Sick Day

Well, today's a scheduled posting day, but... I got nuthin'. So today is brought to you by gummy-chew vitamins, cold relief medicine, and tissues. If I didn't have so much to do, I'd still be asleep.

Happy Tuesday, everyone.


Adventures in Chinatown (DC)

Well blog readers, it's a Food Versus Food bye-week, but that doesn't mean I'm leaving you with nothing. A few weeks ago I went to a conference in DC, which was pretty cool (minus the commute and the occasional SARS mask sighting). The topics were cutting edge, and I got to go to several talks completely outside of my field.

And I got to spend some time in Chinatown, just a few minutes' walk from the Walter E Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

In short, I got to eat.

Sure, I presented a poster. But let's get serious, the food was the highlight here.

Some of the cool features of Chintown:

I like the decorations...

A friend took me to lunch at Chinatown Express - there's a window in the front of the restaurant where you can see workers making hand-made noodles and dumplings. This place is definitely no-frills. It's packed, noisy, and has a $20 minimum charge so bring cash. 

And they serve up a fabulous plate of food for cheap. I got a noodle soup with chicken and vegetables, and made liberal use of a really excellent condiment made with ginger and scallion. And garlic slices packed in oil. That extremely filling lunch special ran $6.95 and came with hot tea.

Chinatown express.

Noodle-making in progress. I didn't take a picture of the actual soup.

Not sure if you can see the poultry (ducks?) through the glass...
but meat hanging in a window of a restaurant is something I typically consider a Good Sign.

Another day, I caught up with a friend and former coworker. We went to Matchbox Pizza. Some dude that one of my companions identified as "Top Chef" contestant was eating there at the same time. I refused to bother the guy during his meal.

Matchboxes set in the table play up the theme.

A pizza from Matchbox.

A freaking amazing bacon-blue-cheese burger with onion rings. 

Sadly, there were days where I was too busy to leave the conference center.

See this breakfast? $8. I kid you not. It wasn't even from Starbucks.
Sadly, because I was still working in Baltimore at nights, I needed coffee throughout. Badly.

Fortunately, delicious food was to be had on the cheap when I could get away. Like this lunch special at Mehak. (chicken tikka masala, lentils, some type of potato, basmati rice, raita, chutney/tamarind in the middle, and fresh Naan - $9).

Lunch special at Mehak.

And of course, I had to make one stop at Chop't for a delicious salad. This was the first time I've been there that hasn't been after a race (like the Army 10 miler, already in/near DC). Usually I'm salt-crusted and tired and hungry and ready to nap. This time, I took my time and read a book and enjoyed my salad. 

Here's their Palm Beach Shrimp salad, fine chopped, with pita chips added in. It comes with a side of tortilla. Chop't also sells soda made with cane sugar, not HFCS (though I still exercised moderation).

Palm Beach Shrimp salad + pita mix-in at Chop't.
It doesn't look like a lot of food, but it was surprisingly filling.

These were the places I found wandering around DC and based on recommendations from people who live and work there. How do you find food in new places?


The Reader's Dilemma

Not too long ago, I found myself in a book store. Book stores are happy places. They're also dangerous, because I usually leave with at least one book.

I left Daedalus with three.

All in all I was happy with my purchases. I spent about an hour browsing (seriously. I can kill time in a bookstore like nobody's business) and left with very different books.

The first, "Bluebird: a Novel, or, The Invention Of Happiness" was a pretty good historical fiction piece. I would call it a quick, enjoyable read. The ending kind of irritated me, but I think that's the clash of modern sensibilities versus the values that were more realistic to women at the time (the book takes place around the French Revolution, give or take a few decades at either end). 

I brought the remaining two books with me when I went away this past weekend, because I like to switch between nonfiction (linquistics book, upper right) and fiction (bottom).

I'll get to linguistics later. What I want to talk about here, today, is the novel - "Lipstick Jungle."

I bought this expecting something along the lines of "The Devil Wears Prada" which was actually a wonderful read, and was in novel-form far superior to the movie. What I got with Lipstick Jungle was something different.

Now, let me pause for a minute and explain. I will normally give a book 60 pages before I set it aside. More if I know the payoff is worthwhile. This is not an adversarial attitude. If I'm even remotely interested, I keep reading. 

I gave Lipstick Jungle 65.

I do want to say, I don't normally give negative reviews. If I don't like something, I usually just don't write about it. And I will also say that, even though I was in the mood to read "chick lit," the whole "Sex in the City" franchise (show/movie/etc) is not really my thing, which means the book was probably not meant for me anyway. Another reader might enjoy Lipstick Jungle (also an NBC series), and disagree with my assessment below.

The entire first 65 pages consisted of "strong on the surface but about to shatter" female protagonists, and men that were either potential sex objects or actively trying to keep a sistah down. A series of cracks about how hard it is to make it in a man's world littered the pages, but not even in a way that points to the truth - instead, the novel seemed to take a stereotype feminist line.

I did like how the author, Candace Bushnell, slowly ratcheted up the pressure on her characters so that we could see the cracks forming. There was a sense of foreboding, of the proverbial lipstick about to hit the fan. There was just one small problem.

None of the protagonists were sympathetic, or really even likable, to me in those first chapters, which meant I didn't really care if their lives turned upside down. At one point, one of the three protagonists offended me with a fairly racist thought (this would be a different story if that POV/perception were integral to the plot or character development, but all signs pointed to "No"). 

So why am I bothering to talk about Lipstick Jungle here?  And why did I give it an extra 5 pages over my normal limit?

Well, you see, there was one line.

One sentence that struck a chord. It created an awesome image. It was a great piece of dialogue. It actually gave me some ideas for working through an issue in my current novel.

I can't tell you that line word for word, because at page 65 I more or less threw Lipstick Jungle across the bedroom and left it there. To paraphrase, one of the characters was describing to a journalist what it's like to live a lie, and how doing so bruises the soul a little more each day.

So here's my dilemma.

Should I, as a reader, go back and give it a chance, based on that one line that stuck with me? Could there be more things along the way that I appreciate about the writing, or maybe even the story? Was I too quick to judge (especially since this is not a genre I typically read)?

I already know my answer. Now I'm curious about yours. What would you do? 


Where Am I? Wednesday

Somewhere in The HoCo (hocoblogs@@@)....

It's a beautiful morning... somewhere.... in Howard County.

Think you know the answer? Leave it in the comments below.


May Blogger Party!

Next Thursday, May 19th, is the May HoCoBlogs Party. If you live in Howard County (hocoblogs@@@) and you blog (or if you READ blogs like mine from the HoCo), you should definitely go.



There are stickers.

Blogger parties are extremely fun ways to put names and faces together. We're a friendly crowd (even when we're not hunched over our keyboards typing intently).

This month's blogger party is sponsored by the Howard County Library and Howard County General Hospital. I have blogged about HCGH "0" times, and the Libraries ">0" times -- however... HCGH offers outstanding, compassionate, professional care.  They're both awesome resources in our community and it's exciting that they're so interested in reaching out to that community through a platform like HoCoBlogs.

I hear there will be free food.

Finally, as if those reasons aren't enough, I will be there - and I will be having a drink to celebrate my PRE-WEDDING Anniversary! (the future Mr. SwimWriteRun may or may not be in attendance)

The HoCo Blogger Party is May 19, from 5:30p-7:30p at Union Jack's in Columbia.  You can RSVP here.


Happy Mother's Day!

My mother is an amazing lady.

She's raised 6 kids. Actually, more like "is raising" 6 kids, since she can't seem to shake some of us. (Hopefully she won't change the locks.)

She is a very good person and an excellent role model.

She is very smart.

She is an awesome cook.

She is thoughtful and patient.

She loves us no matter what (and there have been some serious "no matter whats").

When I look back at my childhood, I cannot think of a time when my mother was not there when I needed her.

I'll be lucky if I can be half as good a mother as she was.

Happy Mother's Day, to my Mom, my future mother-in-law Elaine, and all the other mothers I know!  You should get to wear a superhero cape (or at least the really awesome boots).  Thanks for all the amazing things that you do.


Food versus Food: Buffalo Chicken Challenge

You know the phrase, "better late than never"? It applies here. Food versus food returns!

I've already mentioned that I like wings. For this battle, I decided to pit two twists on the "buffalo chicken" combo. I suspect I should go into an analysis of the (surprisingly contested) history of "buffalo chicken," but I'm simply going to say the combination of hot sauce (+butter) and bleu cheese is excellent. So, like I did with each of the dishes below... I'm just going to dive in! (hocofood@@@)

Contender #1: Buffalo Bills calzone from Players Bar and Grill in Woodstock.

Players Bar and Grille is a fairly new restaurant in Woodstock (about a 20 minute drive from Columbia) - they just had their official "grand opening" last night. The restaurant (very sports-bar) is huge, with a nice enclosed patio and a big bar.  It was quiet the afternoon we stopped by, although I suspect business will pick up (I didn't realize how new it was). Players is located at 10795 Birmingham Way, Woodstock, MD.

A calzone might seem like an unorthodox treatment of buffalo chicken (or unorthodox for a sports bar, but Players seems to be a mash-up of sports bar and italian restaurant - we entered through a door that was (at that time) beneath and "Italian" sign. Plus, it reminded me of how plenty of foods can (and, dare I say it, should?) come in calzone form - something I learned ordering from DP Dough (aka, the American Calzone Company) in college.  Service was a little slow, but good, and the staff was friendly.

Buffalo Bills Calzone from Players Bar and Grill.
How does a buffalo chicken calzone work? Simple: Dough, buffalo chicken, and blue cheese. I asked for blue cheese dressing on the side, which didn't seem typical but was no problem. The calzone was $8.99.

First off, the meal was huge. I totally ate might have eaten all of it, but I was pretty hungry. The crust was excellent - crisp, flavorful, crunchy on the edges, and not at all tough. I really liked the sauce, too. There was a little bit of spice - enough to pleasantly contrast the cool dressing, but not so much that it burned my mouth or overwhelmed the crust. The chicken was tender and cut to bite-size pieces  which is pretty important to minimize filling-floppage when it comes to calzones.

Was I left wishing for more?  A little bit. I couldn't really taste the blue cheese in the calzone itself, except for in a few spots. I would have liked some mozzarella inside the calzone as well, to make it a little cheesier. Overall, though, this was a pretty delicious lunch, and could easily have been two meals for me.

Fortunately, my buffalo chicken craving was not quenched and I was able to handle....

Contender #2: Buffalo Chicken Club from Baldwin's Station in Sykesville.

To be fair, Baldwin's Station is not in the HoCo. It's right on the line between Howard and Carroll counties (about a 25 minute drive from Columbia). HOWEVER, from where we were sitting, I literally could have thrown my fork and hit Howard County (which would have been pretty rude, so I did not) - I've decided it's eligible for FvF.

Baldwin's Station is a cute restaurant with indoor and outdoor (covered patio) seating, converted from a train station on the CSX railway that was built in 1883. Trains still go by, which is a cool feature (if a little loud, for 30 seconds or so). Baldwin's has an upscale feel with excellent service and reasonable prices (especially for lunch).

Buffalo Chicken Club at Baldwin's Station.
Skimming the menu, I saw the buffalo chicken club sandwich - served with House-made chips for $8.95. Yes, please!

I really liked this sandwich. The bread was all toasty from the grill, which added to flavor and gave it a nice crunch.  Plus, the default was wheat bread, so it felt healthy and was quite tasty. There was a (perhaps too) generous slather of mayo, avocado, fresh tomato slices, lettuce, and fried chicken that had been coated in buffalo sauce.

There was also supposed to be bacon, but I don't actually remember seeing bacon as I was eating. Normally this would be a HUGE fail, but the chicken had an incredible amount of crunch and flavor. So the bacon might have been there, just in hiding. Either way, if it wasn't, I didn't miss it. 

And though I've already mentioned it, I'll say it again - the crunch of the chicken was amazing - I'm not sure how the chef got it to stay as crispy after the sauce went on, but it was great.  The sauce itself had a pleasant kick, especially when contrasted with the avocado and mayo, but was definitely not even close to too-spicy. The house-made chips were also delicious, crunchy, salty, and slightly warm.

The Decision: Both restaurants were entirely new to me, and both meals were quite good. Still, in my mind, there was a clear winner - Baldwin's Station. Despite my nostalgic love for all things calzone, Baldwin's put together a killer sandwich at a great price, and delivered with excellent service. I'll definitely order their Buffalo Chicken Club again (and next time, if I can keep my mind on anything other than 'OMG TASTY,' I might even check for the phantom bacon.

Somewhat Random Disclosure: I will be marrying Matt (aka, the future Mr. SwimWriteRun) at Baldwin's Station in 2012, so I obviously really like it; however, that decision was made after the results for this FvF battle were decided.


"IT" and Actually-Scary Tales.

Horror movies - most of them - don't really frighten me.

They're gross, don't get me wrong. Most are filled with gratuitous violencebizarre and disappointing monsters, (largely) annoying characters, and trying-too-hard-for-jump-in-the-seat moments. Or at least, that's what they feel like when I watch the average horror flick. 

No, what scares the bejeezus out of me is the subtle creepy things. The things that seem like they could, actually, almost be real. 

This is why I liked "Under The Dome", Stephen King's latest novel, despite the last few chapters - I won't explain further, because I don't want to spoil anything. 

It's the suspense. The shadow of things that seem like they could be real (even when I know, on some level, that they're not). It's a delicious kind of fear, like crossing my arms and letting myself fall backwards into a shadow - part reality, and part surreal.

So, knowing (and maybe, if you're like me, understanding) this, imagine: it's dark outside - the sun has gone down, it's maybe 9pm. The house is quiet. You're reading a book. You look up from the page, frown, and listen. You hear music.

The piped, clown-tastic music that comes from an ice cream truck.

You look out the window. Darkness. Quiet. And then the music again, a phantom ice cream truck cruising the neighborhood - never seen, but on the prowl - in the middle of the night (or close enough).

A little creepy?

Um. Yeah.

Which is why when I finally saw the truck, after weeks of NOT seeing the truck, I had to pull over and take a picture. Before I started snapping away, I wondered what he thought of this weird woman taking flash photos of his truck.

And then I realized he's been trying to sell ice cream at 9pm. In April. This is actually really creepy from an I-would-never-let-a-child-near-this-van perspective, even if you don't believe in "scary" things. So I decided I didn't care.

Thus, I give you: The Elkridge Creeper Ice Cream Man (or, to be fair since I couldn't see inside, Woman)

Proof I'm not just hearing Ice Cream Truck music in my head.
This was actually still creepy after I saw the truck. I hurried home.

At least it wasn't Pennywise.



Well, hello there blog-fans.

I've been gone, I know. I'm sorry. SEE, what had HAPPENED was....

I got crazy busy. 

So here's what you (I? We?) missed:

1)  A to Z blogging challenge.  Sadly, as you can probably see, I didn't make it past "O" - for a couple of reasons, and not for failing to have anything to say about P-Z.  I think this challenge would have worked better if I'd taken March to write the posts, take pictures, and do them the way I wanted to. I didn't, and I'm not as organized as the awesome people who do manage to post every day. The result? Throwing together a half-way attempt that really... 

well... wasn't fun. 

And if it's not fun, what's the point?

I do, however, still have notes for P-Z.  They'll show up.  Probably when you LEAST suspect it.

2)  Food versus Food.  Tune in Friday. This should be a good one.

3)  2012 or Bust.  School's gotten busy.  I'm hoping to defend my thesis in the winter. I'll see what my committee says about that in a few weeks.  Hopefully not laughter.  Stay tuned. I predict that this will probably turn me into a hot mess over the next 9 months, but don't worry. If you happen to notice a twitch, try not to stare. Just buy me a cold one and remind me it will all be over soon.

4)  BLOGS - I missed you!  I now have some blog-reading time set aside and I'm slowly catching up (well... trying...)

5)  Philadelphia - I'm going. In 2.5 weeks. Staying on Broad Street. What should I do?  (I might,... have already scoped out restaurants... #priorities)

6)  Rock fish season has opened.  Matt went out fishing with our friend Bill and they snagged two gorgeous fish. The result? Pan-roasted rockfish.

That's right.


Pan Roasted Maryland Rock Fish

Method (hocofood@@@): 

Turn oven to 400dF. 

Clean fish, cut filets (we went about 6-8oz pieces), pat dry. Remove pin bones. Season with salt and pepper. 

Heat a few glugs of vegetable oil in a skillet that can go into the oven (medium to medium high heat). When the oil starts to shimmer, lay the filets in (splatter screens are good here). Take this opportunity to check if you seasoned both sides of the fish. No? Make it so.

Now, here's the important part. DO. NOT. TOUCH.  Let the fish cook for 4-6 minutes. Don't be afraid of the heat. Don't scoot the fish around.
Sorry, it was so good I didn't take the photo
until after I'd already dug in. SO tasty.

Flip. Your fish has achieved golden crunchy awesomeness. Put the whole pan into the oven.

Roast at 400 degrees until done (this will depend on the thickness of your filets and your degree of desired doneness). 

I served our fish (caught a mere 12 hours before) with basmati rice, green beans with salt, pepper, and butter, and a puree made from leftover sweet potatoes (seasoned with nutmeg, salt, smoked paprika, then blended with hot water, sour cream, and a little butter).