Friday, October 30, 2015

Special Edition NOT related to travel

A special edition that doesn’t relate to Ireland travel particularly, which may be a welcome respite to some..  so there’s just a few things that might be of interest, one of which is a good thing, and the others also relate to food, of which I am more familiar, plus some late breaking disappointing news included as a post script at the end..

The Good Thing
Besides being the Archivist for the county Historical Society, MFO is involved in several historical “projects” around the county.  One of which is helping a group of people who are interested in St. Francis Xavier Church down on Newtowne Neck, south of Leonardtown.  As some know their area is going to be adjacent to the new State Park and the parishioners are worried about how the church and property will integrate into that.  So she’s on a committee to help develop the Master Plan for the State Park which includes addressing the desires of the Church folk to not have people picnicking on their lawn.

Also on the Church property there is a Manor House dating from the late 18th Century that has fallen into disrepair due to neglect (read funds) over the years.  So a group of people are interested in restoration of the Manor House and hence are doing various things to raise money for the effort.

They had an “open house” earlier in October to familiarize folks with the property

After all this (which is also a good thing) we (finally) get around to FOOD, which is the good thing i wanted to talk about.  Next Wednesday, (the 4th of November), Kevin’s Corner Kafe (INDEPENDENT restaurant in Leonardtown) is going to partner with the Manor House Restoration group in the form of a Benefit Lunch.   For the price of a mere $9.99 (okay, ten bucks) you can get a great Fried Chicken Lunch consisting of (you guessed it) Fried Chicken, Cole Slaw and French Fries. The proceeds will go to help the Restoration effort.  Food and Feeling Good, you can’t beat that..  Just call 301 – 997 -1260, put your order in, and go pick it up and enjoy..  Good Cause!

Food Items (not sure of proper order here)

A threat to our health revealed.

I’m glad I’m old, and I might employ the age old adage: “you gotta die of something”.  I’m sure most of you food alert readers out there saw the fact that the World Health Organization has come out placing Processed Meats in the same carcinogen category as “asbestos, alcohol, arsenic and tobacco, albeit with much lower levels of hazard”.  As you know, we were recently in Ireland, and have taken other trips to England and Scotland.  One of the great things about those places is that in the morning they feature “Full/English/Irish/Scottish Breakfasts”, and you have heard the Feeder emote about the wonderful practice of real food in the morning, not just Pop-Tarts for breakfast.  Generally, the “full” part connotes: a combination of bacon, sausage and egg, with ad hoc additions of baked beans, black pudding, cooked tomato, mushrooms, fried bread, hash browns, splotches of spicy brown sauce.  You know what?  The cornerstone is PROCESSED MEATS!  I have eaten that breakfast many times, and so far have not keeled over.

Over here, one of the joys of dining is enjoying a Charcuterie tray such as this one sent by a reader from the Sona Creamery in DC.

Besides wonderful cheese… is PROCESSED MEATS, in the form of shaved ham or prosciutto or Salume.  Delectable.   So, I’m sorry WHO, I will continue to enjoy sausages, salami’s and any other carcinogen you care to throw at me..Foie Gras included!!

Another Threat to our health

Well, I might relax a bit here and step down some from my high horse.  I think it has been pretty well proven that high intake of sodium is not the best for you.  So I try to cut down where prudent (salt can still be your kitchen friend), in things that don’t really matter much.  For instance, recently I had kind of an unsettled tummy and felt kind of punky,  so I thought maybe the time honored remedy of chicken (noodle) soup might be a good idea…with no enthusiasm (or ingredients) for spending hours making some from scratch, I poked in the pantry and found that familiar red and white can we’ve known since childhood.

And hey!  Look at that! – I can cut down on sodium in a product that I really don’t care much about.  Twenty five percent (from their regular product) seems like a significant figure, so I can maybe extend my life at least to that next plate of Charcuterie. However, being a conscientious consumer I looked at the back label – Whoa!!  Just a darned minute here

Even with “reduced sodium”, from a simple bowl of soup you’re a quarter way to your daily recommended amount.... and....Whoops!  Fine print says “per serving” and recommended serving size is one half cup (4oz.) of condensed soup which I suppose reconstitutes to one cup (8 ounces).   Does anybody eat one measly cup of soup?  I certainly don’t.   So, if my math is correct and I have the whole can of soup (maybe a cup and a half) I have just eaten a (reduced sodium) product that takes me over half my daily recommended amount.   Just imagine if you have the “regular product”  Blood pressure soars!


PS:  this just in at time of publication.  Apparently another county Iconic INDEPENDENT restaurant will be closing.   Lenny's will be gone.  Thank you Darden foods and your evil empire..  More in a later edition..

Thursday, October 29, 2015

No Rsters!!

end of tortured bivalve euphemisms...thank goodness!!

After a day of oysters, Guinness, "opening" competitions, music, partying and the lovely dinner at Aniar,  we packed the bags once again and loaded up the coach, left the lovely Meyrick and the bustle of the “big city” of Galway. 

We headed south toward the southwest coast of Ireland.  As you work your way through the countryside, it begins to get “hilly” reminding you somewhat of the highlands of Scotland.  Neither group would most likely not liking me say that, but it does get beautiful

Notice the remains of a tower house standing as a silent sentinel over the landscape.. We found that one of the joys of the Irish countryside is that you're just driving along and all of a sudden there’s another remains of some castle, some named, some not

An interesting feature of the one just above pointed out by Dr. Miller, is that you can see what was probably the original tower house on the right, which at some point was “remodeled” to include the more modern structure attached on the left.  It even had indoor bathrooms as evidenced by the little structure at the top left.  Watch where you stand!

We drove through County Clare, and the area known as “The Burren”.  It is marked by rocky hills with no soil to grow anything, and is aptly described in a quote attributed to one of Oliver Cromwell’s generals that the Burren is a place where: “There isn’t a tree to hang a man, water to drown a man nor soil to bury a man”.  After his conquest of Ireland, good old Englisman Oliver gave the native (still resisting) Irish the choice of going “To Hell or to Connaught”.  Needless to say, Oliver wasn’t very popular with the Irish.  I think most people with even just a rudimentary knowledge of Irish history knows of the brutal and horrific deeds carried out by Mr. Cromwell.  As evidenced a little further below, hatred for the man (and to some extent the country he represented) still exists

We made another stop at a place we MFO and I had visited on a previous trip to Ireland, known as a Dolmen or a Portal Tomb which dates from the Neolithic Period.  It is still kind of a haunting structure.

Speaking of structures, i observed a different technique in the construction of the local walls:

Vertical instead of horizontal stone placement!.  Of course in the Burren, there is an ample supply of stone.  Did not hear of a reason for it.  

Then on to the famous Cliffs of Moher on the rugged seashore overlooking the North Atlantic.  The light wasn’t so good for photography

But it was still pretty.  As usual, the real show is looking at the visitors, not the reason they're there.   I’m not sure this is the same individual we saw in 2010 but there was the requisite Harp Player to entertain folks (and accept a token of appreciation).

As a sign of the times, notice how many people in the photo are staring at their hands which holds some device, not the lady.  Sad, in a way.  

But there are also people there who were looking for a token of appreciation of a different sort, like maybe a kernel of popcorn, or a crust of brown bread

For humans, we had a non descript “lunch” in the cafeteria of the visitor center

And then we drove on to the town of Limerick

There was a big group from St. Mary’s
Who didn’t tour Ireland on Ferry's
They rode around on coaches that weren’t called busses
And had so much fun that no one ever cusses

Okay, okay, weak, but hey, I’m just a food blogger not a bard… at least it didn’t start with “There was a young lady from….”

Limerick was the site of the signing of the Treaty of Limerick, which in effect ended the war between the Williamites and Jacobites.  We had a little driving and walking tour guided by an Irish gentleman from an agency in Limerick who gave a most informative talk.

He evidenced the lingering love of Mr. Cromwell by saying “let’s just say if the English were playing the Taliban in football (soccer) we’d root for the Taliban”.  Limerick is the also the home of a famous (you guessed it) castle, one of the best preserved Norman castles in Europe, King John's, dating from around 1200.  It is situated on the River Shannon

Of course there are other edifices in Limerick that are not quite that old

Steak, anybody?

After a long day, we finally checked in at another stately grand old hotel, The Malton

They just don’t make them like this anymore (at least in my sphere)

As is our custom, for the first evening’s stay, we had a group dinner at the hotel, a prix fixe menu as usual

Pictures of the food did not do it justice, and hence are not included.  I had the stuffed Kerry lamb shoulder with Celeriac Puree

The evening was concluded in an elegantly appointed bar

With an Irish whisky

Just another arduous day on the road, with the weary traveler

Monday, October 26, 2015

The other Valve..

Well, here’s the other half (and end) of the "Tale of Two…" series.  The concept of two festivals linked by oysters sounded so good in my mind, but execution has sort of been difficult (probably mostly to the long windiness of the Feeder).  So before moving back to rambling around the Emerald Isle, we’ll take a quick peek at the recent 49th St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival and National Oyster Cook Off.

My task for the festival was to organize the

So I spent most of the first day of the Festival inside that building dealing with the vagaries of slow burners, “where’s the…” questions and so forth.  There’s lots of pre event coordination of course but once “it’s here!” it is fun.  The chef/cookers enjoy themselves and have a great time.  They are always a nice bunch of people.  Marty Hyson cooked his Stout Grilled Oysters outside

But of course most worked inside.  I’m sure most of the readers know the concept of the cookoff;  recipes are gathered over the summer, an independent source selects the final three recipes for Hors d’oeuvres, soups and stews, and main dishes.  All recipes must feature Oysters. The chefs who created the nine final recipes are invited to the cook off and makes the dish to be submitted for judging by an elite panel of chefs and food experts.  They have one hour to prepare two recipes, one for judging and one for the folks in the audience.
Each category has a winner; there is a “people’s choice” dish as voted by the fair goers, best presentation, and Grand Prize winner.  

There’s always a plethora of ingredients around

Serving Dishes are set up

And displays are made ready

Finally, the dishes and bowls are filled, and the displays are populated
 (Stout Grilled Oysters with Cheesy Topping - Won Best Presentation)

While the dishes are being prepared, our lively 17th Century announcing team from Historic St. Mary’s City kept people entertained, informed, and got tips and highlights from the contestants while they prepared the dishes.

When the dishes are ready, the are transported (very carefully) to the sequestered judging team.  A miserable task, sampling all those wonderful dishes, don’t know how they do it..  Anyway the winners are announced in the afternoon, and a very happy Lynne Laino from Downingtown, PA and her Oyster Tacos with Chipotle Crema took the Grand Prize

A great time was had by all, and you can get the recipes from the cookoff in our little recipe book

Before they all went back to their kitchens, the judges were kind enough to get a group shot

Left to right, 
Rob Kasper, former food editor for the Baltimore Sun 
Patrice Olivon, Program Director of Culinary Arts at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg 
some struggling foodie 
the irrepressible Loic Jaffres, Chef/owner of CafĂ© Des Artistes in Leonardtown 
John Shields, owner of Gertrude’s Restaurant at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

On Sunday, local Chef Melissa Rivera, owner of Earth 2 Table Catering Catering did a demonstration of making Sausage and Oyster balls for all to enjoy

And, all around the really important food activity were the National Oyster Shucking Contest, culminating on Sunday afternoon with a repeat winner from 2014 of Duke Landry

Duke is eligible to return to Galway again in September 2016 for the World Opening Championships..  Unfortunately the Feeder won’t be there this time. 

So, two countries, two festivals, linked by two valved creatures, the same shucker/opener each time.  A great concept.  Okay, next edition will have us heading south from Galway down to the Burren, Cliffs of Moher, the Dingle Peninsula, and beyond.

And, of course we can be

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Tale of two Bi......

Valves that is..  this kind

To paraphrase Mr. Dickens, “it was the best of times, it was the ………BEST of times”!  Recently, two events, one in Ireland and another here in St. Mary's County, are linked by the little buggers, best and best...

As you recall, we were talking about the International (Oyster) Opening Contest in Ireland, and you might notice that continuing that story has been interrupted for a bit.  Last weekend was our St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival, where the winner of the U.S. National Shucking Contest is the National Champion who then represents the United States in the World Opening Championships in Galway Ireland.   Got it?  In the span of less than a month, I attended both!  It was for the third time at the Irish event, and the whateverth on ours.  Both are kind of unique, but both center around the humble Oyster.

Galway Festival Edition
After dinner on "the Weir", we enjoyed fun of watching the Irish Opening Championships with Michael Moran competing on Friday evening, we got up the next morning after a good rest in the luxurious Meyrick Hotel, situated in the Heart of town on Eyre Square.  Another of the grand old hotels.

Just look at those hallways.. not your Courtyard style

We took a little stroll on “Shop Street” a pedestrianized street (no cars) where there are little shops, including one of MFO's favorite book stores, and lots of interesting people to entertain you and relieve you of a couple of coins...

The events leading up to the opening contest included a “parade of flags” where the Champions from the competing countries carried their flag, including Duke Landry, our Champion 

(along with a dour faced unidentified opener from an unknown country).

The main festival doings were held in a marquee (we would call it a tent) with plenty of Guinness and other beverages, samples of seafood, and lots of music, sort of modernized traditional

Finally they got ready for the contest itself, and this year the evil technology appeared again with a flat screen to show the contestants

Duke poised, ready to shu…. er, open his bivalves

While the contestants toiled away, it was all projected..

A quick cultural note here, I am not sure you can see in the reduced Blog image, but look at the “audience” to the right of the action.  See all those arms raised in the air?  Think they’re cheering for their favorite contestant?  Nope, they’re all holding some device recording the action.  Anymore, seems that the only reason you attend an event is to take pictures of it.  Never enjoy the moment, just get that picture.  (I note that the feeder is almost as guilty, but I have an obligation to help others enjoy it vicariously).

Anyway, all the trays got filled with opened oysters and taken back stage for the Judges.   They use pretty much the same model we do over here (or vice versa) in that the opening time is adjusted by “penalty seconds”, assessed for cut oysters, off the shell, oysters not cut cleanly from the shell and so on.

Lagniappe (okay, i don't know the Irish term)

Kind of some inside stuff here that might be of interest.  This was my third time attending this festival, and my last trip as King Oyster was in 2012.  Because of my august status, I was called the “North American Observer” and was allowed to be in the judging tent to make sure things were on the up and up, and also to help consume some Guinness. I think I probably blogged about that in some obscure 2012 feeder.  Anyway, they do go over each tray as it comes in, but unlike us, they have a “specialist” for each evaluation category (cut oysters, etc.,) and that person assigns a penalty for his area of expertise.  These then are collated to generate a total bunch of “seconds” to be added to the time of opening on the stands.  Another difference is that there is a category for “presentation” which takes away time.  Well, as with all subjective things if you say contestant number three gets a (minus) say of ten (max) and then contestant number 12 comes in with a “better” tray, they have the latitude to “adjust” the scores so that in the end the best tray gets the best presentation numbers.  So, it takes a while for the results to be finally announced.  Duke ultimately finished out of the top ten, and actually the winner was a repeat from last year.

All that stuff is done kind of mid-afternoon, since the evening is given over to more music, dancing, and a big deal kind of progressive parade through the city with stops at various locations for food and drink.  Kind of a Mardi Gras thing.  It is NOT FREE and is pretty pricey, a couple of hundred Euros or more. We did that when there in 2012 so did not feel compelled to repeat it.  We would rather spend our Euros on…..

Food.  In 2012, it was announced that a restaurant in Galway would receive the City’s first Michelin star.  A place called Aniar, with Chef J. P. McMahon at the helm.  He deserves a column himself, but not at this time.  We tried in vain then to get a booking but of course they were overrun with people.  So this time, we secured a booking WELL in advance of our trip, deciding to that instead of the hoopla. Aniar is situated in what you would have to call a storefront.

We were offered the “showcase” table in the window, and nothing would do but that the server HAD to take our picture, which I normally am against, but I finally acquiesced (and now am probably glad we did)

Another story for another time, but we are trying to get JP over here for our 50th Oyster Festival next year, so I had been in some communication with him.  He sent out a glass of bubbly for us to enjoy before tucking into our wine of the evening.  

Oh well… The Feeder began toasting passerby’s in the street.. good fun.

Aniar is very informal, and the menu is a daily Prix Fixe arrangement with several categories of starters, mains, salads, etc.  The diner can pick the number of courses that suits their palate and wallet, plus you can add flights of wine.  It gets a bit confusing, but the servers are willing to help you wend your way through it.  One feature I thought was nice is that instead of cluttering the menu with sources (greens from the third row of the north forty of So and So Farms;  Happily raised roaming chickens from …..a  trend that I personally hope is waning) there is a sign on the wall with their sources for those interested

We made our choices and I pretty much left my point and shoot in my pocket during the dining.   Well, I did sneak a couple, here is what is described on the menu as “Scallop, apple, and Roe”

As we experienced at Dax in Dublin, the servers carefully described everything on the plate (which I appreciated) for instance the wafer-like vertical item is “Scallop Bacon” a smoked slice of scallop.  That dish was typical of the care of the kitchen to feature each item plus all the lovely accompaniments.   The only other picture I sneaked was the intermezzo of Jasmine Tea Sorbet

All in all, it was a lovely experience with all the pieces of food, service, and presentation in harmony.  Apparently those Michelin folks get it right..  Next time you’re in Galway get a booking.  Well in advance!

That concluded our stay in Galway, the next morning we left for points south.

Well, I’ve done it again, despite my well thought out plan of “A Tale of two Festivals” I fear that I’ve rambled on long enough to give us both a rest before yakking about our local version of the Oyster Festival.

I hope you noticed in the photo of the Feeder and MFO, we WERE