on the food.  No report of the opening remark…  All in all they enjoyed the experience.  So maybe the Feeder should go check it out for himself.

Food News Snippets

McDonald's is going to return McWings to the menu.  Despite being a flop in certain markets they feel it is worth another try

On September 21st (Peace Day) McDonalds and Burger King will bury the hatchet and each will provide a “McWhopper”.   Stop the presses..

In the world of wine, there is a trend of wineries to produce “Non-traditional” red Blends.    Such strange bedfellows as Zinfandel, Malbec, Syrah, and Cab Franc are being bottled and offered.   For one thing it offers them something to do with “odds and ends” left over from separate bottlings.  And these aren’t all from houses like Barefoot and Yellowtail,  Coppola is producing a wine called “Director’s Cut Cinema” ($39) based on Cab and Zin.  Keep your eyes open and


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Just Stuff

A little of this and that..

Peace from Pieces

Well, we finally did it.  Every time a major storm looms, be it a named one or a winter blizzard variety, I start poring over radar maps, follow storm track prediction sites, stay glued to forecasts and am generally a mental wreck.  Over the past couple of years, if things looked like something would actually materialize, I drag out the portable generator I purchased, get five gallon cans of gas, check oil, and so forth.  Then I wished I had stuck to starting the damn thing every month (actually I didn’t do too bad) and yanked my shoulder out of its socket to make sure it would start in anger.  Somewhere in that progression, I would say damn it, I’m going to get one of those automatic generators.  Then the sun would emerge, or the snow would melt, and well, you know how that goes.  But guess what we got!!

Our environmental control center now sports a husky 22KV generator ready for use if necessary.  We of course hope it is like taking an umbrella with you to the picnic, it won’t be needed.  But the peace of mind it brings is worth every piece of currency spent.  It did involve moving circuits around in the panels, but our vendor (PM me if interested) did a great job and everything worked well.   So although the bank account took a dip, the freezer won’t (well, that’s kind of upside down, but you get the idea)..   Especially with Danny being frisky in the Atlantic.  Feels good.

Kitchen Kulture

A chef we know in Galway is a prolific (to say the least) Facebook Poster, and today he shared an article about “Culture of the Kitchen”, written by a Chicago Chef named Iliana Regan who has couple of restaurants, one of which is Elizabeth.  It apparently is kind of an eclectic place,
At Elizabeth Restaurant we work with the best seasonal offerings from our gardens, woods, local farmers, fishers, and hunters….We call our cuisine New Gatherer”    Her summer menu is split between a “Hunter Menu” and a “Gatherer Menu”.   Hunter has pemmican, how often do you see that?  And Gatherer offers Cabbage and Shoots, or Fermented Romaine and smoked yolks…  Adventurous.  Anyway it speaks of a person that is serious about her food and its preparation.  She has some interesting things to say about “culture in the kitchen”, like

Intensity has been an essential aspect of all the fine dining kitchens I’ve worked in. In the casual restaurants I’ve worked in, the pressure is more about getting through service if it was high volume than the actual quality

It’s bad when it involves putting people down. As chefs we are teachers and if we are ridiculing our students, who we haven’t properly taught, we are at fault. But if we taught them and gave them the proper tools and opportunities to excel in a positive way and they continue not to learn or improve over time, then the situation has to be properly addressed. This is usually the point when I let them go”
“The pressure I apply in the kitchen is focused on the taste of our food, the presentation of it on the plate, and the way in which we serve it. I emphasize that we are telling a story about terroir: the farms, fields, and woods from which we create our men”

Anyway, I thought she had some interesting things to say.  I shared the link to the article on my FaceBook timeline (or whatever it is called).  Or, if you’re interested in the whole you can click on this URL.  Chefs are such an interesting lot.

Biscuit Banter
To sort of balance things out, we’ll close with a review of another column I thought was interesting (note I am sort of copying here, not being my normal refreshing creative self).  It appeared in that iconic old publication, Southern Living which has been in print since 1966.   It used to be the “old South” with crinolines, shoo fly pie, blueberry buckle, and stuff like that.  Over the years it has (IMHO) kind of modernized itself, and isn’t a bad read.  I sometimes think I’ll not renew my subscription, but then they come out with an offer like “renew for $12 and receive another year free”.  So I cave in.  They might be getting some pressure from newer (southern) publications like Garden and Gun.

Anyway, there was an interesting column in the September issue of the "Southern Journal" section authored by Rick Bragg, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, who mostly writes about “the South”.   Most people who follow Southern Food, know that besides Barbecue in all its regional variations, Biscuits claim a hallowed place in Southern Cuisine, mostly for breakfast.   The magazines are always full of recipes for “authentic’, “classic”, “down home” versions.  The title of the piece is “The Abominable Biscuit  - It’s hard to be a morning person over congealed gravy and hockey puck eggs”.  

So right away you know he’s my kind of guy.  He begins with “I am not sure when I became a grouchy old man, a crotchety relic.  I just know I am”.   Bingo, a brother..  He talks about his slide into disillusionment which he blames on the “hotel breakfast buffet, the nightmarish 21st Century phenomenon dishonestly referred to as a “hot bar”.  I think that is where I turned the corner from optimist and went stumbling down the path to miserable old geezer.  Somewhere between the desiccated bacon and scrambled eggs so awful there is no known word.” 

Then: “worst of all is the abomination of the hotel biscuit.  There is not enough congealing gravy in this world to cover the nastiness of a crunchy biscuit”.

And then closes with the notion that fancy restaurants are no haven, where he had scrambled eggs that could have been used as packing material at a four star hotel.

Couldn’t find a link to the on line version but it certainly struck home with me. 

I wonder if he


Tomorrow, another Moh's surgery..  Cut, analyze, cut, analyse, then leave with a softball on your face.  oh don't get it wet..

ee hah. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

On the side

One member of our “Just Right” investigative team subscribes to some of those services that plop (what you consider) interesting posts from here and there into your inbox or facebook.  I think one is called “gawker”, but it’s beyond my capabilities.   He kindly forwards some to me that he thinks the Feeder would enjoy (and does).  Recently he sent me one that was entitled “An Expensive Sandwich Should Come with a Side”, that turned out to be from some blogger hack like me (with obviously more success) with a subtitle “When did it become okay for a $12 sandwich not to come with a side?”.  Below that there were several conversational postings with varying opinions, both supporting and critical.  I am not real passionate on either side.  Who cares?

The picture of the sandwich in the blog was of a tasty looking maybe corned beef or pastrami sandwich with slaw on it, some nice looking rye bread, with a (dill) pickle tucked along side – apparently the pickle does not in his mind qualify as a bona fide side.  (As a quick aside, one of my pet peeves is when they tuck that wet pickle beside the sandwich, it turns the bottom of the sandwich mushy .)

But it does kind of bring up an interesting question:  If you order a sandwich, is the restaurant obligated to provide a “side”, be it chips, pickle, or slaw for free?  Certainly it is the custom of most places to do that, and generally give you a small handful of non-descript chips (usually “wavy”, yes?) or a little cupful of slaw of varying crispness.  My friends, I don’t always eat a sandwich, but when I do, I almost always ignore those sides anyway.  And also generally tucked away someplace on the menu are options for onion rings or fries for an extra charge.  Generally anything that comes in a “basket” implies you get fries or rings…

As to the sandwich in question, charging twelve bucks for the one pictured may seem a bit overpriced, but I’ve never been to a New York Deli, and i wouldn't be surprised at that price point.  On a whim, I veered over to the Zingerman’s Deli site, the revered Deli in Ann Arbor Michigan with a National Reputation, and looked at their menu.  They have a wide ranging selection of sandwiches made of corned beef, pastrami, beef, turkey, chicken, pork and so on.  Since we’re sort of Deli oriented here, the corned beef section contains eight choices (each with numbers and also catchy names - #13, Sherman’s Sure Choice: Zingerman's corned beef, Switzerland Swiss cheese, coleslaw & Russian dressing on Jewish rye)  

There are two prices listed for each sandwich, and I finally found they were for the size of sandwich you wanted.. Nosher, or Fresser – the English translation from Yiddish is left to the inquisitive reader.  For Sherman’s Sure Choice they were: $15.50 and $18.50.  As usual with high end deli sandwiches they are huge! I don’t think you could get your mouth around it.  You could add Zapp’s potato chips for a buck and a half for small (presumably to go with the Nosher, or three and half for the Fresser size.

Most of the other sandwiches (pastrami, pork, etc.) were in the 15 or 18 buck range.   It was interesting that at the bottom of the menus is a section called “Why our sandwich costs what it does”.. there was lots of stuff about refusing to cut corners, keeping the quality up, and so forth and I thought fairly straightforward explanations like:

Better ingredients really do make better sandwiches. At the same time, we’ve tried to remember that while raising prices is a difficult thing to do, much of the industry operates under an unwritten guiding principle that “the customer can’t tell the difference.” If cheese prices go up, buy a less expensive cheese — ”no one will notice.” If meat prices go up, cut an ounce off your portion — “who can tell?” Sorry guys, but as far as we are concerned, customers
can and do tell the difference.

When we price a sandwich (or anything else we sell) for the menu at the Deli, we do it according to algebraic formulas, not a whim. We price according to widely-used formulas that allow us to pay our banker, pay our bills, pay our staff, pay ourselves (yes, it’s true) and stay in business to keep serving the best possible food to our customers

Sure, you can think this is just web site marketing hooey, but it sounds sincere to me.  Now I’m hungry, and of course the person who whined about no sides with his sandwich will never read this, but maybe he would prefer the golden arches. Where he wouldn’t have to


Monday, August 10, 2015

here and there

Not too much earth shattering but just a few snippits.

Would you like cream, sugar, or …… Butter??

I often have some interesting conversations at Starbucks while waiting for my daily Latte.  The time available for yakking varies of course depending on the lines.  Anyway, the franchisee guy knows I am interested in food as is he to some extent, so that usually works its way into the conversation.  So the other day he asked if I had heard of “Butter Coffee”.  Well, no I had not.  Is it a new ploy by S’bucks to boost sales?   Nope.   Apparently there is some guy in the Northwest who is what is called a “blohacker”, someone who I find out “uses science and technology to make his or her body function more efficiently, and whose numbers are about 100,000 worldwide.  He has a website called, which drew over 6 million unique visitors last year in addition to 200,000 who follow Facebook and twitter. He used to weigh over three hundred pounds and when exercise and limited diet didn’t work he started looking elsewhere, and came up with a recipe for the coffee he’s drinking—blended with butter made with milk from grass-fed cows and a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil derived from coconut oil.  Drink it, the name implies, and you’ll feel invincible. “Fats and caffeine help stimulate the brain,” he says in his office, taking another sip.  And guess what?  He’s opened a “BulletProof CafĂ©” and written a book.  His discovery resulted from a trip to Nepal and Tibet where he discovered yak – butter tea.  Anyway, keep your eyes open for it..  Amazing.

Crabby in all senses

And, after reading my little piece about Sandgates the other day, an alert reader questioned my remark about Stoney’s NEVER making my list (at least the “Just Right” list, although they might make another).  I replied that my JR (crab house) list kind of requires an establishment to be in place for a number of years, serve primarily the local population, etc.  Stoney’s doesn’t qualify there, and IMHO exists to live off tourists, brandishing their Washington Post “award winning crab cake” medallion for all it is worth.   I will readily admit that crab cakes tend to be somewhat objective, but I have always found theirs to be primarily filler and non-descript shredded crab, generally undone in the middle of the spherical ball served up.  I believe they now have at least four properties locally, the most recent acquisition being the old “Clarke’s Landing” spot in Hollywood.  I have not been there since they took over (and won't), but I have generally enjoyed a visit there in the past incarnation.  So, I was interested to see a posting on Facebook lately (yes, I lurk) that related a recent experience at the newest location.  Here’s the original posting and “comments” following a picture of Stoney’s Clarkes Landing sign

“Dinner tonight was horrible. The juice in my cocktail was fermented and watched people toss (sic) there cigarets in the sand where we were eating. Since when did we go back to smoking in public spaces?”

“Never liked the food. Got one of the "famous" crab cakes. It was greasy and cold.

“Was better under original owner

Obviously I won’t divulge the author(s) but I will tell you I know the original poster and can vouch for the palate. 

Trying to be a bit positive, I do like the wooden carvings at the various establishments.

Lots of B’s

As I did last year, I volunteered for a shift of beer pouring at the 2nd Annual Southern Maryland Brew & BBQ a couple of weeks ago.   I cleverly signed up for the noon to three shift on Sunday, (correctly, as it turned out) figuring that attendance would be light at that time.  Of course the combination of beer and BBQ is time honored, and they featured a lot of both.  Brews included 10 so called “domestic beers” one of which was Stella (??), and of course included Bud and Coors along with their “light” versions; and eleven “craft Beers” from some of the better known breweries such as Flying Dog, Heavy Seas, DuClaw, Devil’s Backbone, and Sam Adams (hold on there! isn’t that “domestic”?).  

Anyway no matter how you characterize them there were quite a few to taste or guzzle.  My station included two brews from Devil’s Backbone in Virginia, and two from Sweet Water from Georgia.  DB’s selection were Vienna Lager and Eight Point IPA; while the Georgia entries were 420, an Extra Pale Ale, and Hop Hash Double IPA, tipping the alcohol scale at an ABV of 7.8%, and an IBU (Bitterness Rating) rating of 100, right at the top.  In other words that would blow your head off.  In contrast, the Vienna Lager a more reasonable 4.9% and an IBU of 18.  I am not a big fan of Hoppy Brews, but that’s me..   an informal survey kind of indicated the lighter versions were more popular.   Next year I’ll be more informed before I show up.  I couldn’t answer questions about the IBU

On the other “B” side, most of the big boy (more “B”s) cookers left on Saturday and Sunday only had the Backyard Amateur competition.  I guess I would qualify for that moniker, although it sounds kind of demeaning.   Still, it’s fun to walk around and see the gear and the vendors.


 And their products

And the undisputed king of "Que"

A whole world of smoke and fire, and you don’t have to be


Monday, August 3, 2015

The Gates of..... sand

Our never ending quest to flesh out the “just right” list took us to a venerable waterfront crab house located on the western shore of the Patuxent River pretty much across from Broome’s Island on the Calvert Side (home of Stoney’s which has zero chance to be listed by me)

I'm sure some of the readers have memories of this place.  As you enter, you are given immediate information on what is probably the most consumed beverage(s)

And once inside you can go down the list of “just right” expectations of an informal waterside establishment:
Water view?

Paper covered long tables amenable to cracking crabs?  Red Plastic Condiment baskets?  Plenty of napkins?

Nautical stuff on the walls?

Is there a homey little bar next room over?

And do you remember (if you're old enough)those vending machinnes into which you can insert coinage and try to grab a little stuffed toy

Which looks like it gets heavy use, judging by the heavily repaired chair.

Check, check, check, check, and check!  All boxes filled.

Given all that, talking about the food offered is kind of moot..  crab cakes, rockfish, oyster, shrimp (etc.) baskets, soups (duhh, cream of crab), along with salads, and the usual array of land lubber burger and chicken things.   And, as with all these places you may have to pick sides

Which were prominently displayed for once.  I am not sure what “American Fries” was meant to convey, maybe “non-French”?,  anyway an order of same returned the common perception of “fries” regardless of country of origin.

A good measure of these places is always their crab cakes.  I ordered a “sandwich” along with a side of onion rings, which was either below the picture above or handled on the fly, but in any case they did appear with said cake (sandwich).

It was one of the largest crab cakes I have ever seen, as you can judge by the comparison with its “standard” burger bun.  

While “just right” doesn’t always mean the food has to be exemplary, it also doesn’t mean it should be not good.  As you can see it looks like it remained on the flat top too long as evidenced by the black/burned crust (which was on both sides – always turn your food over), and it didn’t have much of a (for want of a better description) “crabby flavor”, sort of tinged by the crust.   More substance than content.  I didn’t enjoy it much.  A friends order of “chicken fingers” resulted in what you might expect at a place specializing in sea food.  Kind of pallid lumps of deep fried stuff…

Another measure of “just right” is who the clientele is.  We were on a Thursday afternoon, kind of early, but some tables were occupied, one by a couple of, forgive me, little old ladies, who were having a wonderful time talking and leisurely working their way through a beer tray of steamed crabs.  There was also a father and son enjoying cracking away.  Later arriving folks were also in the “retiree” range, and generally everybody knew each other including the server lady.  Just friendly people gathering together to enjoy each other over local steamed crabs.  Doesn’t get more “right” than that..

One of my friends kept urging me to get a picture of the crabs, but I didn’t want to intrude and maybe put a crimp in their good times..

Besides, one tray of steamed crabs looks a lot like another, so in deference to him here’s some taken next door to the Sandgates (at the Seabreeze) from a couple of years ago.   Always look good.  And Seabreeze certainly would find a place on the list..

So both deserve to be recommended, although I still have some reservations on that oversized crab cake.  But by golly you just can't beat a slice of Lemon Meringue Pie, no matter it's origin

..Oh, and you can figure out how much you would have to