Thursday, November 13, 2014

Want: Bulls Bay OYRO

Garden and Gun just announced the winners of their 5th annual Made in the South Awards and, as usual, I am drooling. Especially over this:

It's the Bulls Bay OYRO, a wood-fired oyster cooker designed and built by a man named Oliver Thames who lives in McClellanville, South Carolina. And it is amazing.

As soon as I saw it, I emailed my family. Oysters are, after all, the food that connects us most.

From the time we were little kids, stealing my dad's smoked oysters wrapped in bacon, my brother and sister and I have thought of oysters as the best kind of family treat.

We have them at nearly every family event (during the "R" months, even though, yes, we know that's no longer an issue). We eat them raw, grilled, roasted, plain, or topped with our special family recipe.

For my dad's 50th birthday, my mom threw him an oyster roast at their neighborhood beach. The beach has a bunch of big stone grills - they used those to cook the oysters, while we all stood around slightly shivering (it was March) and loving it.

Basically, oysters are the Waskoms favorite food. I mean, we love crabs, too, but oysters? They belong to us.

Which is why, as my sister mentioned, it is absolutely crazy that Cooper and I don't already have an oyster cooker in our backyard. It doesn't have to be the Bulls Bay cooker...though I wouldn't say no to that kind of gift. But even something more haphazard, something homemade.

I think it's the right thing for us to do.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Parties of Yesteryear

Adorable illustration of glasses for different bevvies. 
I'm working on something - a short article - that has me pulling out all the vintage cookbooks I've collected over the past few years.

I keep them stacked upstairs in my office. They're out of my usual line of sight, so sometimes I even forget they're there. Until I need some historical perspective on something...then I go digging. And that's when I remember, all over again, how totally entertaining and awesome old cookbooks can be.

For this project, I'm looking at recipes for winter cocktails (I know - some days it's hard to be me). In the search, I pulled out a big binder of a book called the Look and Cook Cook Book. It was written by Lillian Langseth-Christensen and Tatiana McKenna and was published by Brown and Bigelow in 1956. I picked it up a few years ago from Etsy, on the recommendation of my old friend Tracy.

The book is pretty comprehensive, including a wide variety of recipes plus several sections dedicated to menu planning, party-throwing and general fabulousness. I love this bit about menu planning:

We live in an era of scant clothing and great diet consciousness. [Ed note: You ladies hadn't seen anything yet!] There are no vast skirts or flared coats under which the results of too much roast goose can be hidden. Our entire eating habits and thus the making of Menus, must be adapted to giving nourishment, health an all the pleasures of eating, without the penalty of a roll about the waist.

And this, about planning a cocktail party:

The frequent answer to this question is...ask everyone you know, make some spreads and dunks, and have something in the refrigerator for the people (they are no longer friends at this point) who will not go home. Then fall exhausted into bed; and never, never give another Cocktail party - for at least a week.

Pure hilarity.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

This is a cocktail menu:

It's the menu at the Beaufort Bar, which is in the Savoy hotel in London.
The menu was, apparently, conceived by the bar's head bartender, Chris Moore.
Each drink is described both in words and via illustrated pop-up.
How amazing and gorgeous is that?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Restaurant Revisits

This fall, we've found ourselves revisiting a lot of restaurants that we went to, first, to review.

The end result? A bunch of good meals and crappy pictures. Here's the rundown:

In mid-September, the night before my mom's birthday, we were in Annapolis, so we went to VIN 909 with our friends Suzanne and Clancy.

VIN 909 was one of the first restaurants Cooper and I reviewed for The Sun; we liked it a lot. The wine is interesting and pizzas and small plates were very good.

The same was true the second time around. The wait, I will admit, was crazy long (Suzanne and I left the boys at the restaurant, went to the HERE opening party, then came back, so we were efficient.) But the food was worth it. Among other things, we loved the foie and peach pizza, summery clams, and a simple but delicious crab roll.

The following week, we grabbed a quick pre-back to school night dinner at Villagio Cafe, another spot we liked very much the first time around. The people behind the restaurant made me love them even more, too, when they sent me a thank you note following my review! They took the gentle criticisms I did include to heart and made some changes, too (no more plastic silverware). I was both flattered and impressed - thank you notes are just the best.

We were in a bit of a hurry, so we kept dinner simple - just kabobs - but they were really good. Not that that's a surprise.

A couple weeks later, we had a big day. That night, one of the guys who works with Cooper was getting married so, in the morning, we dropped Dixon off at Cooper's parents and headed over to CVP for lunch.

When we reviewed CVP, it had just reopened after a devastating fire, followed by a complete renovation. Having been there before the fire, we were pretty amazed by how great the place looked - and by how genuinely good the food was. Bar food, but still, good bar food.

Our main complaints, during that visit, were the service (slooooow) and the major f-bombs dropped, via music, at 7 p.m., long before the crowd was all old enough to handle the language.

This time around, we were there before noon...and the music was still a little suspect. But the burgers were good, as were the black and bleu chips (housemade Old Bay chips topped with blue cheese). And, since we a) sat at the bar and b) were the only people there, the service was good, too.

We've actually been back to CVP a few times since that first review...and it's consistent.

That night, just before the wedding, we stopped in at Facci for a quick drink (we were early). The restaurant looks great, as ever, and the staff was super friendly. We didn't eat...but if we had, I'm sure the meal would've been as good as it was the first time we went. When it was very good.

Then we went to the wedding, which was lovely, and we headed back home. As we walked to the car, we got a text from Alicia and Mike, who were on their way home from a different wedding. "We're going to Ryan's Daughter," they said. "Meet us there."

Then this happened:


"Upping our Irishness." That's what Alicia calls it, anyway. Good times. Funny stuff.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Peak Food

This New Yorker article, by British writer John Lanchester, is so good. It's personal and thoughtful and - most importantly for me - touches on something I find myself thinking about a lot. That something is the way food culture has saturated every other part of culture.

It's not a new subject - I blogged about my own fatigue with "foodie" culture way back in 2007. Reading that post, in retrospect, is interesting - especially since at that point, I was just starting to dip my toe in the game of for-real food journalism. And because in 2007, the overwhelming "everyone's a critic" movement was in its infancy.

Fortunately, seven years ago, when I was wondering if I was over food...well, I wasn't. And that's because, of course, food, as a subject, is full of depth. I love this quote from Lanchester:
The apparent silliness and superficiality of food fashions and trends touches on something deep: our ability to choose who we want to be.
I'd go further, of course. Lanchester talks a lot about what food used to be (where we come from) and what it is now (where we're going) - and I agree with him. I think he's correct, both on a personal and societal level. When I write about restaurants, I'm also writing about Baltimore, and cities in general. Now, when I sit down to write a review, I'm not so full of myself (usually?) that I think in grandiose terms. I'm more like "what do people want to know about the service." But underneath all that, especially looking across articles, over time, there's more.

But, as Lanchester points out, food is, ultimately, just food. I love this:
Imagine that you die and go to Heaven and stand in front of a jury made up of Thomas Jefferson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Your task would be to compose yourself, look them in the eye, and say, “I was all about fresh, local, and seasonal.”
That made me nod and also laugh a little.

Anyway, read the article. It's so worth the couple minutes it'll take.

P.S. The title of this post comes from the article. Lanchester notes that he thought that culturally, we'd reached "peak food" way back in the mid-90s. He was, as he notes, wrong.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Chesapeake Reads

I always get a little thrill when I read something about the Chesapeake Bay - or someplace Bay-adjacent - in the national press. This month has been a good one for that.

First, in the November issue of Food and Wine, there's a solid article about Bay oysters and the Croxton family's work, through their family business, Rappahannock Oyster Company, to revitalize the local oyster industry. The article's not online yet, which is a shame - it's good, though I had a couple quibbles.

The article does makes it sound like the Croxtons are solely responsible for the resurgence; while they are important figures, that gives short shrift to other players. Also, there's no mention of Maryland in the article - ah, clearly an oversight? We have oysters, too! And, finally, there's a rockfish recipe included but no notes indicating that Bay rockfish are stripers in other parts of the country. That gets confusing for some people.

******

A couple articles in the most recent Garden and Gun also caught my attention. I loved reading about the Leakes, a father and son team in South Carolina, who build custom cellarets, which are like little wooden bar boxes on legs.

The cellarets are gorgeous - and have Chesapeake roots themselves. The designs the Leakes recreate were originally popular during the 18th century, especially on the coast, from Maryland down through the Carolinas.

Right now, we divide our booze between an antique sugar chest (upstairs) and the wine cellar (downstairs). Oh, and the freezers (upstairs and downstairs). But I would happily make room for a cellaret, as well. It's about history, after all.

*****

The same issue of G and G spotlights Jim Banagan, a St. Mary's County native who's spent his life collecting oyster cans. He's in his eighties now and his collection is upwards of three thousand cans - and he continues to buy and sell (he's also branched out in clam cans).

I love old oyster cans partly because they look cool - Harris Crab House does a great job decorating with them - and partly because they're a prop that illustrates a big chunk of the history of Maryland. The article does a nice job summarizing the way oysters and canning intersected here - it's succinct and informative.

And Jim Banagan? He just seems like a good guy. With a great collection.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Trendy: Sidewinder Fries (with a side of Fieri sauce)

In Canton, Silks is doing it.

Downtown, Guy Fieri also does it.

What more could you want?

As a side note, I think it's great that Richard Gorelick avoided the urge to lay down the snark - any snark, really - in his review of Guy Fieri's Baltimore Kitchen + Bar. He defends his choice to be sincere, saying"you'd have to have a heart of stone not to respond, on some level, to its good cheer and basic American enthusiasm."

I think this is the right approach. From a restaurant perspective, Fieri is such low-hanging fruit. I'll admit, I laughed when I read Pete Wells' NYT takedown of the Fieri's Times Square restaurant - but I also cringed. Pete Wells was clearly not the audience for that place and he knew it. He reviewed so he could mock.

Yes, as a public figure - especially one with such a very, very clearly branded image - Fieri opens himself up to mockery. I get that his public persona can be grating. But he means well - that much is obvious.

So I'm glad to hear he makes a good burger and trains a friendly, knowledgeable waitress. Annoying catchphrases or no, I'd rather see him succeed than fail. This is America, after all.

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