Monday, January 26, 2015

Birthdays Birthdays Birthdays!

Back in October, when I wrote about my mom's 65th birthday and Dixon's 8th birthday, I mentioned that around here, fall is birthday season. And is it ever - especially when you let "fall" stretch into early winter. 

Since those first two September birthdays, we have been in full-on celebration mode. This is just a taste of the fun.

October: Patsy, Cail, Xander and Bill

Clockwise from top left: Chicken tortilla soup; Chickens at the Stambaughs; Cail's cake in progress; Stambaugh chili; Cail's cake, the final product.

Cooper's mom's birthday celebration was low-key this year but Cail's was a little less so. My parents and I went down to Richmond to visit for the weekend and Cail's parents and her brother came up from New Orleans.

My brother threw Cail a surprise party in the private room at a cute wine bar called Secco and Cail's dad, who has made her birthday cake every year forever, outdid himself with a gorgeous pink and turquoise "drama queen" concoction. Mr. Moran is an architect and very artistic - watching him work was super cool.

Later in the month, we celebrated Nathan and Liz's son's birthday up at their house in the country. It was a gorgeous day to roam around their yard, checking out the chickens and eating their awesome food - including chili, hatch chili queso and root beer braised brisket. Oh, and apple pie moonshine. Because that is how they roll.

To wrap up October, we celebrated Bill's birthday on a Sunday afternoon at our house. I made a big batch of chicken tortilla soup, since it was starting to get chilly...and Bill likes Mexican food. It was one in a long string of fall Sundays that we spent at our house, surrounded by friends and delicious food. I could do that every day.

November: Mike

Seafood tower; Mike and I with our gifts; Stacy's first oyster.

In mid-November, Mike turned forty, giving us a great excuse to head to Thames Street Oyster House, where our friend/neighbor Teresa proved once again why she is one of the best servers in the city.

Bill was out of town but Stacy came down from New York, so with the Swartses, we were a group of seven. We did our best to order everything on the menu, including tons of oysters (and Stacy's first oyster ever!) and a suckling pig special that came with a side of oyster and butternut squash dressing. Ridiculousness.

I loved my monkfish entree but my favorite part of the night was a quail appetizer accessorized with chestnuts and quince puree. I absolutely couldn't stop thinking about it. They are so good at what they do there.

The night was funny, too. Alicia asked us each to come up with a story or two to roast Mike. Which...we did. I created a "strengths and weaknesses" roundup that was quite funny, if I do say so myself. I keep telling my friends that I'm funnier than they give me credit for. I stand by that.

December: Cooper, Tom and Me

Clockwise from top left: Cooper and Dixon at Parts and Labor; Corn fritters at Shoo-fly; Clay Davis mug from Patrick and Amanda; Me with Suzanne and Alison at Alison's party.

December is an especially busy month around here, with not just Christmas but also Cooper's birthday, Clark's birthday (the same day as Cooper's), my birthday and my brother's birthday.

We didn't celebrate with Clark this year (he was in DC, we were in Baltimore) but we did manage to have a bunch of good meals out. For Cooper's, he and Dixon and I went to Parts and Labor, which was just as good as everyone said it was. Tons of meat, beautifully cooked, in a super cool space. We'd already been to the butcher shop a few times, so we knew what to expect...and we're looking forward to going back

December birthdays are tough, since it's such a busy month. But it's also so much fun. Since we're in celebration mode, I usually get to see friends from all over the place either right before, on, or right after my birthday.

This year, my birthday was on a Monday but the celebrating really started on Saturday night with a party at my friend Alison's house. She's my high school friend and old roommate (from our Canton days) and her husband is one of Cooper's college friends. So the party was full of people I love.

The next day, I made my annual trip to McGarvey's, where a bunch of high school friends came to celebrate with Cooper, Dixon and me. We ate oysters and crab dip and burgers and crab cakes and drank a bunch of Aviators. Just like last year and the year before and many, many years before that.

That night, we came back up to Baltimore and got to hang out with Patrick and Amanda, of Paris fame (they have since moved back to Denver). They came over for crab soup and general revelry - and brought us an awesome Clay Davis mug made by someone they work with. We loved it and it was especially timely, what with the re-release of The Wire.

Finally, on my actual birthday, Dixon and Cooper and I drove through Hampden in the rain, then went to Shoo-fly for dinner and I remembered that I can't get enough of their corn fritters. They come with spicy honey and are just so good.

After Christmas, Tom, Cail, Erin and Clark all came up and stayed with us for a couple days. The 27th is Tom's birthday, so we met my parents at Clementine, where we got to have one last big family dinner before everyone returned to their respective homes.

Some of the Waskoms had been to Clementine for lunch or brunch, but not for dinner - and Cooper and I were happy to introduce them to some of our favorites, like the charcuterie and the basil-lime elixir. We all loved our meals, ending a big visit on a high note.

January: Kyle, Bert and Matt

Top row, left to right: Kyle's birthday at the Waterfront Hotel; Dinner in Deep Creek; Pear and bourbon cocktail. Middle row: Dixon at Wisp; Bert using the sabre; Puzzled in Deep Creek; Bottom row: The table at Matt's party; The entire Deep Creek crew; Matt and his "40" glasses.

We took a break for dinner at our house on New Year's Eve, then jumped right back into the birthday celebrations. Kyle's birthday is on January 4th - a Saturday this year. Immediately after our great dinner for Mike's fortieth, Kyle announced that he wanted to go back for his birthday. So we did.

Once again, it was fantastic. Alicia got the porgy, which is served standing up and is crazy good. Mike kept it simple with a lobster roll (outrageous) and I ordered against type, getting tuna, which was also delicious. The quail, again, was a show-stopper, as was the octopus, which I can never resist.

After dinner, we went to the Waterfront Hotel to watch the Ravens beat the Steelers (much to Mary's chagrin), finishing the night on an extra-sweet note.

A few weeks later, Cooper and Dixon and I headed off to Deep Creek, to celebrate our friend Bert's fortieth with a bunch of people I've known since high school or longer. (Bert's birthday is in December but we couldn't get it together to go away until January.)

It was four days of so much fun. We ate and drank way too much, did a bunch of puzzles, played some Cards Against Humanity, hung out in the snow, watched our kids bond and retold stories about stuff that happened two decades ago. And, of course, I got sentimental about how lucky I am to have so many great friends from high school and even elementary school.

Last Saturday, we got to celebrate with even more of those high school friends, when we went to a party for another fortieth - this one for my friend Matt. It was at his parents' house, near Severna Park, and was gorgeous. Matt's mom works at a flower shop; she and a friend often do flowers for weddings and they are so good at it. The party was catered by Mission BBQ, so the food was awesome, and was tons of fun, all the way around.

But the celebrations really aren't over. Because this is the year my high school class turns forty, we are in for a year full of parties and big nights out. Which is busy, it's true. But wow is it fun.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Trend Mapping

On Facebook this morning, I discovered an infographic - courtesy of Kathy - that was absolutely calling my name. Put together by a British company called thefoodpeople, it's a graphic representation of 2015 food trends, including several fairly specific food trends (things like the rise of fermentation and multiple condiments on the table), how broad food trends fit with larger consumer trends, flavor markers (smoke, hay, spice, etc) and how national cuisines fit as overall influencers. Needless to say, I am all about it.

Trends have been on my mind lately, as they often are at the end of one year and the beginning of the next. In past years, I've made my own predictions and written summaries of others' predictions. I didn't get to that this year...but I did just write an article about McCormick's flavor forecasting efforts. (It appears in the Sun today.)

I found one piece of thefoodpeople's infographic, the cuisine influence map, especially interesting. The map charts different cuisines in terms of trend influence and market appeal - it seems very useful for people thinking about food marketing and product development:

It caught my eye, in part, because I'd just spotted this map, also someplace on Facebook:

Many of the above findings are no-brainers. Steak in Wyoming? Yes. Southern food in the South? Tex-Mex in Texas? Who could've guessed? But Maryland and Virginia are more into Peruvian cuisine than the rest of the country. That was a bit of a surprise. I'd noticed an uptick in Peruvian joints around Baltimore...but I didn't realize it was a regional phenomenon.

So it's interesting to me, then, to see that on the cuisine map above, Peruvian cuisine is about average in terms of trend-setting but it's fairly low on the market appeal scale. The cuisine map is not about the US - or at least not all about the US - and doesn't deal in any regional cuisines, so the two maps don't sync perfectly. But still, the overlap is interesting.

Food for thought, as they say.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Speaking of Regionalism...

VinePair totally just got me with this map:

Is it totally reliable? No chance. There aren't even any actual sources attached, so even the wine vs. beer attributions are suspect. But still, it's cute. And it made me laugh. And...maps!

Regional Resurgence

Years ago, when I was just a couple years into blogging, I wrote a series of posts (here, here, here, and here) lamenting the promotion of global cuisine and flavors over regional ones. The posts were written between 2006 and 2008, a time when, it seemed, the notion of global cuisine was eclipsing regional foods - and some of those local foods were in danger of disappearing altogether.

By 2008, "local" had become more of a buzzword in food culture, though at the time, it had more to do with producers than with flavors. But even then, there were regional movements bubbling under the surface, especially in the south.

Also in 2008, I linked to a map that focused on disappearing regional foods and the power of food regions as a whole. In 2010, I wrote about how psyched the Woodberry Kitchen staff was after I ordered scrapple at brunch.

And in 2012, I wrote a long post about how the rise of southern cuisine's popularity represented a shift in the local/global preference landscape.

Consider this an addendum to that post, a few years later.Today, it's not just southern cuisine that's on fire - it's anything and everything hyper-regional. It's Southern Foodways Alliance gone national. We've come full...half circle. Done a 180 on the global/local front.

This was cemented, for me, a week or so ago, when I read Bill Addison's Eater roundup of the 38 essential American restaurants. Addison includes Woodberry in the mix - which feels right to me, especially since he groups the restaurant with a handful of other places that best represent "Regional Americana." 

There are several in the south - but not all. The Pacific Northwest and New England both make appearances. Probably the southwest could use more representation (the lack of Arizona on the list is a complaint of many commenters) and the Midwest, with just one Minneapolis restaurant, is definitely underrepresented. 

But still, it's nice to see that in there at all. 

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Year Ends, Year Begins

Unsurprisingly, we both ended 2014 and started 2015 with a lot of great food and fun and laughter. As busy as December always is for us, it's also stacked with family and friends.

And food. And booze.

Speaking of food and booze, the above is just a small taste of our Christmas festivities. My brother and sister, plus Cail and Clark, were all in Maryland for Christmas - it was the first time we were all together for the holiday. For logistical reasons, Bill didn't go home to his parents' until after Christmas, so he was there, as well.

Dinner at my parents' house was festive and fun. Oysters, prime rib dry-aged by my parents, cheesecake and lots of cookies. We came home and Bill spent the night and even made breakfast for us in the morning (Taylor pork roll!). That night, we went to Cooper's parents for red meat round two and more Christmas cheer.

The day after Christmas, Tom and Cail and Erin and Clark and Dixon and I had lunch at Carrol's Creek Cafe in Annapolis, then everyone came up to our house for post-Christmas festivities with our friends.

Tom and Cail gave us a sabre for Christmas, so we spent the whole week following the holiday knocking the tops of champagne bottles. Fun stuff.

A bunch of that sabreing took place on New Year's Eve, when, like last year, we had the Bargers and Kennedys and Swartses - and their kids - over for dinner.

Before dinner, we drank pomelder prosecco punch and ate Alicia's hot pimiento cheese dip, which was so good, in an old school sort of way, and a bunch of oysters (both raw and grilled).

With the reasoning that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, we stuck with last year's menu of tenderloin and crab imperial, plus cauliflower puree that is seriously so good. Alicia made chocolate and peanut butter cupcakes and we drank a couple bottles of Brunello that we've been saving...and more than a couple bottles of Montebuena Rioja. Plus, the champagne.

Kids had nuggets - with Dixon's special nugget sauce - and about six hundred candy canes. Dixon put himself to bed in the middle of the party (typical) and everyone else got to play with sparklers. It...was better for some than for others.

Last year, nearly all the kids held on until midnight. This year, there were meltdowns all around when 11 hit, so the only people who made it were the Swartses (and even then, Eva passed out, face down on the sofa, before midnight rolled around).

It was such a great way to kick off a new year - surrounded by friends and family. And eating such good food.

I hope everyone else's 2015 started out on such a great note!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Down the Rabbit Hole

Merry post-Christmas! As usual, I have a million things to post and instead of writing, I am clicking through "related link" after link on The Kitchn. It started when an old post about writers' favorite snacks showed up in my Facebook feed. 

How could I resist this:

Next thing you know, I'm knee deep in vintage cocktail recipes that have tenuous literary links.

And I'm still not any closer to finishing that post rounding up birthday celebrations from this past fall. Or, for that matter, writing about the Keuka Lake wing throwdown we judged last fourth of July. I'll get there?

Friday, December 19, 2014

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It really is the most wonderful time of the year, with parties and out of town visitors and (around here, at least) tons of birthdays. It's festive and fun and definitely hectic.

This year, starting a bit before Thanksgiving, Cooper's parents' added another exciting activity into the mix - they bought a new house and sold the house they'd lived in for over 35 years. Just this week, they had to make the final push, clearing out the last few things they'd left in the hold house. And in 35 years, it's possible to accumulate...a lot.

Some of that stuff was destined for the dumpster. But other things made their way to our house - including the cool old Chanel bottle in the picture above. It's gigantic - that's a regular-sized candy cane - and filled with colored liquid, not actual perfume.

The bottle was part of a display from Hutzler's; my mother-in-law, Patsy, nabbed it back when she worked there in the seventies. (Another cool story from those days: she met Diane von Furstenburg, who gifted all the ladies working in her department with a wrap the very early days of those dresses).

Earlier this week, Patsy was ready to toss the bottle but Cooper saved it for me, knowing I'd love it. I don't wear a lot of perfume and when I do, it's Chanel. It's what my mom and grandmother wear for special to me, it smells like grown-ups going out for something fun (and babysitters for the kids). Is there anything better? More glamorous?

Even the bottle, with its classic lines and font, is gorgeous. This one might be a little worn down...but that's just the years of experience, right?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Tabling It

Sotheby's Paris is hosting an auction that I can surely get behind. The auction is built around a series of table settings, designed by people who really know how to do that sort of thing, and include wine pairings that would match each setting.

Table setting is, truly, one of my favorite things. I'm sure I've mentioned it here before. Not necessarily the creation of elaborate tabletops - though that's fun, it's not something I can do all that often. No, what I really enjoy is just setting the table for dinner on a random Tuesday night. Especially when I'm busy with work and have been feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

Some people relax by running, or by baking bread. Me, I set the table. Folding napkins and carefully placing forks takes only a minute or two, but it's always a good reminder that even on the most hectic days, there is some order and beauty in the world.

Plus, anything that takes me away from my computer a good thing.


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