Tough Mudder/WWP

It's nearly March!  March is a great month.  I was born in March.  Saint Patrick's Day is in March, as is Mardi Gras.  There's March Madness and Free IHOP Pancakes.  The weather usually gets crazy around this time of year (you know, the whole in like a lamb, out like a lion thing), but spring is right around the corner.  

This year, March 1 (tomorrow!) marks the start of my fundraising effort for the Wounded Warrior Project. So I want to take a break from the usual SwimWriteRun programming to make a request...

In October, Matt and I will be participating in Tough Mudder, Virginia. The 7 mile mud run features 17 obstacles... many of which look crazy-challenging. There are some videos on our seldom-updated Team SFM blog (see the tabs at the top of SwimWriteRun).

As a team, we're raising funds to support the Wounded Warrior Project. This organization does really important work to support and empower injured service members.  

If you're able and willing to make a contribution to the WWP through Team SFM, you can do so via our event fundraising page. I'll be posting updates about training and our event prep periodically, and we'd love support via comments, etc, as well! 

Thanks for reading. 

Blog will resume regular programming tomorrow.


Food versus Food: Donut Duel

For all the time I've lived around the HoCo, I don't know how many times I've said the words: "I don't want to go out, I'm bored." At the time, everything seemed the same. (hocofood@@@)

The reality is, that's not true. There are many, many interesting places I'm only just discovering. As Martha would say, "that's a good thing."

Enter the Korean Bakery. Some French influence, some Korean. If you're lost, it's ok, this was a new concept to me until recently. Reading about these places on blogs like HowChow motivated me to try them - so glad I did.

Pastry Cake with Red Bean paste and Green Bean Paste
From La Boulangerie - the halves are joined with a lightly
sweetened cream, and it's topped with crumb.
This was a big hit around the holidays.
It's been fun bringing the pastries to family and friends. There are the same initial questions: "What is this exactly? Bean paste? Um.. ok. Is it sweet?"

Followed by: "Wow, this is good" or variations thereupon.

I was familiar with red bean paste before this challenge - I've enjoyed Azuki ice cream and mochi. The texture is different from one I usually associate with desserts, and it's sweet. There are other variations of sweet bean pastes that include one made from white beans.

And this was the perfect opportunity for the next Food Versus Food.

Contender #1: Rice red bean donut and white bean donut at Bon Appetit Cafe.

Bon Appetit Cafe and Bakery opened a few months ago at 10155 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City. They offer a wide variety of baked goods with noticeable French and Korean influences, as well as coffee and sandwiches. They have a nice-sized seating area for dine-in, and of course offer carryout.

The front door opens into an area dedicated to displaying baked goods. There were so many that I felt slightly overwhelmed; however, they had samples available for many of the items. Each one I tried was amazing. I left with several items (lunch, and enough to share with coworkers). I was keenest to try the donuts, though.

I picked up two: one marked rice red bean donut (made with rice flour), and a white bean donut.
Rice Red Bean Donuts at Bon Appetit Cafe.
To begin with, they looked different. The rice donut was about twice as large as a golf ball and very oily. The white bag sopped up an incredible amount of grease - not that this is always a bad thing, but it was impressive. The white bean donut was flatter and round, dusted with sugar on the outside, and was far less greasy.

I bit into the rice donut and was immediately surprised by how chewy the dough was. I ate slowly, taking four or five bites to finish the whole thing. And then I had to stop. It was extremely rich - enough for a few hours. I was actually full from this little tiny donut.

Half of a white bean donut,
Bon Appetit Cafe.
When I regrouped, around lunch time, I cautiously approached the next donut (and resolved not to sleep through the next morning's workout). The white bean donut, I found, was denser, more cakelike. I definitely didn't get overwhelmed with grease, and the sugar made for a nice crunch around the edges. The white bean paste was sweet, but not overwhelming

Paired with a hot cup of coffee, both donuts were really pleasant treats. 

Even so, I decided to save the next challenge for the day after a long run, which brought me to...

Contender #2: Rice red bean donut and red bean donut at La Boulangerie.

La Boulangerie is located at 8815 Baltimore National Pike (Ste C), Ellicott City - the same shopping center as Lotte. And I did learn my lesson from the first round. I saved this trip for a few hours post-Bagel Run

I was really hungry.

La Boulangerie is a small bakery, with a few tables and chairs. They don't offer sandwiches, etc, but they do make custom cakes. They have a wide selection of cookies and other baked goods (more or less labeled), and they make a pretty good cup of coffee.

Red Bean Donut from La Boulangerie.
The red bean donut came dusted with sugar, with a cakey dough that reminded me of an old fashioned donut - although it had an odd texture, almost as if it was tough/overworked. The sweet bean paste filling was good, and pretty rich - you can see that I cut it up in pieces to share (though... I probably ate about half).

I enjoyed the rice bean donut much more. These babies were a little smaller than the ones at Bon Appetite, but there was a fabulous crispiness to them. They, too, were oily, but not in an overwhelming way, and the rice dough had a wonderful texture

Clockwise, from top: Red Bean Paste Donut, two Rice Red Bean Paste Donuts, and a Red Bean Paste Bun (not reviewed - fyi, I like the steamed ones very much, but baked was also nice).
Overkill? Possibly. But delicious, delicious overkill. I promise I didn't eat all of this myself.

The Decision: This was a really exciting challenge for me, because I got to talk about two finds that were, until recently, not even on my radar. Both bakeries have plenty of other items I've enjoyed or can't wait to try. But looking specifically at these two items from each place....

I have to say that, for the first time ever on Food Versus Food, there is a tie. While I was lukewarm about the other items, I really enjoyed the white bean paste donut at Bon Appetit, and I can't wait to go back for the rice bean paste donuts at La Boulangerie. The pros and cons balanced each other enough to warrant a tie. The items were also comparably priced. I liked the look and feel of each bakery when I visited. In the end, it was just too close to call.

But fear not. I shall take one for the team and return, someday soon, for a rematch.

Do you have a favorite spot for your donut fix? Do you have feelings about (or... for...? it's ok, I don't judge..) sweet bean paste desserts? Tell me in the comments below!


Mall: Home away from... wherever.

There's been some talk lately around a recent Washington Post article about the 'crackdown' on homeless at the Columbia Mall

Local blogs on both sides weighed in, both as to why this might be reasonable, and why this was possibly wrong.

Today, HoCoMoJo posted an interview with Katie Essing, general manager of the Mall, and they brought up some interesting points. She emphasized that the policy focuses on behavior and an acceptable code of conduct. The process of rule 'education' and enforcement sounds pretty reasonable in this interview - and she surprised me by admitting there were times when security might have acted inappropriately (in general terms).

I didn't blog about this, though I did read the article and some of the responses. And I'm pretty much blogging about it now because I have some thoughts, after the Mall's response - not because I suddenly feel qualified to do so. 

To be honest, I thought a lot of the interview rang like non-specific damage control. 

Example: Essing hemmed and hawed about specific question in which a commenter on Tale of Two Cities mentioned seeing people literally washing themselves (bathing, so to speak) in the bathroom at 9am. When Bittner asked her if that was a violation of conduct, this was her response.

"Well, that would be a tough one. . . . I think it would be a determination of is it a normal use of the bathroom, you know, or is it crossing a line where it would make other guests feel uncomfortable."

To me, that's sort of like the age old question: if a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?  Or, if someone's offended by a joke, is that what makes it inappropriate? 

Just sayin'.

She did go on to say that it was a behavior she would want reported to security. It just seemed strange that, if there is a code of conduct in the mall, that a case like this wouldn't be a clear decision. It seems to boil down to two things: making patrons comfortable, and the fact that the mall is private property.

The interview did not address the allegation made by the WaPo reporter that he was ejected from the premises, and I was surprised that the interview didn't address that at all. Was his behavior in violation of the mall's code of conduct?

"A few minutes later, security guards appeared and ordered a Washington Post reporter to leave the grounds. One guard said interviewing people without permission constituted solicitation and warned that police would charge the reporter with criminal trespassing if summoned."

Good thing he didn't try to bathe.

The article includes a take on the ejection from the ACLU:
Deborah A. Jeon of the ACLU of Maryland said that although malls are private property, owners do not have an unfettered right to ban people.
"Anybody who's committing a crime could be removed from the property," said Jeon, who helped resolve a dispute over homeless persons' access to shopping centers in Baltimore and Cecil counties. "But people who have legitimate business there and aren't doing any harm, getting a cup of coffee or talking to a friend - there's no reason the mall should be interested in removing such people."

I am glad to hear that the Mall is trying to work with nonprofits that assist the homeless and recognize the challenges this population faces during the winter, especially. I'm sure that their job is not easy. Still, was the Post reporter truly being disruptive, or was the Mall trying to avoid embarrassment?

I would consider that a legitimate question. But that's just my opinion. (hocoblogs@@@)

Bring it On Thursday

I can't help it; today just seems primed for Awesome.

I'm so sure of it, I used a semicolon in my opening line. I KNOW.

Want to see how awesome works too? Check out this effort by YA author Maureen Johnson* - she woke up yesterday and decided to make the world suck just a little less. And then she did something. She raised, over the course of the day, $6000 in donations for a charity called Shelterbox. And the fundraising will continue today.

In a world where too many well-known people tweet/blog/say... just... the stupidest things... this was pretty cool.

I have a plan to make the world (or at least, my little piece of it) a little more awesome too - small things. It will involve smiling and greeting everyone I meet, getting in touch with people I've neglected, and doing at least one nice thing for someone else.**

What are you going to do today? Tell me in the comments below!

Don't forget to sign up for the Bucket List Blogfest, and tune in tomorrow for a very sweet Food Versus Food. 

Edit: Link to case-in-point example of celebrity stupidity via Twitter.

*  YA author? Yes, I am an adult. And I read her books. They're very good.
** I felt like I needed a list, but the plan is flexible. Who knows what the day will bring?


The Bucket List Blogfest

Hey Blog-Friends! I'm pleased to announce the FIRST EVAR blogfest on SwimWriteRun

I know, I'm excited too.

I have a birthday coming up in a few weeks, and around this time of year I tend to get reflective. This go-round, it's less about what I've done and more about what I want to do as I move forward... and I'd love to hear the same from you!

Join Erinn and I in sharing the things you most want to do before you kick the bucket.

This Blogfest is open to everyone - the more the merrier!

The rules are simple:

1) Sign up with the Mr. Linky widget below.

2) Post your entry on Friday, March 11.

And that's it!

Sign up, spread the word, and feel free to post the snazzy graphic to your blog. 



That's what seems to be in the air - restlessness. Maybe it means we're all ready for spring. Maybe it's a rut. I'm not sure what else to say about that.

So I'll talk about food for a bit. Even though it's not Friday.

There have been some great food posts lately - ok, there are always great food posts. But they've got me thinking more about lifestyle changes, which are a good thing.

After reading an awesome endorsement of Mark Bittman's new cookbook over on HowChow, I ordered it. I have Bittman's How To Cook Everything, and I've found it to be an essential resource. Unlike many books in my collection, HTCE is rather battle-worn. The hazard of being in the kitchen while I'm at work, flinging ingredients across the cutting board and occasionally setting things on fire (you would think having a Fire Marshal around would help with this, but not really).

(You're welcome.)

We cracked open Food Matters the other night, and it's gotten some wear already, although I'm trying to keep it nice. Oh well.

Over the weekend we made a stop at Harris Teeter, which had wild caught Alaskan salmon for 6.99/lb. It looked really good, so I picked some up, and after flipping through the book for a recipe we made a quick meal with spinach, soba, fish, and sesame seeds.

What I liked:

  • The recipe was simple - I had every ingredient on hand already.
  • About half a pound of fish was stretched to four servings - although I could see this serving two if we were really hungry, or not serving the meal with other items
  • A simple sear of the fish with salt and pepper made for fish that, as Matt noted, tasted like salmon, not a thick sauce or heavy seasoning.
  • Also, this recipe gave me a chance to really sear something. I used to be more timid, until I read a criticism in Heat that home cooks can be just that. Scared. So I jacked up the heat, seasoned the fish, and tossed it in with NO FEAR. The result was a win - no stickage, just a beautiful color and crust.
  • The flavors were clean ("delicate"?) But...

What I didn't like:

  • I did think this was missing something - I'm not sure if it's scallion, ginger, a little chile, etc, but the flavor was almost too mild. Maybe I feel this way because I tend to make spicy food.
  • The fish broke up into smaller flakes and separated from the skin, which in turn got a bit soggy when I added the cooking water. I think I would add the salmon last, to the top, or add the crispy skin separately next time.
  • A "My Own Fault" item... I didn't really have myself totally set up when I started cooking. Fail. Definitely prep every item beforehand to avoid a scramble.

This recipe was really nice, though, and can be done with tofu as well - something I'm likely to try, given my recent habit of tossing several cartons of extra firm in the cart every time I'm at H-mart or the local TJ's.. 

What appeals most to me about this book is that it seems to tout a different way of eating - meat as a flavoring or smaller portion of the meal. I've been wanting to limit consumption of meat to local sources for a while, but honestly... this isn't a trivial thing on a student's budget. So maybe recipes in this book will help me make compromises to accomplish local/seasonal eating more effectively than I have in the past.

Either way, I think this type of change will be pretty tasty.


This is only a test.

We watched a really interesting movie the other evening, one that came highly recommended from Jeff

The film opens with a group of people who have obviously undergone some stress an difficulty to get to the final stage of an interview. They are led into a room, and issued instructions. They have been given one question, and one answer is required.

There's also a lot at stake... it's a place in a high powered company, there are definite clues that the world beyond the room is not necessarily "normal." The characters appear to have powerful motivation to do well in the interview.

The only trouble is, they don't know the question.

XKCD #135

This is "Exam," a 2009 film that stars a bunch of people that look familiar but that I couldn't place. But there was some pretty impressive acting.

As for the story, I don't want to give anything away, but it drew me in pretty well. Even though we were able to figure out some things, knowing (or thinking I knew) didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the story. There were some extremely tense moments, places where I had to cover my eyes.

There were some points where I looked at the screen and wondered why they hadn't taken a certain action. There was at least one other where I found the character transitions to be... a little bit of a stretch. But almost as soon as I started to feel that, the scene switched gears and I felt I could look past it.

I know, nothing like a good, specific review, right?

Still, when we reached the end - I didn't feel that I had been lied to. There is a fine line between spinning the story around a question and lying to the audience. When it's the latter, I generally feel cheated... it damages the story. That was not the case here.

"Exam" was an excellent film - available on Netflix watch it now, and more than likely whatever other movie-watching service you choose - and should be on the "to watch" list for anyone who enjoys a good psychological thriller. 


Centering and Stink Bugs

I took a yoga class last night.

I've sort of done yoga in the past, but never really practiced it with any discipline. Still, I realized the other day that I don't handle stress well (future post). Also, I'm aware of muscles that are inflexible and the imbalance of strength between muscle groups and between different sides of my body.

Yoga seems like a good solution. And while the class wasn't that intense, I am definitely aware this morning of muscle groups that got a workout.

As for what it does over time... I'll post more in a few weeks.

During class, as the teacher unfolded his mat, he picked something up and gently placed it further away. I guess it's a respect for life thing. Or a respect for creature - it was a stink bug. Apparently, they're back.

Have a lovely weekend! It's beautiful, if quite windy, out there.


Food versus Food: Enchiladas Guest Blog

Hello! Here is a Food Versus Food from me, Jeff, a guest blogger for Mo. I write a few blogs myself, one that focuses on worldwide traveling that me and my wife do and one that focuses on triathlon and other endurance sports, Tri, Jeff, Tri!  Check them out! 

I went out and sampled some of my favorite foods, enchiladas, from three of Howard County's newer Mexican joints and here is how it all worked out...

Contender #1: Enchiladas de Mole Colorado at Azul 17

Azul 17 is a fairly new Mexican restaurant just off of Snowden River Parkway, near the Supreme Sports Club (9400 Snowden River Parkway).  They carry a huge range of tequilas and pride themselves on their high-end bar selection and artsy look. They also host salsa dancing lessons and contests in the evenings. :)

One of the selling points at Azul 17 is the made-to-order, tableside-prepared, guacamole. Here, when you order guacamole, they bring out a cart with all of the available ingredients on it, and then prepare the guacamole right there. This tastes amazing. Quite simply, the freshest guacamole you will ever have and it is delicious. 

After finishing, I ordered the Enchiladas de Mole Colorado, which are described as "three corn tortillas cooked with Oazacan red chili sauce rolled with shredded beef Barbacoa. Served with mole coloradito, shredded lettuce, queso fresco, and crema." I got mine without the creme, as I don't like creme on my meat-based dishes. The meal included three enchiladas and cost $14. 

The three shells were centered on the plate and surrounded with red chili sauce. Topping them was lettuce and crumbles of queso fresco. This resulted in a very good-looking meal that I wanted to dive right into. I had a picture of this but there were some technical difficulties and I couldn't get it saved. So, you will need to use your imagination. But trust me, it is a good looking meal that is presented very well.

The shells themselves were cooked perfectly, not crispy but not soggy or bland either, just like an enchilada should be. They were overstuffed with shredded beef. The barbacoa itself was not very spicy and relied on the mole mixing with the red chili sauce, which provided a good, strong, flavor that was not overpowering. I would have preferred spicier beef, but the red chili and mole combination made up for that. The queso fresco that was sprinkled on top was very creamy and tasted good, but there simply was not enough of it to add anything to the overall dish. The three enchilada portion was the perfect amount, considering I had eaten some guacamole previously; when done, I was stuffed.

I think this plate of enchiladas was very good. The meat was a little bland by itself but the red chili and mole combination provided a good, strong, flavor. This, the red chili and mole combination, was really the heart of the meal and makes this dish unique...and delicious. I would have preferred more cheese, as the minimal amount provided, while very tasty, did not add much to the meal simply due to its portion size. Overall, very tasty!

Contender #2: Ground Beef Enchiladas at El Hidalgo

El Hidalgo is a brand new "Tex-Mex Restaurant" in Elkridge with a pretty extensive menu that has some unique Mexican and Latin American options on it. It is located off of Marshalee Drive, in the same shopping center as Pazani Trattoria (6060 Marshalee Drive).

I got the guacamole here before my meal as well...while not prepared right then and there, it is very tasty and you get a very large portion for the price (if you're going to be eating a meal here, the small guac is more than enough for two people to share). I ordered the enchiladas with ground beef. This came with three enchiladas and they are topped with lettuce, queso, and cream (which, again, I did not get). Here, the meal comes with an order of Mexican rice, some refined beans, and some radish slices, and the whole plate costs $12.
Enchiladas with Ground Beef at El Hidalgo in Elkridge.

The dish is presented very well. The three shells are front-and-center on the plate, with queso on top and rice and beans off to each side. The radish slices are scatered on top and there is a orange slice that shows off the whole thing. Overall, this is a really cool presentation.

The shells were somewhat flaky, often separating into layers as I cut them with my fork. This, combined with the loose ground beef in the enchiladas, resulted in a somewhat messy eating experience (which, honestly, should be expected with enchiladas). The shells were full of very well-seasoned ground beef that was quite spicy and delicious...just like good Mexican-style ground beef should be. Under the shells was the red chili sauce (with just a bit cooked into the shells themselves) that was tasty and not too spicy...it actually could have been a little more spicy but the seasoning in the beef complemented it well, so that balances out. 

The cheese on top was not as creamy as most queso fresco that I have had is; it seemed more like it came from a block of solid, non-creamy, cheese that was shredded. However, once you put it in your mouth, it dissolved nicely and had a very rich and creamy flavor to it. There was also a good portion of cheese for the plate and this complemented the spicy flavor of the ground beef, and the flaky texture of the shells, very nicely. The portion size was good, but I did not eat the rice or the beans...the large guacamole that I split before eating this, and the three enchiladas themselves, did me in. With the rice and beans, you get a very full meal for the price.

Overall, this was a delicious meal. The ground beef was nice and spicy and the flakiness of the shells was good. The red chili could have been somewhat spicier, but that was complemented by the spicy beef, which worked out well. The cheese, while not as creamy as most, was quite good and you get a good portion of it. Overall, a good choice when you're looking for beef enchiladas!

Contender #3: Beef Enchiladas at El Nayar

What's this? A third contender? Did they just become food versus food versus food? Yep, it sure did! El Nayar is a restaurant in Elkridge with a fairly standard menu. It is located right off US1, just about a half mile from the intersection with MD100. It's next to the Subway in a two-restaurant strip-mall building (6790 Business Parkway, Elkridge).

Here, I ordered the Supreme Enchiladas. This was composed of four enchiladas with shredded barbacoa beef. The menu describes these as covered in a red Huajillo sauce and topped with sour creme and cheese. I ordered mine without the sour creme, as I still don't like the stuff. The plate came with a large portion of rice and refined beans, a good size scoop of guacamole, and a small (which is really not that small) salad. The salad was pretty basic but tasty, even with dressing that came in packets. This plate costs $14.

Supreme Enchiladas at El Nayar in Elkridge.

The presentation is pretty basic. The four shells are off to the side. The promised red Huajillo sauce was not apparent; the enchiladas were served dry but the shells looked like they had been cooked with some sort of red sauce. There was also no cheese to be seen (more on that in a bit). The plate looks like something you'd get at a run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant.

The shells were tasty and absolutely had been cooked with some sort of sauce. It was hard to narrow down the flavor but they were somewhat sweet, with cinnamon flavor. They did not fall apart very well with my fork and I had to cut them with a knife to eat them. The shells had both a small amount of barbacoa beef and some melted cheese in them. The smaller amount of meat and the cheese stuck together well and this results in clean bites once the shells were cut. 

The beef itself was not very spicy and the small amount of both beef and cheese, combined with the lack of sauce, resulted in some enchiladas that did not have too much flavor. The four small shells did leave me not as full as I would have liked. The guacamole provided with the plate was very good and tasted salty, which is a good trait for guac. Overall, these enchiladas needed more flavor; the lack of a sauce on them, combined with the small amount of meat inside, left me wanting more.

The Battle!

Let's compare the various aspects of these three dishes.

Shells -> The shells at Azul were perfect, the ones are El Hidalgo were very flaky, which is very good tasting but harder to eat, and the ones at El Nayar were sweet. Azul wins this one, hands down.

Meat -> The meat at Azul was plentiful but somewhat bland, El Hidalgo's was plentiful and very tasty with a wonderful spicy flavoring, and El Nayar's was very sparse and bland. El Hidalgo wins.

Sauce -> Azul's sauce was a good red chili sauce mixed with a delicious mole, El Hidalgo had a good red chili sauce, and El Nayar has no apparent sauce. Azul's combination wins hands down.

Meat + Sauce -> Meat and sauce are meant, in these dishes, to be eaten together. Let's go for a composite battle result. Azul's more bland beef with the red chili and mole was perfect...this is what I want when I get enchiladas. El Hidalgo's spicy meat with red chili was tasty, and Nayar's lack of a real sauce was a negative to the meal. Comparing the combos...Azul wins. Their combination of meat, red chili sauce, and mole, is delicious. It's the real deal.

Cheese -> Azul had excellent queso but not enough. El Hidalgo had queso that was good, but not quite as fresh-tasting as Azul, I you got more. El Nayar had a cheese mix melted and cooked into the enchiladas. This one is hard, but I'll give El Hidalgo the edge as their cheese was quite delicious and I got a really good portion.

Sides -> Here, El Nayar wins on value. With my plate, I got a lot of rice, beans, guacamole, and a salad. This is a lot of good food included in the price. Along different lines, Azul wins on quality and uniqueness. The guacamole appetizer, while not included in my meal, was awesome. I cannot stress how good this was.

Presentation -> Azul's was very nicely done, Hidalgo's was slightly more artistic and appetizer, and El Nayar's was somewhat basic. El Hidalgo wins.

Overall Winner -> So, which meal was the best? It was pretty close between Azul 17 and El Hidalgo. I would enjoy either meal from either of these anytime! El Nayar's meal was more basic, and would really benefit from a good sauce or mole, but I'd happily eat it again. The winner, in a close differential between first and second place, is Azul 17! Their awesome shells, combined with their unique and tasty combination of red chili and Colorado mole, makes for an amazing meal and the tableside guacamole is bonus points.

Thanks for reading! I hope you go and sample these dishes from all three local establishments. I'll be back to all three...and look forward to trying some tacos and other Mexican delicacies!


Thanks Jeff, for that great Food versus Food... versus Food! ;) What great reviews of three excellent spots in the HoCo (hocoblogs@@@).  Don't forget to check out Jeff's blogs, linked here and here.

Are you interested in guest posting a food versus food battle?  Want to wax poetic about your favorite eats, or come up with a reason to venture into new territory? Shoot me an email at swimwriterun at gmail dot com.



Where is your favorite spot for enchiladas? Do you have an opinion about the spots reviewed this week?  Leave a comment below!


Tapping the Kegs: The Sequel

So, I missed the HoCoBlogs party last night, although I did see Meghan afterwards and she said it was very fun! Where was I, you ask?

Well, when the date of the party was announced I had already committed myself to organizing a Happy Hour for the Metro Area Beer, Wine, and Spirits Meet-Up. They were a fun group. We went to Frisco Tap House - my first return since their soft opening in December. (hocoblogs@@@)

OH. And that happened to be the day that Frisco released Natty Boh on draft (it's been available in different bars in the area since the beginning of February, and Frisco was the last of a series of about a dozen keg-release/kick-off events).

OH. And I got to write about it. Columbia Patch let me write about beer! How cool is that!


End shameless self-promotion.

Now that's out of the way, I do have a few things to say related to my last post about Frisco.

The food at Frisco is just as awesome as ever. I <3 the Spicy Steak Samich, even if I had trouble saying it.

The bartenders at Frisco that night looked a bit overwhelmed - seriously the place was packed - and they still did an awesome job. I don't know how they kept it all straight.

I asked the owner about the crowd, and he just shrugged and said it was more than they expected, but that it happens. This is a good sign. I like Frisco, and I'm glad they're doing so well.

Parking was a small problem (I scored one of the last spots at 5:15), but not for the intrepid and determined willing to make a small hike.

Frisco had all 50 taps working, plus a cask (I'm not sure what was in it, and they may have had more). I got to see them tap the cask, that was cool. (Any time when one gets to use a hammer in the work place, it's usually cool.)  The beers tasted great - yes, I did try some "real" beer. Their beer selection always impresses me.

As for what I think of Natty Boh on draft... well, you can read about my sentimental connection to the beer - and about how things went down, on Columbia Patch!


The Art of Racing in the Rain

I read this book in about a day. I started at ten o'clock in the morning, and I finished about ten o'clock at night. "The Art of Racing In The Rain" by Garth Stein was the selection for my book club this month.

To be honest, I went a little too fast.  But I do want to say...

This book has the best hook I've ever read.

It's about an old dog - and if you have a dog, you're probably going to experience the same. Within the first eight pages, I had tears in my eyes. Matt looked at me, looked at the book, and then shook his head. I actually had to put the book aside, take a few breaths, and calm down.

The next chapter was better. And because of that intense emotional connection, I was sunk. I had to know what was going to happen. I cared about the characters and I hated those that wronged them with palpable fury. It didn't hurt that the narrator (Enzo the dog) peppered the narrative with soul-piercing tru-isms that ring especially true with my experience from the last few years.

Here are a few that made me stop and mark the corner (because I do that. Only in books I own, I promise.)
"Such a simple concept, yet so true: that which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves." 

"These are the things that only dogs and women understand because we tap into pain directly, we connect to pain directly from its source, and so it is at once brilliant and brutal and clear, like white-hot metal spraying out of a fire hose, we can appreciate the aesthetic while taking the worst of it straight in the face. Men, on the other hand, are all filters and deflectors and time release. For men, it's like athlete's foot: spray a special spray on it, they say, and it goes away. They have no idea that the manifestation of their affliction - the fungus between their hairy toes - is merely a symptom, an indication of a systemic problem."

""Inside each of us resides the truth," I began, "the absolute truth. But sometimes the truth is hidden in a hall of mirrors. Sometimes we are viewing a facsimile, a distortion. I am reminded of the climactic scene of a James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun. James bond escaped his hall of mirrors by breaking the glass, shattering the illusions, until only the true villain stood before him. We, too, must shatter the mirrors. We must look into ourselves and root out the distortions until that thing which we know in our hearts is perfect and true, stands before us. Only then will justice be served.""

"I know this much about racing in the rain. I know it is about balance. It is about anticipation and patience. I know all of the driving skills that are necessary for one to be successful in the rain. But racing in the rain is also about the mind! It is about owning one's own body. About believing that one's car is merely an extension of one's body. About believing the track is an extension of the car, and the rain is an extension of the track, and the sky is an extension of the rain. It is about believing that you are not you; you are everything. And everything is you."

The Art of Racing In The Rain follows the drama of a family following loss as seen through the eyes of the family dog. I'm not sure if it was the narrator, the fact that I was immediately invested, emotionally, in the story, or just that it was a compelling tale. What I enjoyed most about this book is how Stein made me intensely love the characters I was supposed to love, and how I hated the villains. I was enthralled.

Also, it was fun to see a non-conventional narrator at work. Stein addresses this. Enzo (the dog) is upfront about his humanness - it's central to the book, and brought up in the first few pages. But at the same time, he manages to color Enzo's narrative - the details noticed, the perceptions, etc - with an interesting perspective that was very believable, in our dogs at least.

I highly, highly recommend this book.

What are you reading this week? Have you read The Art of Racing In The Rain? Tell me in the comments below!


HoCo Blogger Party!

I've been really neglectful in posting about this... :\  Tomorrow (Wednesday) evening is the next HoCo Blogger party! If you blog in the HoCo - or if you read blogs from the HoCo (hint... if you're reading this, you do) you should definitely go hang out with some wonderful people at Ram's Head in Savage Mill. (hocoblogs@@@)

Unfortunately I won't be able to make it due to a previous commitment (later post) - BUT I did go to the last event, and it was a lot of fun! Everyone was very friendly, and it was great to put faces to names (or screen names, whichever the case may be).

You can check out the details and RSVP at the event site.  This month's event is being hosted by Thursday Bram, Jefita (aka Amy), and Jen, all of who write wonderful blogs!  

Date Night

"There are three possible parts to a date, of which at least two must be offered: entertainment, food, and affection. It is customary to begin a series of dates with a great deal of entertainment, a moderate amount of food, and the merest suggestion of affection. As the amount of affection increases, the entertainment can be reduced proportionately. When the affection IS the entertainment, we no longer call it dating. Under no circumstances can the food be omitted." --Judith Martin, "Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Freshly Updated"

This year, for Valentine's day, we decided to forgo the usual plans - things we'd done in years past, which typically involved going to a new restaurant, dinner with another couple, etc. I'm not sure who suggested that we just do dinner at home, but it was a good idea. We made our favorite foods.

It was nice to have an evening in.

90 minute Ceviche - based on Mark Bittman's Mock Ceviche

I made something like this for Christmas Eve and it was great. Just the other night we'd watched Anthony Bourdain scarf down ceviche in Ecuador and I got the craving again... so when I saw Frank's had scallops and shrimp, I decided to go for it - I wanted the fresh taste of seafood and the sharp tang of citrus.

This really could serve 4-6 people. Yeah... we ate it all. >.>

  • 1/2 pound shrimp
  • 1/2 pound scallops
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 roma tomato, seeded, finely chopped
  • 3 limes, juiced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1-2 pinches red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 pinches salt
  • handful flat leaf parsley, chopped roughly
  • 2-3 spring onions (green only) finely sliced
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and lightly salt. Ready a bowl of ice water beside it. Plunge the shrimp in the boiling water for 2 minutes, then transfer to ice water. Repeat with scallops, ~90 seconds. Adjust time based on size - seafood should be undercooked*, will cook in the citrus. 
  2. Peel and devein shrimp (slice in half if more than 30 ct.). Slice scallops into uniform pieces. If you remember, toss with a splash of EVOO. I forgot. No harm.
  3. In a non-reactive bowl, combine lime and lemon juice, shallot, tomato, pepper flakes, and salt. Add seafood and mix. Refrigerate, stirring every 15 minutes or so, for 60 minutes.
  4. Add parsley, spring onion. Marinate another 30 minutes. 
  5. Taste, adjust seasoning.
  6. Divide among chilled glasses, drizzle with a little marinade, and serve.
Ceviche with incredibly fresh seafood from Frank's.

Soy-Ginger Mussels

This is sort of an amalgam of recipes - I wandered google for a while and didn't find one I really liked. But it is most closely based on this one.

I think of mussels as our special dinner - they're fresh, inexpensive, and very easy to make. This was a departure from the normal way I make them, but it was with flavors we use a lot - and it worked really well. This would still be good with bread. I also liked spooning the sauce into the half-shell and slurping it with the mussel. It would be awesome spooned over a bed of rice. This was... really, really good.

If you need help on how to clean mussels, watch the video here**.
I liked this wine way more
than I thought I would.

  • 2 lbs mussels, sorted, scrubbed and de-bearded
  • a few squirts of canola oil
  • a splash of toasted sesame oil
  • a bunch of spring onions, most chopped in 2" pieces - thinly slice 1-2 onions, green part only
  • 1-2 T grated ginger
  • 1-2 T mashed garlic (finely mince/grind with a few pinches of salt)
  • 1/4 c soy sauce, reduced sodium
  • 1 c wine
  • 1 splash fish sauce
  • ~1 c water
  • 2-3 T butter (unsalted)
  1. heat the oils in a vessel large enough to cook the mussels; when hot, add the spring onion and cook 3-4 minutes, until soft and browning slightly
  2. add ginger and garlic and cook for ~60 seconds (adjust amount, time to taste)
  3. add white wine (I used sauvignon blanc), soy sauce, and fish sauce. Bring to a boil, boil for ~5 minutes.
  4. don't forget to pour yourself a glass of wine!
  5. add 1 cup of water, return to a boil, then add the mussels. Stir and then clap the lid on the pot for four minutes.
  6. Remove the lid and pull out opened mussels to a large bowl; discard any mussels that don't open within another minute or two.
  7. Boil the remaining liquid for another 2-3 minutes (reducing by about a third). Add the butter, and stir/swirl it in as the liquid boils. This is really important - adding the fat to the boiling liquid changes it, almost makes it look shiny.
  8. Pour the broth over the mussels, garnish with thinly sliced spring onion and parsley. 
Before butter.
After butter. Can you SEE it?!?! 
(Final swirl of the pan)

This was a freakin' awesome bag of mussels. 

As if that wasn't enough food.... we still had:

Taco Rice

Believe it or not, this is a real thing.

I used to tease Matt about this, but I don't anymore (much). It reminds him of Okinawa. And... it's pretty tasty. I could eat sushi rice by the pound, and the addition of taco meat and cheese? It's good. Trust me.

You need...

  • Ground meat of choice (beef or turkey - but don't go for the lean turkey here, you don't want it to be dry)
  • Taco seasoning packet
  • Water (per seasoning packet instructions)
  • Shredded Cheese
  • Sushi Rice
  • Secret Fixins***
  1. Make the sushi rice
  2. Cook the meat according to the instructions on the packet. Jab at it while it simmers to break it into a really fine ground.
  3. Spread the sushi rice into the vessel of your choice (ours is a small oblong pyrex glass dish)
  4. Top with taco meat, then cheese. Let the cheese melt.
  5. Serve with tabasco.
"Purist" taco rice.

"Abomination" taco rice.

In the end, it's more than just food (a lot of food). It's about showing people that you care through food, about bringing them in to an experience with you. This is what I love about food, and cooking, no matter who it's for. 

*   Yes, I know ceviche should start with raw fish. If you have +90 minutes, go nuts. I like to marinate mine 6+ hours (no more than 24), but I decided to make it sorta last minute.

**  Broken mussels go with the territory, don't be afraid to toss them. I dump the bag into a bowl, and then scrub/debeard, placing the cleaned ones in a colander. When I'm done, I give them a final rinse, and then keep them in the colander beneath ice until ready to use. If there are some that are open, tap them, set them aside, and check them when you've gone through the others. If they're not closed by then, toss. Usually you see them tighten/close up, which is pretty cool. Don't forget to thank them for being a delicious dinner.

*** Secret fixins include salsa, chopped tomato, cucumber, and lettuce. Shh, don't tell.

What do you cook for the people you care about - or at least, mostly sorta like? :)  Tell me in the comments below!