Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 02/21/17: Touring NW D.C., Philly/NYC Trips, Green Hat Gin

1.  I drove to the upper reaches of northwest Washington, DC because, on a map, Little Falls Park looked like it might be an interesting place to hike. On the map, I couldn't find an entry to the park, but I thought I'd figure out how to get in there once I was there in person. Turns out the park is home to a heavily secured reservoir and I never did figure out how to get in, but I drove around and just below American University, I admired streets of beautiful homes -- I don't know if any of them were mansions -- and found a very handsome Episcopal Church -- St. David's -- built out of rock. So, even though my hiking plans fell apart, I had fun looking at and learning a bit more about what's located in a part of D. C. that I've spent little time in.

2. When Ed and Mike come to visit in early March, we will make a day trip to Philadelphia and another one to NYC and I started to figure out bus schedules and other details of our travel and what we might do for a day each place.

3. The Deke wanted to grade some papers at the bar at Old Line and relax after work. Until today, I had never tried Green Hat Gin, distilled in Ivy City, the same neighborhood in D. C. where Atlas Brew Works is located. So I had a pour with a little ice in it and its taste nearly floored me -- it was completely unique, unlike any gin I'd ever sampled. I loved smelling this gin. Yes, the juniper presence was there, but so were lemons and even oranges and I think I could smell and taste something like flowers.  Its taste, in a good way, stayed with me all evening and now I'm pretty sure that one of these Saturday afternoons when they are open, from 1-4, for tours and tastings and five buck cocktails that I'll have to pay the distillery a visit.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 02/20/17: Good Floppin', Accidental Tour of D.C., Stu and the New Wave

1.  The floppin' in the pool invigorated me today. The sequence of exercises worked perfectly and I thrived on the fifteen minutes of overtime I put in on my own after class ended.

2. Vicki, the Deke, and I went to the Diazes and then to Bethesda where Vicki will be visiting her sister-in-law. To our surprise and delight, Molly asked if she could join us, knowing that the Deke and I were planning to go out after we said farewell to Vicki. We left Bethesda and drove for several miles along Massachusetts Ave. and I listened to the Deke and Molly marvel at the sight of huge churches and cathedrals and at the elegance of one embassy after another as we passed along Embassy Row. I didn't perfectly navigate Scott Circle in D. C., but I recovered and we headed north and east on Rhode Island toward Eastern Avenue NE and ended our accidental tour of D. C. at DC Brau. It was a splendid and fun drive from Bethesda to DC Brau. It gave me more very welcome city driving experience and gave the Deke and Molly great sights to see and point out to each other.  (I couldn't take my eyes off the road and the traffic to look.) We didn't plan this. We didn't really know what we were doing. We just went where the GPS voice told us to go, knowing we wanted to end up at DC Brau. Navigating the traffic circles and figuring out some directions on the fly made me feel like I was enrolled in a self-taught D. C. driver's ed class.

3. After about 50 minutes of a really fun drive, we arrived at DC Brau. Within an hour, the Deke, Molly, and I were the only customers in the tasting room. We enjoyed some Wings of Armageddon and were really pleased with DC Brau's latest beer, Savor the Swill, a crisp, subtly spicy Helles Lager, released on February 11th. Our tap master was named Stu and Stu loves 80s music and so our evening played out to a soundtrack of Human League, Wall of Voodoo, Madness, Katrina and the Waves, and a host of other artists from the early and glorious and golden days of MTV.  I thanked Stu (a bona fide great guy) for the awesome music and we fell into an enthusiastic conversation about New Wave and other 80s music (his favs? The Cars and Blondie). The quality of my conversation with Stu was surpassed only by the wide-ranging yakking that transpired between the Deke, Molly, and me. The three of us don't get to go out together very often, but when we do, it's always a sterling time. Tonight was no exception.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 02/19/17: Puzzles and Ale, Chicken Soup, Ah! To Be Like Warden and Robards

1. Last month, the Deke and I worshiped at St. John's church in Bethesda and had a great talk with Rev. Betsy Tesi who had served as a priest at St. Mary's in Eugene and moved out here some time before we did and now serves at St. John's. Two weeks ago, we didn't return to worship because the Deke was sick; last Sunday I was sick; today, our guest Vicki was laid out all day with some kind of bug and we all stayed home. I decided to take a day off from reading much about contemporary governmental history and stayed off of Twitter and didn't click on links on Facebook related to the news. Instead, I worked acrostic puzzles online. I opened a 22 oz bottle of Heavy Seas whisky barrel-aged rye ESB, called 21 -- named after the brewery's anniversary -- and took five hours to drink it, a personal record for working my way leisurely to the bottom of a bottle of ale.

2.  In the refrigerator, I had stored jars of chicken stock I'd made recently. This came in handy because Vicki mentioned to the Deke how good chicken soup would taste. So I bought an already cooked chicken at the Co-op, took the meat off and chopped it up while I sauteed onion, carrots, and celery in the pot, added stock and chicken meat, and, in a separate pot, boiled rice noodles. When the noodles were done, I drained them and put them in the soup. Later on, Vicki ate a bowl of the soup and enjoyed it. We will hope that it was not only good tasting, but medicinal.

3. While I took a break from contemporary governmental history, I didn't take a break from 20th century governmental and journalistic history. The Deke decided to watch All the President's Men on her laptop and I listened to it while working puzzles. Whenever I dream of acting in a movie, there are three actors I wish I could be like. Two of them are in All the President's Men: Jack Warden and Jason Robards. I loved simply hearing their voices from the other side of the room and picturing how they give their characters a full life. (The third? Gene Hackman.)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 02/18/17: Teacher Talk at Union Market, Joy at Atlas Brew Works, Perfect Pasta Dinner

1.  As it got close to noon, Vicki, the Deke, and I piled into the Sube and darted down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and west on Rt. 50, into Washington, D. C., and parked in the lot in front of Union Market. The temperature was climbing toward 70 degrees, a relaxed mob was scattered outside the market, seated at communal tables, drinking coffee and diving into cardboard containers of food from around the world. Inside the market, the seams between the many food vendors and meat/fish markets were bursting with invigorated people, uplifted by the cloudless weather and moderate warmth. I continued my quest to memorize this market, who the vendors are, what they sell, and where they are located, and enjoyed the many little touchless tangos I danced with other visitors, as we exchanged smiles and worked to give each other space to move along.

Vicki, the Deke, and I bought lunch at the Red Apron's sandwich counter -- I chowed down on the Original Red Apron Burger -- and took it outside where we sort of miraculously sat at a table with three twenty (maybe early thirty) something youngsters who all turned out to be public school teachers. A cathartic conversation ensued about the challenges of teaching, the love of working with children, and the anxieties regarding the future of public education. It happened again. We fell into great conversation with astute, creative, deeply caring Millennials and we were kind of stunned as we made our way back to the car at our good fortune to have randomly landed at their table.

2. Not far from the Union Market is Atlas Brew Works and we decided to drop in and sample some of their splendid beers. Like Union Market, this joint was packed, indoors and outdoors, and hopping with joy and fun, the celebrative noise level magnified by a baby shower being given in the tasting room. We settled into three seats side by side by side along a counter and sampled all kinds of beer. My two favorites were both barrel-aged ales: the very same Town and Country Belgian Strong Ale I'd enjoyed last night at Old Line and Atlas' winter saison, La Saison de Brett. I really didn't want to leave. I wanted to keep sipping on these five oz. tasters of barrel-aged beer bliss, but, alas, we needed to move on to Phase III and IV of our day with Vicki.

3. Phase III? Naps.

Phase IV? Vicki volunteered to make dinner and, lo and behold, it turns out Vicki is also a devotee of that simple, tomato-y, buttery, onion-y richness, Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce, here. My contribution to the dinner was a trip to Panera to buy a baguette and to go to the Old Line Wine and Spirits shop and buy some wine. I did that, and I couldn't stop myself from also purchasing a sixer of the not always available Double Duckpin Imperial IPA. As I went to check out, I was asked to wait a minute for the cashier who was on a bathroom break and, at that moment, one of our favorite servers, Kristin, walked in and when I asked her how things were, she told me it was dead back in the bistro, thanks to the gorgeous day outside.

Hmmm.

No cashier.

Dead in the bistro.,

I decided to have a half pint of Town and Country.

So I walked back with Kristin, ordered a small glass of Atlas' red wine barrel-aged Belgian strong ale, chatted with James a little bit, watched Kristin sample the Town and Country ale, and soon I returned to the cashier out front and bought the wine and beer and headed back to our apartment home.

Our dinner was the epitome of simplicity and full flavor: a bowl of penne and Marcella Hazan's sauce, a small glass of wine, and slices of buttered baguette.

A perfect way to close a perfect day with Vicki.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 02/17/17: More Bowls, Picking Up Vicki, Old Line Blow Out

1. I returned to Target. I added one more dipping bowl for herbs/spice while cooking and made another of the little bowls into my kitchen counter receptacle for garlic cloves and fresh ginger. I also added four bowls to the cupboard. I'll use these to put chopped vegetables in whenever I, say, stir fry, saute, or make soup. I find it easier to put chopped vegetables in a bowl and then put them into the pan or pot than to transfer them off the cutting board.  This is another step, thirty-five years in the making, of having my cooking area organized the way I want it.  I guess it's about time.

2. I sprang into the Sube and crawled up the Balitimore-Washington Parkway to the vibrant, bustling Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport to pick up Vicki, who flew in from Seattle and will be spending the next few days with us. The stilted traffic going back toward Beltsville gave us plenty of opportunity to talk about a bunch of things.

3. The Deke had nailed down a table for the three of us at Old Line and our server, James, had a taste of Lagunitas' sour ale, Dark Swan, waiting for me. I liked it a lot, but prefer to drink sour beers after dinner, so I ordered a glass of Troeg's winter IPA, called Blizzard of Hops -- and what a blizzard it was, and I'm not talking Dairy Queen -- I'm talking a sleet storm of citrus and pine, a chaos of flavors. Our food came out -- the three of us shared an order of calamari, of feta cheese flatbread, and of hot chicken wings -- and I switched gears. I'd never tried Atlas Brewing's Town and Country, a Belgian Strong Ale, aged for nine months in red wine barrels. I loved this beer. James and I agreed that with each gulp the beer started out tasting like a good Belgian beer, but finished like a wine, making it a superb, tasty, and fascinating hybrid.

Drinking this beer transported me back to the good old days at the Bier Stein in Eugene when Shane and the Troxstar and Loren and I had occasional Belgian Beer Blowouts. Shane could be relied on to purchase us a bottle of Duchesse de Bourgogne, which I loved, and this Town and Country beer, brewed in D. C., reminded me of that beer and those great nights sharing bottles of Belgian beer at the Bier Stein.  My favorite beers are not only packed with flavor, but packed with good memories as well, and Atlas' Town and Country served up both.

(That reminds me -- Shrove Tuesday is coming up on the 28th and our last Belgian Beer Blowout at the Bier Stein took place on Shrove Tuesday, March 4, 2014. It was epic. Our own Mardi Gras. And a beautiful thing.)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 02/16/17: Kitchen Organizing, Campbell's-Free Tuna Casserole, Food Pondering

1.  Thanks to a household accident, I needed to go to Target and purchase a new electric kettle and I also bought four dip bowls so that now, on the counter where I cook, there is a row of squeeze bottles with oils, soy sauce, and vinegars and four dip bowls, one of salt, one of pepper, one of garlic powder, and one empty to put other herbs/spices in when the recipe calls for them.  I also bought a second set of measuring spoons and these sit it a small cup on the counter at the ready for when I need to measure the salt/pepper/garlic powder or the herbs/spices. I'm not done organizing this cooking space just yet, but it's coming right along.

2.  We've had these two cans of tuna sitting around for a couple of weeks and today I decided to fix a tuna casserole of some kind for dinner. I don't know if I've ever made one before. I searched online for a recipe with one criterion: no condensed soup. I found one and it turned out to be fantastic:  creamy, cheesy, and thanks to the thyme and mustard, flavorful. The Deke heated hers up a bit with red pepper flakes, but I ate it as I cooked it. The only thing I'd do differently next time is either half the recipe or use two casserole dishes so that the casserole is shallower. This would highlight the potato chip topping's crunch more. (By the way the recipe called for crackers, but I opted for chips.) The recipe is easy to find.  Just click right here.

3.  I went back and watched the first episode of the series Eat the World. It's here.  I love this episode. Marcus Samuelsson and host Emeril Lagasse dive into the world of New Nordic cuisine in Sweden. They visit a chef who cooks only with wood fire -- any of you remember my mention a while back of the reindeer heart taco? They also go out on a fishing boat and eat crawfish they just caught and later go to a fascinating fish market and Samulesson fixes a gorgeous meal in one of his restaurants. I loved listening to Marcus talk about how he and the other New Nordic chefs work to embrace the traditions of Nordic food and its focus on the elements of earth, water, and fire -- and air? hmm, not sure -- and then bring other country's influences into it. It made me wonder if I could re-imagine some of the staples I experienced as Silver Valley cuisine and, with the help of influences, say, from Thailand or Greece or Lebanon, make food that might combine my years growing up with some of the cooking I like to do in my adulthood. We'll see.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 02/15/17: Mom Fell -- Seems Okay, Lemon Ginger Stir Fry, Gnocchi After Hours

1. Christy called me around noon Eastern Standard Time to tell me that Mom seemed to be doing all right after she took a backward fall Tuesday evening in Carol and Paul's house, pulling her walker onto herself. It was a fluky accident. As the day moved along, I didn't receive any updates so that must mean nothing bad had developed during the day on Wednesday, although Mom must have bruised herself. Relieved that Mom had not seriously injured herself, I could then enjoy the rest of our conversation, especially Christy telling me about Mom's general improvement as her wound heals, her work at the library, her recent trip with Everett and the dogs to Montana, other family news, and what's happening with other people around Kellogg.

2. I wanted to use what we had on hand to make dinner tonight so I got out the electric fry pan and made a tofu, onion, and broccoli stir fry and a pot of white basmati rice. I really like broccoli and lemon, so I went online in search of a lemon stir fry sauce and I found one that combined vegetable broth (I used some of my homemade chicken stock), soy sauce, sesame oil, water, fresh ginger, garlic, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Thanks to this sauce, it was a killer stir fry. I spiced my bowl up with some sriracha, a little too much, in fact, so when I had a second half bowl of this stir fry, I put a small bit of sriracha in the bowl and then I could enjoy the heat without burying the lemon and ginger and garlic flavors of the sauce. Interested? The sauce recipe is the first half of a larger recipe found right here.

3. I enjoyed watching Marcus Samuelsson on an episode about New Nordic cuisine on Amazon's Eat the World and especially enjoyed his two part conversation with Ed Levine on the podcast, Special Sauce. Tonight, I went to the home page of Chopped and was happy to discover an episode of "After Hours" that I hadn't seen before and one of the chefs was Marcus Samuelsson. In an episode focused on pasta, he surprised everyone by making gnocchi. That reminded me that I've been wanting to give gnocchi a try and so I watched a couple of how-to videos and now it's just a matter of when I decide to do it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 02/14/17: Thanks to Phillip, Rock Creek Hike, Old Line is Chill

1.  My gratitude to Philip who provides tech support at the school where the Deke works.  This morning he bounded out to the Sube and enthusiastically helped me carry three of the four IKEA boxes into the school. He was so pumped to help that he carried the last one in all by himself, deadlifting it atop his shoulder, with a burst of energy fed by adrenaline and his eagerness to be of assistance.

2. Back in the old days, when I lived in North Idaho then Spokane and then Eugene, it took a few hours to drive to the nearest National Park. Here, in Greenbelt, and in Washington, D. C., National Parks abound. One of them, Greenbelt Park, is just minutes away from our apartment home and the nearby Baltimore-Washington Parkway is maintained by the National Park Service. A spacious National Park sits in northwest D.C. It's Rock Creek Park, the United States' third National Park (after Yellowstone and Mackinac), established in 1890.  I buzzed over to Rock Creek Park early this afternoon, parked the Sube in the Nature Center parking lot and hiked a part of the Western Ridge Trail, humping up hills and down into a couple of creek beds, racking up nearly 10,000 steps and getting myself winded several times.  It was not a good day for photographs; all the trees are bare and it was a gray, sunless day. No matter. I enjoyed being in the park, enjoyed how easily I got there, and look forward to returning -- especially as long as the temperatures are so chilly.

3. The Deke and I went to Old Line as soon as her work day was finished. It was perfect. The place was quiet. I was happy that the Barrel-Aged Big Punisher Double IPA from Jailbreak was still on tap. We split an order of calamari. As we left, the place was filling up with couples taking advantage of the three-course dinner special. We glided back to our apartment home to relax some more. I read. The Deke watched, and I listened to, Godfather, Part II.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 02/13/17: Working Out, I Like Tam, IKEA Smiles

1. After forty-five minutes of stretching, jogging, jumping, and flopping in the pool during class, I stuck around another fifteen minutes and ran in the pool and did an old football drill, but in the water, that improves both wind capacity and agility. I got out of the pool and soaked and thoroughly relaxed in the hot tub -- or as it's known in the aquatic center, the hydro-therapy pool.

2. I had gone since October without a hair cut. I was getting really tired of how my shaggy mop looked. Today I finally dragged myself into the Hair Cuttery and was very happy to discover that Tam was available to cut my hair. I miss my former favorite hair cutter, Angela, who left to have a baby and did not return, but Tam is my new favorite: she's friendly, skilled, and very efficient. I just have to get in more often. I really don't want to look like a mop again.

3.  The Deke's school's PTA contributed an IKEA gift card toward buying some shelving for the two third grade classrooms -- the Deke bought her own shelving two years ago -- and I purchased the four boxes this evening. Unlike the first couple of times I went to IKEA, I really look forward to going there now. I don't feel lost anymore, I enjoy watching other customers and catching bits of their conversations as they make home furnishing decisions and, this evening, I had encounters with three friendly and helpful IKEA employees. I was grateful for their goodwill, excellent service, and our exchanges of warm smiles.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 02/12/17: David Brooks' Sermon, Cooking Chicken, Podcast Dreams

1. The only thing not enjoyable about going to Jailbreak and Black Flag on Saturday was that I got sick by the time we got home. It was an intestinal bug of some kind. Consequently, the Deke and I did not go to church this morning, but we did listen on YouTube to the NYTime's columnist David Brooks give this morning's sermon at the National Cathedral. As he talked about beauty and the divine and about the loss of the ties that could bind us to one another in our country, I saw, in ways I won't detail here, my former life of study and teaching pass before my eyes and felt a rekindling of the love for specific ideas I worked with often in my reading and my teaching, ideas inspired in large part by Plato and especially by Shakespeare. If you'd like to hear his sermon, go here. It begins at about 35:30.

2. By early afternoon, my system had cleared out the bug -- or whatever happens when an illness is gone. The Deke went to the Diazes and I stayed home and played in the kitchen, cooking a whole chicken, taking the meat off its bones and storing it, and continuing my experiments with making chicken stock.

3. I went to bed and listened to the latest episode of The Big Listen, here, and throughout the night I dreamed of podcasts. In particular, I dreamed an episode broadcast by two sportswriters telling the story of their research about a baseball player from many decades ago who never made it to the big leagues, but who attracted their attention because his name was Capital Punishment.