Friday, September 16, 2016

Crabby

Clockwise from top right: Pool crabs from Conrad's; aftermath of crabs in Delaware; XLs from Seaside; Cail helping Erin put up her hair after her hands are messy, while my dad focuses on picking; Missy's birthday crabs at Higgins in OC; the claw meat salad I made, which wasn't as good as Clementine's, but was still pretty good

Did you read Bill Addison's  love letter to Maryland crabs, published on Eater yesterday? It's excellent - the kind of article that could only be written by a Maryland native - and really, maybe only by a Maryland native who has spent years away from his home state.

(Side note shoutout to City Paper writer/NASA engineer/all-around good guy Ryan Detter for killing it as Addison's co-pilot.)

The article dropped during what feels like the end, but is really the middle, of one of the best crab seasons of my adult life. The Bay is healthier, this year, than it has been in years, the crab yield is up and those crabs are good.

We got a semi-late start on crabs this year, since we were away for most of June. But once we got started, we didn't stop.

We had crabs from Conrad's at the pool. Crabs for Missy's birthday at Higgins North in Ocean City. Crabs from a spot in Ocean View at Jeff and Christine's house in Delaware. Winston's claw meat and fennel salad during an awesome dinner at Star Bright Farm (and my own version at home, a couple days later). And crabs from Seaside at my parent's house, with my whole family.

This, of course, doesn't even include all the crab cakes I've eaten in that time.

Every crab I've eaten this year has been really good, too. It's hard to pick a favorite batch, but if pressed,I'd give that award to the ones from Seaside. They were huge, heavy and just really great all around. Plus, we ate them on a Saturday afternoon on my parents' screened in porch, after sailing trip up and down the Severn and swimming at my parents' beach. Start to finish, that day was pretty close to perfect. (More wind would've made it better, but you can't change the weather. And we never have any wind when I'm on the boat.)

That's the thing about crabs. They're so social and for people from Maryland, eating crabs is so often infused with all sorts of blurry memories from childhood and adolescence.

I've seen a lot of people joke this year that when you're from Maryland, crab pictures on Instagram or Facebook get about as many likes as, say, pictures of newborn babies. It's funny because it's true. And to me, it totally makes sense.

I don't remember my first crab - I was very young - and we ate crabs all the time when I was a kid and a teenager, so my memories sort of blend together. But they are, overwhelmingly, good ones.

When you have all sorts of memories and they mesh together, all hazy but happy, isn't that the best? Yes, yes it is. Especially when they're covered in Old Bay.

(This is a long way of saying you should read that Eater article. It's good.)

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Blog Birthday Retrospective

My mom made me this angel food cake for Mother's Day, but
it's the cake I always had for my birthday as a kid. So it seems
fitting for today...even if it's the blog's birthday, not mine.
Happy blog birthday to ME! Today is the 11th anniversary of my first post here on Mango & Ginger.

I will be celebrating this evening with dinner at Parts & Labor and I have spent a little time today reminiscing with myself about everything I've learned and all the opportunities I've had over the past decade-plus-one thanks to this blog.

In case you don't have time to go back and actually read the thousands of posts in the blog, here's a quick recap of some of the highlights of each year. Navel-gazing, yes. But it's my blog birthday - if I can't do this today, when can I do it?

2005: In the last few months of 2005, I wrote a lot. I posted crappy food pictures and basic recipes. Wrote about excursions I took (Paris! NYC!). And babbled about how food fits into our lives. It's two of those posts (one, two), both about fashion and food, that I love most from that year. They're so typical of how I was thinking about food back then. Back then, when I was only 29!! I was a baby!

2006: Less than a year into this blog, my posting fell way, way off. Because I was pregnant...and then because I had a little baby. But looking back, what I did write was pretty interesting (to me, anyway). I got into art and food and Harry Potter and food (way before the books were over!) and the importance of regionalism in food (a subject I've revisited often). Also, apparently 2006 is the year I learned that scrapple is a regional food. I thought that was just something I always knew! Apparently not!

2007: Blogging was light again in 2007, as I juggled work, tiny baby Dixon and a massive home renovation, including a brand new kitchen. But when I did write, I was all kinds of philosophical. This is the year I started getting interested in happiness research and began exploring how happiness relates to food. Nine years on, that's still one of my favorite subjects. It's also when I started getting bored with "foodie" culture, which is also, something that has persisted.

2008: In 2008, I made a commitment to myself to post every weekday. And I did. Sometimes more than once. I wrote a lot. Not always strictly about food - there was a lot of "other stuff I love" that year, mostly about art or design. I wrote a lot that year about pop culture and celebrity chef/TV chef culture (something I am not really interested in at all anymore), but it's also when I really started to think about the food scene here in Baltimore and I started casually reviewing restaurants (here on the blog). Also that year: I started drinking rose, I learned a ton about food and I made less money working than any other year since I started freelancing. I think those things are all related.

2009: In 2009, I was writing for Houzz, so a lot of my posts here ended up being about dining rooms and tables. That year, I also started writing for Deep Glamour, so I was looking at pretty much everything through the lens of glamour, which is really a very interesting way to view the world. But if I had to pick one theme for the blog that year, it would be parties. I wrote so much about parties and drinks and wine. Still, obviously, some of my favorite topics.

2010: Looking back, 2010 was a banner year. Parties, cocktails and decor remained top blog themes, with a splash of fashion thrown in. This was also the year I really started to get into vintage cookbooks, which I still love. Our friends hit a lot of major milestones (Kyle and Mary got married, Mike and Alicia's daughter Maggie was born, Alicia and Dixon collaborated on their first birthday cake, the entire Kelly family threw the first major throwdown.) We started to go to Dogwood wine dinners. It's also the year that I "met," via the old Elizabeth Large blog on the Sun website, the son of my parents' favorite waiter ever. Around that time, I started to really understand my family's food and restaurant culture. When I first started blogging, I didn't think we had one. I was wrong. Very wrong, in fact. We had/have a fairly strong culture, really, all built around the Chesapeake, restaurant dining and casual parties. And I'm pretty lucky for that.

2011: Two big - really big - things happened to our family in 2011. First, we got a smoker. That was a game-changer. And second, I got a phone call from Sam Sessa, asking me to write a "cheap eats" piece for the Sun's Weekend LIVE section. Then I got another call from him asking me to review a restaurant. Next thing you know, I spent the next four years - until last fall - reviewing. Again, big.

2012: My New Year's resolution in 2012 was, "More mascara, more parties." And wow, did I stick to that. I'm happy to report that I'm still in the habit of wearing  mascara when I leave the house (it keeps me from looking like a corpse). But really, it was the party thing that I most successfully fulfilled. We had so many parties that year, I can't even count them all. And when we weren't having parties, I was experimenting with cocktails. I tested a lot of recipes that year, too. And I gave a talk about food and art at the BMA. Also, this is also when we probably reached Peak Southern Cuisine. But really, when I think back on 2012, I think of the parties. Man, that year was fun.

2013: My sister got married in 2013 and we, once again, went to or hosted a ton of parties. That year, we also had a fun wine-tasting trip to Keuka Lake, spent a weekend eating our way through Manhattan, and hosted one of my very favorite Pollard house dinners ever, celebrating Kyle and Mary's third wedding anniversary. I got to write a series about crabs for the Sun and, as a result, I spent a whole lot of time thinking about my personal culinary roots, continuing the train of thought that began in 2010. So we did a lot in 2013 and I was very busy. Maybe that's why the blog doesn't seem to have one overarching theme. I was constantly trying to play catch-up and trying to remember to record the stuff I was doing in my real life.

2014: In 2014, I semi-fixed the "forgetting to post it" problem from 2013, by writing a ton of summary posts rounding up stuff I'd done over the previous week or month. It was a solid year, including a short but killer trip to Paris, our tenth wedding anniversary, our first fundraising Fake St. Patrick's Day party, and an unbelievably wild Mock Thanksgiving party (our 12th). It's also the year I first learned about how Baltimore's chefs work together to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and when I started to get really excited about the way the city's chefs work together and the tight community they've formed. Have I mentioned that I love this city and the food people in it? I really do.

2015: In 2015, Cooper and I turned 40. As did many of our friends. Which means the year was pretty much one long party - there were these fall/winter trips and parties and this party in the snow and this trip to Philly to see Swifty and an Alicia-themed Keuka trip I didn't even blog about and these August parties and this wine tasting excursion and, finally, after everything else, our massive Clementine-catered blowout at Church & Company followed by a good old-fashioned McGarvey's meet-up and bar crawl. It was intense, to say the least.

2016: I started out this year with a desire to shine a light on all the cool things happening in and around Baltimore. Unfortunately, too much regular work has thrown me off my posting schedule and focus. But I have had some great experiences, including a vacation-filled summer that started at Keuka Lake, then took us to Ireland, Scotland, to the Delaware beaches and back to Keuka. (Not that I've written much about any of that!) Even with the travel, my favorite post of this year was something close to home - a roundup of what I learned from the Sun series I wrote about international grocery stores. And the year isn't over yet, of course.

Whew. It's been a good run, so far. In the moment, I always feel so busy, but when I look back, it's clear that though my to-do list might be long, it's stacked with incredible parties, memorable meals and event after event that puts me in contact with some of the greatest people around.

This little trip down memory lane has been a great reminder that I have wonderful friends, both in and out of the food world, and that I am lucky, lucky, lucky to have the opportunity to write about food, especially at this time and in this awesome, dynamic city.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Gifted


Cooper mentioned to me this morning that I have been on the receiving end of a whole lot of gifts lately. He's right.

For starters, last week, Alicia brought over a bunch of vintage cookbooks she got from Mike's family. They're amazing:


A whole cookbook dedicated to deviled ham recipes? SIGN ME UP. 

The Calvert Party Encyclopedia is also especially fabulous. It's mostly drink recipes, like the "One Exciting Night," which is a combo of gin, dry vermouth, sweet vermouth and OJ...and sounds like one hungover morning to me. 

It also has suggestions for party themes, some games, and a small section dedicated to party food, including delicacies like Bologna Boats: "Place American cheese on slices of bologna. Heat in broiler until bologna curls. Serve with crackers." Then watch your friends never, ever come to your house again.

The copywrite date on that book is 1964. Amazing.

Cooper has also surprised me with a gift or two, including a Wicomico County Board of Education Christmas cookbook from 1981 and this little treat, which he picked up at an auction:


Isn't she adorable? (It is a she, too. There's a lady apron.)

These are my favorite kind of gifts: things that are totally cool and that completely align with my interests...and that were complete surprises.

Thanks, Alicia and Cooper!!

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

To Read: Oysters, Bloodies, Bourbon

Just a few of the oysters we ate in Ireland.
Busy times chez Pollard - the combination of work and no school tends to  make things hectic around these parts. Hence, no post last week.

I have been doing some reading and writing, though. So here are a few things you might enjoy:

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I very much enjoyed researching and writing this article tied to National Oyster Day. I spoke with some of Baltimore's best oyster people about how to get the most enjoyment out of eating oysters. It made me hungry.

***

Speaking of oysters, one of the things I learned from this article about Bloody Marys is that the drink's predecessor was, essentially, a supersized, warm oyster shooter. As much as I love oysters - and Bloodies - even just typing that makes my stomach turn. The article overall is fantastic, tracing the drink from those humble (blech) origins through the prep years, to the DIY bar years and, finally, ending up with today's how-many-ingredients-can-we-stick-on-a-skewer years.

***

I haven't been a huge bourbon drinking since college (largely because I was a huge bourbon drinker in college), but I can't resist stories about the history of the spirit. They're just so...American. Right now, I'm totally taken with what the crew behind Jefferson's Bourbon is doing with their "Fantastic Voyage." The bourbon was made this past January then barreled for 6 months. When that time was up, it was placed on a raft in Kentucky and shipped off down the Mississippi, bound for New Orleans.

As this Alcohol Professor article explains, the journey is designed to mimic the path bourbon barrels followed over a century ago. It'll be interesting to see how the travels impact the bourbon's flavor.

(As an aside, with a name like Jefferson's Bourbon, how couldn't I like this? When it comes to all things booze and food and college-related, TJ was the best. He made great choices.)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Global Is the New Black

What's more global than candy sushi made by my friends' kids?
Restaurant menu trends come and go, though for the past few years, Baltimore has been on a pretty significant Southern Flavors/Regional American kick.

Over the past month or so, though, I've noticed a slight shift away from strictly American influences to a more global approach to cuisine.

I'm not talking about a largely American dish with, say,  harissa worked into the mix. What's happening now is less subtle than that. It's not about fusion - it's about whole dishes drawn from specific cuisines. And multiple cuisines being represented on one menu.

At Gunther and Co., we ate duck lumpia and a Thai hot pot - both Asian dishes with specific flavor profiles, included on a menu that also had ravioli and a truly impressive selection of oysters.

Last night, at The Elephant - which is in its pre-opening week and is gorgeous - we saw wide bowls of ramen at one table and a lamb tagine for two at another.

If I was going to write a college paper about this trend, I'd posit that because we are living in such interesting times - times of global turmoil, if you want to be more dramatic about it - chefs are gravitating to more classic interpretations of dishes. Global is interesting, but the straightforward approach is familiar and comforting.

And if I was writing that paper, I'm sure I'd find a way to tie in the NY Post's recent article about the return of fine dining. Grown-up restaurants embracing a more serious approach to dining out - it also fits with the "in times of turmoil we seek stability" theory.

This theory was the backbone of about half of my art history papers on college. And, of course, food is the new art.

If I do say so myself.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ireland Adventures Part 1: The Whiskey

As I was a-goin' over Gilgarra Mountain
I spied Colonel Farrell, and his money he was countin'.
First I drew my pistols and then I drew my rapier,
Sayin' "Stand and deliver, for I am your bold receiver."
Musha ringum duram da,
Whack fol the daddy-o,

We've been back from Ireland for about a week and a half now, which has given me a little time to collect my thoughts about the trip. It was, start to finish, incredible - and as it was such an amazing and densely packed adventure, when it comes to writing about it, I had trouble figuring out where to start.

Ultimately, I decided to start at the end - not of the trip, but at the traditional end of the meal. With whiskey.

*****

Early on in the planning stages of this trip, when we were tossing around different ideas about how we might spend our days in Ireland, Cooper mentioned that he'd really like to spend some time learning the story behind Irish whiskey.

As it turns out, there are not a whole lot of whiskey distilleries in Ireland. I was under the impression that the Irish, like the Scots, are distilling all over the place. Not so. Though we learned in our travels that craft distilling is on the rise, as of right now, there are only about a dozen whiskey distilleries operating in Ireland.

*****

There's only one distillery, actually, that exists within the Dublin city limits: Teeling Whiskey Co.

Teeling was the first place that made it on to our list; it's what Cooper drinks at home (we buy it at Wells) and he absolutely loves it. The two of us visited Teeling's early in the trip - our first Monday - with Cooper's parents and Dixon in tow.

It's a fairly new distillery, though the family behind it has been in the whiskey business for generations (since 1782). The location - in the Liberties, not far from Guinness - was, long ago, where all the Dublin distilleries operated. But following a massive fire (with a gross side-story) in the late 19th century, and a variety of technological and economic fallbacks (including the impact of Prohibition on the international whiskey trade), one by one, Dublin's distilleries - and distilleries throughout Ireland - closed.

We learned quite a bit about the history of distilling in Dublin and throughout the country during our tour of Teelings, which is historic and imposing from the outside but sparkling and modern inside. The tour included both a broad history lesson and instruction on how whiskey is made, with an up close look at the company's stills - three in all, to triple-distill the booze,  each one bearing the name of one of Teeling's owner's daughters.

Our time at Teelings, from our look at the stills to the tasting to signing the tasting room wall and lounging in the bar.

After the tour, we did a quick tasting, trying one of the company's whiskeys (one that is not currently produced on-site, as they've only been open in Dublin for a year and it takes longer than that to age whiskey).  We were also served a whiskey and aperol cocktail, called the Mo Chara, that was delightful. I will definitely be making it at home.

*****

On a two-week trip, one distillery was not enough, but three or four might be too many. Though the Jameson and Tullamore tours are, by all accounts, very good, we skipped both in favor of Kilbeggan, a smaller, older brand now owned by Cooley (which is actually owned by Beam and which - because everything is incestuous - used to belong to the Teeling family).

The trip to Kilbeggan was recommended by Baltimore bartender Ryan Sparks, who I got to chatting with one afternoon last spring while he was behind the bar at Bookmakers in Federal Hill. I asked where he'd recommend we go and he suggested Kilbeggan, saying it is a cool experience for anyone interested in the history of whiskey making.

He was so right. Founded in 1757, Kilbeggan is the oldest distillery in Ireland and though only a tiny bit of whiskey is made on the premises today (most Kilbeggan whiskey is made elsewhere), the space is lovingly preserved and offers a fascinating glimpse at how whiskey was made in the mid-18th century.

We're talking water wheel, massive wooden barrels, a room for coopering (!), and the oldest working pot still in use in Ireland today; it dates back to the early 19th century.

*****

We drove up to Kilbeggan with Alicia, Mike, Stacy and her dad on our first Thursday morning; it was a little over an hour north of where we were staying (an hour on narrow roads that give new meaning to the word "harrowing").

When we arrived, we had a little time to kill before our tour, so we grabbed coffee in a small coffee shop next to the distillery. Turns out, it was both a coffee and chocolate shop and it was owned by the distillery; there was a big vat of chocolate in production right in the middle of the shop and everything smelled glorious.

*****

Thanks to the coffee and chocolate aroma, we were all in good spirits when we entered Kilbeggan - and the tour did nothing but lift our moods. Not only was the space extremely cool, our tour guide, Tracy, was incredibly knowledgeable.

It ended up being a private tour - just the six of us - and she took her time, answering our questions about the history of the place, the distilling process and also about the nature of the whiskey business in Ireland as a whole. She knew her stuff and was super engaging.

Kilbeggan, inside and out, was a beautiful historic spot.

Like the Teelings tour, the Kilbeggan tour ended with a tasting; this time, we tried three different whiskeys produced by Kilbeggan. My favorite, the 8-year single grain, made under the Kilbeggan label (as opposed to Locke's or Connemara), was the sweetest of the bunch.

*****

Between the two tours, Cooper and I picked up a ton of knowledge about the history and mechanics behind Irish whiskey. And of course, the more you know, the better the stuff tastes.

Food and drink, I think, are the best way to study a culture; if you understand what people eat and why, it's not so difficult to understand who they are. The story of Irish whiskey production is a mishmash of fighting and passion and technology and law.

We certainly didn't hear about all the details on our journeys...but what we did learn was fascinating. It's a great reminder that in every sip, there's a whole lot of story.


Monday, June 27, 2016

Observations from Abroad

We have just started the second half of a 2-week trip to Ireland and Scotland - right now I'm in the Edinburgh airport, after a weekend in the city, about to head back to Athy, Ireland, which has been out home base.

I'm on my phone, which is not super conducive to blogging, but I did want to share a couple quick observations about food in these countries.

First, the whole Irish love potatoes thing...it's more real than I even imagined. Sides of chips or mashed potatoes come with everything. Even some dishes that already include potatoes.

That's why I'm sorry to say that to me, Scottish chips are better than Irish. They're somewhat skinnier and seem to have spent more time in the fryer. We've had some really good ones.

Speaking of Scotland, I am an unabashed fan of haggis - I'm such a scrapple girl that of course I love its Scottish cousin.


What I didn't expect in Scotland, though, was the best Indian food I've eaten. It makes sense - the Empire and all - but I was pleasantly surprised, anyway, to find that Mother India's, where we went on the recommendation of our AirBNB host, was outrageously good.


Finally, another big surprise: the Irish have figured out how to always - ALWAYS - serve food steaming hot. It's kind of fascinating.

More on all of this when I return!

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