Aug 31, 2010

Eat slowly, deliberately, and with pleasure

"Eating with the fullest pleasure - pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance - is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend."

- Wendell Berry

Aug 30, 2010

Hiking in Arizona

Arizona happened to be the place I found myself for my first anniversary with Raisin Bread. He lived in Phoenix for a number of years, and we were in town for his friends' wedding. We wound up being there for the weekend and took the opportunity to explore a number of the areas natural wonders.

Phoenix in January is absolutely perfect with its sunny skies and mild temperatures. Our first day was spent driving to Sedona and taking in Red Rock State Park. We both weren't appropriately dressed to hike. Instead, we found some easy walking trails and drove to various viewpoints.

It always amazes me just how diverse the landscape of our country is. Time has carved these beautiful and unusual pieces out of the land for us to enjoy.

Sedona's Red Rock State Park

The Chapel of the Holy Cross is literally built into the rock formations in Sedona and is open to the public. Being a formerly religious person, I still have a deep respect for the religions of the world and seeing the church combined with nature was stunning. 

The Chapel of the Holy Cross

Although I would have liked to have explored Red Rock a little more, just looking at it was awe-inspiring. Every formation had it's own life and presence. It was also a romantic way for us to celebrate our first year together. 

Red Rock State Park

We weren't the only couple enjoying the view!

Couple at Red Rock State Park

Sedona struck me as an extremely hippie town. There were galleries selling all sorts of Southwestern artwork, vegan restaurants and a whole lot of alien-related establishments including Ye Olde UFO Store. 

Ye Olde UFO Store

The UFO has landed in Sedona

In Phoenix, we went on two hikes after the wedding. The first was Papago Park or as Raisin Bread calls it "the rock with a hole in the middle." Another neat rock formation in the middle of a big city.

We walked up to the rock with a hole in it and saw the city through the other side. 

Papago Park's hole in the rock

Our real hike came later with a trip to Camelback Mountain. You can see this mountain from all over the city, so I have always wanted to climb it starting from my first visit to Phoenix in 2004. I am not sure what the name of the trail we went on was but it was a little hairy in sections. 
As you first begin to ascend Camelback, the view contains a bunch of Phoenix's cookie cutter homes. Not exactly a serene view.

View of Phoenix from Camelback Mountain

But as you continue up and look back down towards where you came from, you can see the entire length of the "camel's back."

Camelback Mountain

I didn't take many more photos on the rest of the climb up because the trail basically ends. It is rock scrambling the rest of the way up to the summit. Keep in mind that this was during the new year holiday so there was a bit of a bottleneck at some sections. 

Once we got to the top, we were met with a tree that had been decorated for the holidays!

Summit of Camelback Mountain

Aug 19, 2010

Eat and Drink: The Oval Room (DC Restaurant Week Summer 2010)

Tuesday night was my first foray into DC's Restaurant Week. I was skeptical at first because while LA Restaurant Week has tiers depending on the price range of the restaurant's normal menu, DC's had one price across the board: $35.10 for dinner. I was also worried that service would be lacking. Perhaps I thought they would look at me and realize that I don't have a real job?

I arrived a few minutes early to The Oval Room and was seated by the maitre d' (the hostess was seating another couple at that time) in the center of the back room. He complimented me on my new purse before leaving my side. Isn't it pretty?

Back to dinner. The dining room was bright and open. I found the atmosphere comforting with the noise level at a low buzz. Not so loud that you can't hear your dining companion and not so quiet that you are forced to eavesdrop on other diners.

For my first course, I ordered the Amish white corn angolotti with black truffle butter and parmesan crumbs. I found this dish to be a tad sweet for my taste and also slightly disappointing in size. However, I enjoyed the cream sauce and parmesan crumbs' contrast in texture.

Amish white corn agnolotti, black truffle butter and parmesan crumbs

Raisin Bread chose the soft shell crabs with buffalo mayo and celery. This appetizer had an upcharge of $5, which was reasonable considering other options included an heirloom tomato salad. The server told us that there was bleu cheese in this dish also, but we kept asking ourselves, "Where's the bleu cheese?" I looked back to the online menu and it doesn't say there was any bleu cheese. It is all a mystery to me. I found this dish to be a creative if odd play on buffalo wings.

Tempura fried soft shell crabs, buffalo mayo and celery

My main course were the sea scallops. When this dish arrived, I knew that the scallops were perfectly seared just by looking at them. I didn't quite enjoy the combination of the chorizo and scallops, which I thought added a degree of saltiness that wasn't necessary.

Sea scallops, stew of cauliflower, chorizo and hysoo

The other entree that we ordered was the seared salmon. For those of you who are familiar with my tastes, I never order any cooked fish other than black cod or monkfish. However, I quite enjoyed this salmon dish, especially the black pepper condiment. The presentation was also very lovely. It looked like a work of art.

Seared salmon, black pepper condiment, shaved cucumber and mashed potatoes

Finally for dessert, I had the date chocolate cake with toffee glaze and chocolate ice cream. The cake was moist and rich with huge chunks of dates strown throughout, while the chocolate ice cream was good but nothing extraordinary.

Date chocolate cake, toffee glaze and chocolate ice cream

I also had a taste of the almond brown butter cake, which our waiter recommended without hesitation. My favorite item of this trio was the cake. It was moist on the inside with a firm exterior. Both the peach salad and ice cream were a freshing compliment to the cake.

Almond brown butter cake, peach salad and sour cream ice cream

I was surprised by my first restaurant week meal despite my concerns. Service at The Oval Room was attentive and extremely well timed. The dining room had workers stationed throughout the entire time who were paying close attention to their guests. We both agreed that this meal was a wonderful first taste of restaurant week!

The Oval Room
800 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20006-2726

Aug 12, 2010

Cape May, New Jersey: A Weekend at the Shore

When I heard that Raisin Bread's family was spending a week at "the shore," for some reason, the image in my head went straight to this:

Then, I discovered it would be at the Jersey Shore, and although I have never actually watched that television show, my mind went to orange-colored people who frequent the gym and consume vast amounts of alcohol. Instead of party beach, however, I found myself in the idyllic town of Cape May. I googled it prior to leaving and found out that it is known for its historic residences. How very charming! (I've been watching a lot of old movies - rented from the library - and I think it's rubbing off.)

First, however, we made a slight detour to Baltimore on our drive up to New Jersey in order to avoid traffic and landed in the middle of an anime convention. We made our way around the inner harbor and tried desperately to find something to eat but to no avail.

Baltimore's Inner Harbor

We drove a few miles away to downtown Baltimore and found a local Caribbean restaurant called the Dutch Pot Cafe. At this point, we were starving and what I really wanted to order was the oxtail, but they didn't have any that day. I chose the jerk chicken as my alternate choice. For $5, the small sized meal included a portion of chicken served with rice and steamed vegetables. What a steal!

The chicken was amazingly flavorful and packed a good deal of heat. The meat was more boney than I would have liked, but the flavor made up for it. The simple rice and cabbage were the perfect compliment to the powerful chicken. 

Dutch Pot Cafe's jerk chicken

Raisin Bread had the curried chicken in the medium portion, which was also infused with enormous amounts of spice. Yum!

Dutch Pot Cafe's curried chicken

We finally made it to Cape May by mid-afternoon, and we were assigned the kiddie sailboat room. Cute, huh? With us for the next few days were Raisin Bread's mom, stepfather, aunt, pappy and grandma. Throughout the weekend, we were also joined by his sister, her boyfriend, uncle, and two cousins. It was a full house!

Sailboat Room

We were only able to spend four days at the shore because Raisin Bread had to return to work. The majority of our time there was spent eating, playing card games and Apples to Apples, lazing by the beach, and riding bikes around town. We also spent a good deal of time at Acme Market because the whole entire town seemed to be there any time we went.   

My favorite things about Cape May were The Lobster House, and our bike riding excursions. Over the weekend, it turned out to be Raisin Bread's mom's birthday and his grandma's 90th birthday, so we volunteered to make dinner one evening. The Lobster House provided many of the items we needed. If I ever return to Cape May, I would like to have a cocktail on the deck of the Schooner at the back of The Lobster House. 

As I mentioned earlier, Cape May is known for its many historical homes from the Victorian era. Today, many of them serve as bed and breakfasts and inns. On our first bike ride around town, we went to the Washington Street Mall, which is a pedestrian area with lots of shops and cafes.

We also rode along Jackson and other streets to view the Victorian homes. It was a serene way to spend a couple of hours.

Below are a few examples of the Victorian architecture. 

Later, we made a pit stop at Congress Hall, one of Cape May's many historic hotels. I learned that Cape May was one of America's earliest seaside resorts, and I was happy to see that a great deal of care has been taken to maintain these historic structures. 

Rocking chairs on Congress Hall's patio

Our second bike ride took us to the Cape May lighthouse. I would estimate that we went no more than 10 blocks in maybe two hours on our first bike ride. This time we had to ride 30 minutes before reaching our destination.

Colorful structures along our bike ride

Once we reached the lighthouse, we discovered that they were charging $7 to enter the lighthouse. We were both without our wallets and decided that we wouldn't have paid that much even if we had them, so back to the house we went for our final brunch. 

Cape May lighthouse

I hope to return to Cape May again and perhaps sample some of its nightlife. Congress Hall has a lounge called The Boiler Room that looks very speakeasy-esque. This trip was centered around family, so we were needed at the house for competitive rounds of Solitaire every night. I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Dutch Pot Cafe (CLOSED)
102 West Clay Street
Baltimore, MD 21202

The Lobster House
906 Schellengers Landing Road
Cape May, NJ 08204

Congress Hall
200 Congress Place
Cape May, NJ 08204

Cape May Light House
215 Light House Avenue
Cape May Point, NJ 08212