Thursday, April 28, 2011

Potting Plants and Playing Nice

One of my recent dalliances with domesticity has been to start up a little garden on our deck. I've done this before, but a combination of a north-facing apartment in a cool climate and my own inattention yielded post apocalyptic-like results. Remember Ursula the Sea-witch in Disney's 'The Little Mermaid'? How she turned all those poor mer-folk into shriveled up little weed-people? Well, that's typically what my gardens look like after a month or so. This time though... this time will be different. At least I hope it will, because those herbs ain't cheap.

Aside from the usual suspects (tarragon plus several varieties of thyme, mint, oregano, sage & basil) I'm trying my hand at tomatoes. (*cough, again*) This time I'm growing them from seed, and only growing cherry varieties, with which I've had better luck in the past. Today they finally sprouted!! Yes, I know I'm starting late, but things have been busy, kay?

One kind I have growing is Sungold, which are the scrumptious orange gems we had on Salt Spring Island last fall. Sean's pretty excited. Mr. 'I hate vegetables' actually said that these tomatoes were the best thing he'd ever eaten. EVAR!!! With any luck, we'll be up to our eyeballs in tomatoes this summer, so anyone want to come for a visit?

Speaking of visits... drum roll please... Just 9 more days until the arrival of our first house guest from home- Tara!! Stay tuned for details.

We have a pretty full weekend planned, which may or may not include a gathering at Sean's boss's house. This is where the 'playing nice' comes in.

While I relish the opportunity to converse with people other than myself and the cats (haven't been doing much of the people meeting just yet), especially since from the sound of things, there may be some pretty cool people to meet, we may have a problem.

Those of you that know me understand that if you ask me a straight question, I will give you a straight answer, often before considering the repercussions. In other words, when you ask "How do I look in this colour?" I will honestly reply; "Terrible. Blue is NOT your colour. Makes you look like a figure from a wax museum. And better stay away from the white too- you KNOW you'll just spill something down your front."

So yeah, not big on the tact. Or the white lies. I personally prefer the direct, sugar-free approach and I'm (slightly) aware this sometimes makes me come across as... well, a bitch. I'm supremely lucky to have friends and family who love me anyway.

I am capable of playing nice, so long as I concentrate and don't drink too much. That is the plan. However, I really dread those questions like;

"So, how do you like living in Maryland?"

The answer is too complex for polite company. Or for first impressions. I guess what I'm saying is I'll be spending my Friday night coming up with a list of questions people might ask me, and then rehearsing the corresponding good girl answers. Help me Grilled Cheesus.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I'm Afraid of Baltimore... I'm Afraid of Baltimore...

Today Sean had the day off, so we decided to make our first trip into the big city.

Things did not go as planned.

First off, on Friday Sean mentioned to a coworker our plans for exploring the city. The coworker made one of those half restrained 'ouch' faces when he heard we'd planned to walk around, and delicately suggested we keep an eye on our surroundings as neighbourhoods can be very different from one street to the next.

As we first entered the city, we drove by nice green parks, college campuses and tidy row houses. The very next street over, the row houses had ply board for windows, chain link over the doors and people outside actively stealing cars as we drove by at 11 am on a Monday. This is when I started singing my 'I'm afraid of Baltimore' song, and rocking in my seat.

The rest of the drive was more of the same; a couple of nice streets that you could see yourself living on, then a couple of streets that looked like Vancouver's downtown east side, if you threw some guns into the mix. Ok, I didn't see any guns, but then again, if I had, would I be blogging right now? I don't know.

Today we'd decided to explore the neighbourhoods of Hampden & Homewood on the North Western side of Baltimore. We'd mainly decided on this because we had dinner reservations nearby at arguably the best restaurant in the city, and figured we could find more than enough to do in the area for a day.

Everything was closed. Every museum, art gallery, cool specialty shop, historical landmark- hell, even Baltimore's Washington Monument is closed Mondays. As it happens, everything in the County is closed on Sundays, and everything in the City is closed Mondays.

What an spectacular mix of bad luck and poor planning.

We stopped at Hampden's iconic Cafe Hon to regroup and have some lunch. This is the cafe made famous by the 'Hon's' of the area's signature rockabilly hybrid look & attitude. Apparently, in the summer months it's not uncommon to see droves of tattooed ladies in 50's dresses with wicked beehives, often sporting props (in the cafe there was a pic of a lady who had a tin of Old Bay- Baltimore's favourite seasoning- in her hive.). The cafe's atmosphere was fun, but the food was horrible and overpriced- not a good combination. While picking at our lunches, we combed through our guidebook to find that pretty much anything we'd want to see elsewhere in Baltimore... was also closed on Mondays. The only things open were the aquarium and the zoo, and we weren't really in the mood. We thought about walking around the inner harbour- a very touristy area that would definitely have shops open, but we weren't feeling very confident in our ability to stay on the good streets, and decided to leave our wandering until we could learn more about the city.

So... we went to Ikea.

Anticlimactic isn't it? Well, we needed a couple things that we couldn't order online (namely a coffee table and a full-length mirror) and it was only a 20 minute drive (45 minutes from home). Say what you like about Ikea, but I love it. Sure, I'd rather buy my furniture at a boutique, or from a craftsman, but not only can we not really afford it, but we have no idea where we are going to be in 5 years. Ikea furniture is easy to customize, and if you can't take it with you, then you're $200 in the hole and not $2000.

After 3 hours of Ikea we were tired and hungry. We headed back to Hampden for dinner at Woodberry Kitchen.

Dinner erased all evils.

WK is an extremely popular restaurant here, featuring local & seasonal meat and produce. It takes more that 2 months to get a weekend reservation (if you don't mind eating at 8:15pm). If you want prime hours, I have no idea how far in advance you'd have to book. Fortunately for us, Mondays are not quite as bad, and I was able to get a res for an early dinner only 3 weeks in advance.

The location is really cool; a re-purposed factory or warehouse. The walls are the original brick, and the ceiling is super high- maybe 4 regular stories. The kitchen is open, and even on a Monday we could see the Chef/Owner Spike Gjerde hard at work by the brick wood burning oven. There was a very impressive 2-story...? what the hell would you call it? Well it's function was to hold cords of wood for the stove, but it was big and beautiful and imposing. The place was decorated with old tools, but not overdone or cheesy. Just enough to give you something cool to notice. Behind me were giant floor to ceiling leaded glass windows letting in lots of light.

The food was simple, but (almost) perfectly executed. We started with brick oven roasted asparagus with a chopped egg & tarragon dressing. I can't explain to you how amazing asparagus is when you roast it in a freaking million degree oven. I roast it all the time at home, and grill it too, but it doesn't nearly compare to the results they got at WK. The flavour was rich and nutty, and tips were so crispy they almost disintegrated on your tongue. My only complaint was there was a bit too much pepper for my liking, which overpowered the tarragon in the dressing. Still, a very nice dish. Our meal came with complimentary water service (this means they bring you your choice of flat or sparkling water, and refill your glass for you whenever needed- usually something you have to pay for.) and 3 kinds of house made bread- an italian with sesame seeds (my favourite- the seeds get so nice and toasty! Yum!), a spelt and a boston brown. The bread was just the thing to sop up a little of that chopped egg dressing- such a simple but delicious sauce, I'm definitely doing that at home soon.

For supper Sean had Mac & Cheese (after talking all afternoon about eating more pig, he went with the pasta because it had been a long day, and it's one of his best comfort foods) from the 'Meatless Monday' special menu, and I had Scallops with ramps, hen of the woods mushrooms, radishes, pork belly and tarragon mayonnaise. Sean loved his Mac & Cheese made with aged gouda and a golden crispy breadcrumb topping. But...


They really were. I've never had them so perfectly caramelized, or expertly cooked. They were a 10. (I'd give them an 11, but that would be ridiculous.) The outside was so crisp, and the inside soft, supple and sweet. The ramps were silky and smothered in butter. The radishes and mushrooms were lightly cooked, and lightly seasoned so they could speak for themselves and balance out the more powerful flavours of the pork and the ramps. I loved the tarragon mayonnaise; the perfect compliment to all the dish's components.


I got a really good laugh when I gave a taste of my scallops to Sean, who typically does not like seafood. I've been wanting to make a scallop recipe at home, and I hoped that the best scallops I've ever had might convince Sean he's missing something. He chewed thoughtfully, and then likened them to 'Sea Gelatin'.  Not in an entirely bad way though, so maybe there is hope.

For dessert, Sean had a wonderful parfait of malt flavoured ice cream, peanut caramel, and homemade marshmallow cream- they even bruleed the top. I had a couple bites, and it was marvelous. I could have had dessert (the dinner portions were small), but to be honest, nothing appealed to me and I was in a bit of a snit. I was cranky because several of the desserts featured cranberries, which I didn't think was appropriate since they are way out of season. I don't know why it ticked me off so much (even I could tell I was having an unreasonable reaction), but Sean suggested it was because subconsciously the thought of cranberries made me homesick. I think I'll go with that. Don't worry, I behaved myself- no plate throwing or filibustering- just no dessert :(

The best part- only a 25 minute drive from home, and free valet parking. We used to drive all the way to Seattle for a meal of this calibre (and we won't even talk about the price of parking). I look forward to going again... maybe we can get another reservation... September perhaps?

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Lot.

So what have I been up to?

Well, the answer comes in two parts; A Whole Lot, and A Lot of Nothing.

A Whole Lot:

Two weekends ago, Sean and I attended the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival in Timonium, MD. This is a weekend long event that showcases 60 beers, 40 bourbons and A WHOLE LOT OF BBQ. That's right, folks.

Now, I know what you're thinking, over the past year we've all but given up alcohol, and have cut back our meat consumption to 2-3 servings (and sometimes less) per week. What can I say? We fell off a whole lot of wagons that weekend (and felt it the next day).

We attended the festival on the Friday night, for the 'Full Hog Pig Pickin'. Upon entering the fairgrounds, we were given a  miniature beer glass (6 oz) and a 'beer bra' to hang it around your neck while you are eating/chatting/dancing/stumbling around. We also got a meal ticket for a pulled pork dinner.

We started with a couple beer tastings (generous 4-6 oz pours), then decided we had best eat some food, or our night would be a short one. In the BBQ arena were 6 food tents operated by 6 different local catering companies. Vegetarians may want to look away.

Each station had it's own take on a pulled pork dinner; some did sandwiches, others biscuits, and some just let the meat speak for itself. Sides were very southern (we are after all in the 'South') such as cole slaw, potato salad, collard greens and black beans. One place took a more imaginative approach with dishes like jerk pork biscuits, and espresso smoked chicken (they also had a sweet potato & bacon bread pudding, which I had much later that night, and it might have been the beer & bourbon, but it felt like the best thing I'd ever put in my mouth.) Every tent had it's own pig done in their signature fashion. That's a whole lot of pig. You could safely say we 'pigged out'.

Back to the booze. At the start of the evening, we meandered through the warehouse, tasted the interesting brews, discussed their merits, and people watched. It looked a little like this:

Those people aren't us, by the way. I couldn't get Sean to wear the hat. After an hour or so (or possibly less...) there was less meandering and more weaving going on. The talking got louder and was making less sense. Where before I might have been heard saying something like "Very hoppy, with a nice citrus finish", now it was more like "Mmmm beer. Good. More!" and trying really hard not to burp in public. At least, not too loud. It looked a little like this:

Not too long after this, we'd sampled most of the 60 beers and had moved on to the bourbon. I don't think we tried much of it, but then it doesn't really take much, does it? It looked a little like this:

Being responsible non-citizens, we had taken a cab to the fest (unlike the majority of attendees, unfortunately), so when it came time to leave we called for a taxi. Dispatch explained that it was a very busy night, and it would be at least AN HOUR AND A HALF before they could get a car out to us. Hearing this, we made the fateful decision to walk home. After all, it's only 4 miles. 

Well, ladies and gentlemen, 4 miles is about 6.4 kms, which while normally not an unreasonable distance to walk, turns into a fucking marathon when you are full of pig and drunk as a skunk. It took us and hour and a half to do it, but we got home safe and sound. I didn't get up until 1pm the next day. Good times.

Another thing I did recently was get a Maryland State drivers license! I must say, what a freaking ordeal. It took me 2 tries, 3 visits to government offices and a total of 4 hours of waiting for my number to be called, but it's done. In case you ever find yourself needing to get one, just follow these simple steps:

  1. Go to the Social Security office and apply for a SSN card (like a SIN) even though you don't qualify, so that they can give you a piece of paper stamped 'DENIED'. (Very important step- I missed it the first time)
  2. Take your 'Denied' paper, Passport, old Drivers' License and two official proofs of address (very hard to get without an SSN as most companies won't list you on an account without one) to the DMV- called a MVO here.
  3. Wait in line for a very long time to see the desk clerk. She will look at your documentation quizzically and ask you if Canada is part of the USA. You will chuckle like a polite Canadian thinking it was a (bad) joke. She will look at you like you have shit for brains while waiting for you to give her an answer. You will reply, "Um... No. No it isn't." She will give you a number. I kid you not. I wish I was, but I'm sooo not.
  4. Sit in a waiting room listening to crying babies, millions of disembodied cell phone sounds and drunk people talking about the cars they stole over the weekend. Sit there for an hour. 
  5. When your number is called, give your documents to a clerk who has never issued a Drivers License to a Canadian before. After a brief poll, nobody in the entire office has ever even seen a Canadian before and has no idea how to process your documents. Start wishing you had a mickey in your purse. Or a gun.
  6. After your info is entered into the system, you get another number. Sit for another 20 minutes.
  7. tha.......fried chicken...mah word!.......hangin Try to nod at appropriate intervals, and maybe toss in a 'Yes M'am'. Now pay the $27 licensing fee. You're done!
That wasn't too hard, was it? True story, I swear to you.

Last weekend we planned an outing to the town of Westminster. 

We basically cracked the guidebook and pointed. It was supposed to be a quaint little town, with a couple neat museums and places to see. We set off Sunday morning on a nice 45 minute drive. When we got there, we popped in to the Visitors Center. The 'nice' old lady asked us why we would be out on a Sunday and what we expected to be able to see. We told her we were open to suggestions, and she suggested we stop by the convenience store, as it might just be open. We went back out to the car, where I tried to burn the building down using just my heathen mind, but I needed some newspaper to help the flame along and I was fresh out. Instead, I took this picture of the `haunted`pub next door. Which was closed. We learned not to travel on Sundays.

 As for the 'Whole lot of Nothing' portion of this post, it starts and ends with two words and a roman numeral. Dragon Age II.

Yes, my favourite (or second favourite? I don't know, Fable might be first...) game franchise came out with a sequel and it is awesome. I'd put off buying it because I knew once I started playing, I wouldn't stop until I was done. And I didn't. And I'm on my second play through. My first run took 20 or so hours and was fantastic. I rushed it though because the story was so good I just wanted to know what happened next. 

I know many of you don't get video games, and I understand that. I was once a non-believer. But then I fell in love with a guy who makes video games, and he showed me that they're not all about shooting things and blowing up cars. Some games are so well designed that the worlds they inhabit have their own history and myths. Playing can be like immersing yourself is a really good book, but being able to make decisions that will affect how characters interact with you, and even how the game ends. You can be an altruistic hero, or a money hungry bastard. Or anything in between. Anyways, I guess my point is that the last couple weeks I've played an awful lot of Dragon Age. And maybe not so much of anything very productive.

This weekend we get a long weekend, even though it's not a holiday. Sean's company used to be (up until 2 weeks ago) headquartered in Massachusetts, where Monday is Patriot's day. Now, both offices in RI & MD get fake holidays. Yippee!

As we've learned nothing is open on Sundays down here in the US of A, on Monday we're heading in to Baltimore for the first time. On the docket is a trip to Druid Hill Park, and dinner at the famous Woodberry Kitchen. Who knows what else we'll get up to. Looking forward to it.

And back from popular demand, I leave you with pictures of our cats. Because that's what people with no kids do.

Leo sez ROAR!

Max gets cuddles.

Leo helps Sean install a curtain rod.

Max watches TV.