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.


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.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sibling Photo Assignment #11: Black and White

Here's what Christy asked us to do -- way back in November -- for this photo assignment:

What makes effective black and white photographs? Is it the subject, the light, the composition? Take a series of black and white photos, explaining why they are effective.  
Christy's pictures are here and Carol's are here.

I've been mired in a deep photographic slump ever since I arrived in Kellogg back in November and upon my return to Maryland in mid-December. Part of it has to do with the cold weather and my reluctance to go on walks with my camera when it's so cold. So, I've been sitting on this assignment for about three months and I am thinking that posting this and getting the weight of not doing it off my mind might help free me up to get back to doing some shooting. These are the only pictures I took while in Kellogg.

For me, black and white photography is effective because there are no colors to distract my attention from the nature of the subject in the picture. So in portraits, if they are in black and white, my attention goes right to the qualities of the person, not to the color of their hair or the colors they are wearing or anything else. Although these pictures don't show it, I love taking black and white pictures to experiment with light and shadows.

If these pictures of bunnies and a raccoon and a toad on Mom's back deck make you smile or even laugh, then these pictures are effective. You might smile because you find them sweet or endearing. You might find them kind of silly, in a good way, and laugh or smile at that. But, whatever your response, I hope you'll find that the nature of these figures, whatever you find them to be, free of the distraction of color, comes through.

Three Beautiful Things 02/11/17: Jailbreak, Black Flag, Giggy's

1.  The Deke and I decided to travel north and go to the Jailbreak Brewery in Laurel for the first time. The tasting room was a large room with lots of communal tables and off on one side were some comfortable looking living room chairs and sofas. The Deke enjoyed her Into the Night stout and I took advantage of Jailbreak having one cask conditioned beer on tap, their Big Punisher Double IPA with Equinox hops. Drinking this beer took me back to my introduction to cask conditioned ale all over England in 1979 and back to the days twenty years ago when I re-introduced myself to to cask conditioned beer at the High Street Brewery and Cafe in Eugene and took me back to those Sunday trips after church that Shane, Loren, the Troxstar, and I used to make to Oakridge where we enjoyed imperial pints of cask conditioned ale at the Brewers Union Local 180 Pub.

2. The Deke and I went to a another large tasting room in Columbia and each enjoyed a beer at the Black Flag Brewery -- another place we had never been. Like Jailbreak, the place was full of people, young and old and in between, yakkin', laughing -- one group was celebrating a 30th birthday. People to our left had their dog with them, so, like many tasting rooms at breweries, Black Flag welcomes well-behaved dogs. It was a good scene.

3.  Giggy's BBQ food truck was parked in front of the Black Flag Brewery and the Deke and I split a robust fried shrimp and sausage po boy with lettuce and tomatoes and cajun kick sauce. Neither of us could have eaten the whole thing alone and the hand cut fries and creamy cole slaw were perfect sides.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 02/10/17: Patient Customer Service, Falafel Wrap, Ana Loves Pictures

1.  I had some business to take care of at Banfield at PetSmart and was very grateful to Desiree for her patience, humor,  and goodwill as we solved a small debit card problem, got a prescription for Maggie updated, and scheduled Maggie and Charly for their next appointment in March.

2. Before going over to the Diazes, where the Deke would be spending the night while Molly and Hiram went on a date to see The Fifth Element at the Air and Space IMAX theater, we split a really tasty falafel wrap, perfectly seasoned with a tart and nutty lemon tahini dressing, at Quench.

3.  After saying, "No!" three times when asked if she wanted to "see Bop", Ana, unprompted, walked over to me as I sat on a couch in the living room and plopped herself next to me so that we could look at a pictures of Molly when she was a little girl and look at animal pictures in a couple of Ana's books.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Three Beautiful Things 02/09/17: A Day Inside, Wrestling with Curry, Good Talk with Lizzie

1. Temperatures plunged about forty degrees from Wednesday to Thursday afternoon and a fierce wind whipped up. It was a good day to stay inside, have a talk with Mom on the phone, do about five loads of laundry, and sort out the refrigerator. Mom sounded strong on the phone. She cooked a pot roast dinner for the family on Sunday and that is quite an achievement. I was glad she told me she got some help at the end with getting the roast out of the oven, making the gravy, setting the table, and other things, but she prepared the dinner herself.

2. I spent quite a bit of time this afternoon wrestling with a Thai curry.  I got out the Kaeng Pa (or Jungle Curry) paste. Normally, it's the foundation for a curry that does not use coconut milk.  I found a recipe that laid out the proportions between paste and chicken broth. I thought to myself that this seems like a lot of paste to go with this small amount of liquid, so I poured a quart of broth over the paste instead of two cups. After stir frying the paste, adding the broth, and boiling it, I couldn't bear the intensity of the pepper heat, so I got out three cans of coconut milk and cream and added them to the growing pot of curry. I baked tofu and eggplant, added them, and added green beans and spinach out of the freezer. I suddenly thought maybe some rice vermicelli noodles would taste good in this, so I boiled them and threw them in. All my efforts cooled off the spicy heat of the curry, and, sure enough, when the Deke and I got home for dinner, we agreed I'd done a pretty good job cooling off what had been a five alarm curry, leaving plenty of heat, but making it a spicy dish we could enjoy.  I'll have to try to make coconut milk-less Kaeng Pa another time.

3.  The Deke surprised me when, this afternoon, she texted me not only telling me to pick her up at 4:30, but also saying she'd like to go to DC Brau. We did just that. Things were quiet at DC Brau and we enjoyed some beer, but, most of all, we enjoyed having a great talk with Lizzie who was working the tasting room. She had recently returned from the West Coast and told us about her boyfriend starting the Master Brewing program at U. C. Davis and their trip out to Davis so he could get started. We've enjoyed talking with Lizzie before and, as happens so often at DC Brau, where youngsters are in charge, we had another great experience talking with and learning about the dreams and ambitions and experiences  of these youngsters known of as Millennials.  These young people at DC Brau really know how to work and are gracious and intelligent as well -- and, to top it off, they brew superb beer.