Thursday, December 09, 2010
The only other beverage that is in the same league, in intensity of flavor and fragrance, is the Celestial Seasonings' tisane (herbal blend) Bengal Spice, which I've also enjoyed many times, but always like a chai, with milk and sugar. This time I decided to try it naked (it could never be plain), steeped only with boiling water, no sugar added. Another hit! (And cheaper to boot, available in any grocery store.) If it only came in a tin during the holiday season, I might buy some as a gift...
* * *
What's with the recent spate of nutmeg scare stories in the local news outlets? Why now? I can't imagine meth use (or any other drug use) is going down during a recession, so what gives?
I'm offended by such utter ignorance parading as news, because my mother, most esteemed baker among her family and friends, always almost used nutmeg in her baked goods--cakes and pies--and the delicious practice was handed down to me. Later I discovered that nutmeg is also used in savory dishes, especially in spinach dishes. Perhaps if the nutmeg-toking young'uns actually cooked, sometimes with nutmeg, they probably wouldn't be tempted to (or have the time for) foolishness such as getting high.
I'm saddened when only scare stories of a common, natural substance (which is harmless when used sensibly) are promulgated, as this means that its benefits will be overlooked. I first remember reading about the healthful properties of common kitchen spices in a December 1997 Vegetarian Times article, "The Baker's Trio: our favorite holiday spices do double duty as flavorings and healers."
Sunday, November 28, 2010
For instance, a couple of months ago, my cheapie Polaroid tanked on me--a plastic hinge chipped off, making it impossible to keep the battery door on without a rubber band. The Canon (a basic PowerShot AS1000), while a good camera in many ways, requires a two-finger trick maneuver to open the battery door, making it impractical for me to use--maybe it's meant for guys, so it's in reserve (maybe I could re-gift it?).
Anyway, I was in need of a decent camera, and knew that online was the best way to go, as retail stores tend to do a switch and bait with regard to digital cameras. (I assume that switch and bait occurs on a more massive scale with Black Friday sales, but I digress.) I perused some of the regular bargain sites, and knew that I wanted the basic Panasonic Lumix point and shoot available, whatever it was, as I've seen photos and video shot with the higher end Lumix cameras, which had me drooling. Anyway, saw the Lumix DMC-FH20 on the Costco website, and had to get it.
Not only because of the camera's features, such as being lightweight with a slim profile, image stabilization, 14.1 megapixels, an 8x optical zoom, and a 2.7 inch LCD screen (and more!) as explained in this video from B & H Photo Video Audio Pro (the New York superstore that's a knowledgeable source for digital, audio, and video equipment with decent prices, too)....
...I am also impressed by the bonuses that Costco throws in for the price of its Panasonic Lumix cameras, such as a camera case, a (long-life) lithium battery and recharger, and a 2GB SD card, as well as a 90-day return policy and free technical support, all of which makes the low Costco price frankly lower than other online outfits (including Amazon). Because many online Costco deals last for two weeks, it's best to check Costco's site (and others) periodically, so no waiting until Cyber Monday is necessary to get that deal!
Friday, November 26, 2010
And the Christmas tree (oddly enough, however, overshadowing the statue The Awakening, already in an awkward place)... I was at National Harbor to stop by one of my favorite stores there, Capital Teas, to pick up a couple of things. One of those things being a non-tea related item, a grapefruit soy candle by Votivo (like to have a nice, safe, scented candle around for the holiday season), which I'm highly pleased with. And, of course, tea. But not the fabulous decaf blackcurrent tea, which I haven't yet completely drunk up, but a nice cardamom black tea, because I don't currently have any cardamom in the house, and I love cardamom in hot drinks, especially tea. (Actually, I enjoy cardamom in my food and drink, period.) Perhaps because the harbor is not really a place for discount sales, the area was full of holiday shoppers, yet it had a pleasant, civil ambience. Which is why I went there and avoided other shopping areas like the plague (even the grocery store--I wasn't taking any chances).
Perhaps because drinking tea promotes calm clarity the store selling it had a pleasant buzz, though it was almost full. Thus, when I got home with my small haul, I had a pleasing cup to look forward to this increasingly chilly day...
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Monday, November 22, 2010
At the highest point in Washington, Mount Saint Alban, on the grounds of the National Cathedral, is a hidden gem known as the Bishop's Garden. While only three acres, and a few feet from the intersection of Wisconsin and Cathedral Avenues, this verdant space seems miles away from the fuss of the city.
On the other side of the gate is a spacious area, perfect for reflecting, quiet rendezvous, etc.:
An even more intimate public spot awaits the other side of the open area, the gazebo:
The gazebo is an informal border between the open area and the smaller, yet interest packed, garden itself, which is patterned after a monastery garden in the English fashion.
Naturally, this means there are quite a few types, and colors, of roses in a relatively small area, even on a crisp November day:
as well as other traditional English flowers, such as the foxglove.
And items such as a replica of a medieval baptismal font, surrounded by rosemary:
Speaking of herbs, they're here in abundance--sage, thyme, lavender, and of course, rosemary...
Last, but not least, the Herb Cottage...
All this herb gazing when done viewing the garden means it's time to visit The Herb Cottage as a last stop before heading out. The cottage, outside and in, is as quaint as you'd imagine.
Some products are even produced especially for the Herb Cottage, such as many of the jams and preserves seen above. I had to get a couple of items, under the rubric that I needed them, which was somewhat true--I was running low on coriander, so I purchased whole coriander seed, as well as hard mill soap, both under the Bishop Garden label. (Can I call it a brand?) And even had a couple of bucks over from a $10 bill after the purchase. Shockingly, I didn't buy any of the tea there, some of which is served at the Cathedral's tour and tea. (Then again, I haven't taken that tour. Yet.)
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
OK, perhaps there were more people than usual (so I was told) at Cafe Citron tonight for its weekly Wednesday salsa lessons. It was held on the upper level this time (apparently, the lesson's usually in the basement), which didn't especially bother the unflappable instructor, Orlando, though he'd have preferred the usual location. Truthfully, I need to take the 'remedial' salsa lessons he offers there on Mondays at 6:30, because when dance steps are involved, I get easily flustered, as I'm more a freestyle dance person. I still have a hard time believing that Orlando didn't dance at all until 2003--who'd ever know by seeing him on the dance floor?
And no, my difficulties were not due to drink, but they do offer them. I particularly enjoyed the mango mojito, which was very fruity and hit all the right notes. The fire and ice, not so much--it reeked of pure alcohol, although it allegedly contains fresh ginger. Both drinks came from the bartenders in the basement, which apparently was the place to be, as it was pretty full, although the street level also had many people. Like many places in DC, Cafe Citron is larger than it initially appears, lending a mysterious, fun vibe, and a variety of moods, a different one for each level. The upper level is more sophisticated, while the street level great for a nosh in a colorful environment, and the basement is more intimate, made for talking, drinking, and dancing.
Even the bouncer at Cafe Citron is friendly, which is a good sign of a good time. An even better sign is the random conga you periodically see around the club--of course, in addition to all the other people there, which is the best sign of a good time.
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
Frankly, I don't think any of the pundits and political prognosticators know how this mid-term election will turn out. The Republicans will gain some seats, but who knows how many, really, until all the ballots are counted. (Fairly, I hope.)
However, healthcare legislation (or lack thereof) is not the only issue that's affected, and been affected, by Republican governance. Take the issue of the Republican party and the NRA (please--never understood why the National Rifle Association is so obsessed with handguns). A recent Washington Post investigation mentioned that because of legislation passed in 2003 (by a Republican Congress), federal gun-tracing data is no longer publicly available. So, the results of choosing a Republican president and Congress years ago is still affecting us, in making it more difficult to trace guns used in crime.
Even more puzzling is another choice mentioned in that same article: (often) women choosing to purchase guns for others (often men), a practice referred to as a "straw purchase." Of course, these men are not legally allowed to purchase guns in Maryland, which is why they approach someone to be an intermediate. Of course, the question I ask is why you'd choose to remain with someone who asked you to buy a gun in the first place!
This isn't only a question of criminals getting their hands on guns illegally, as these guys, I believe, are testing the loyalty of their girlfriends. I say this because such guys can easily go to Virginia and buy a gun at a gun show themselves, as these venues are, unfortunately, still unregulated. It seems they're trying to find out if these women are "ride or die" chicks. The question is why any woman would choose to be one.
The choice, this or that, a question posed by the rap group The Black Sheep years ago in their song, The Choice is Yours.
Monday, November 01, 2010
Just in time for a Halloween weekend, I received an invite to a private blind wine tasting. The event was hosted by the amiable Laurent Guinand of Giramondo Wine Adventures, and sponsored by Yellowtail Wine. There were similar tastings taking place in 19 other cities (Boston, NYC, etc.) and a video simulcast featuring John Casella of Yellowtail, which had an audio quality appropriate for the weekend (not so great--extremely dark, shaky video might have made it complete), along with many folks tweeting.
Anyhoo, there were six other tasters, a fun lot in all, who were all much more experienced tasters, but after sniffing, swirling, tasting, hashing and shouting our opinions, we basically came to some of the same conclusions. One of my favorite folks complained, rightly, that the wines seemed "overcooked." All four wines were drinkable, and the third was preferred to the others, though Laurent mentioned that they didn't pique his interest.
We were all shocked that as different as these wines were from each other, that they were Shirazes from the same small area of the globe. While they were drinkable (I thought that #3 was good after it settled a while--it definitely needs to breathe), they showed no depth or nuance, which probably accounts for their boring Laurent (and me as well). Perhaps the grapes are so overheated in their little corner of the globe that acidity and other factors that increase complexity inadvertently cook out. (Similar to green tea leaves that are exposed to boiling water, which can "stew" or "cook" them, driving out their best flavors.)
Nonetheless, looking forward to another event (that is, if I'm invited back), which proves that education can be fun!
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Check out this dude's grill, which lit up as well! (Apparently, also ready to help with last-minute Christmas shopping gifts.)
Friday, October 29, 2010
After a disappointing meeting, I suggested to Barbie that we try the ACKC chocolate gallery on 14th Street (which has been beckoning me for a while), so off we went. I should have known that it would be great, if only from the outside, as well as this welcoming entrance was a prelude to the friendly service and delicious noshes and drink...
Shockingly, I showed a bit of restraint, and didn't purchase any of the chocolates in the display case, this time. (That will be my next ACKC mission, however.) Also showed restraint in that I didn't drool when I swooned over these beauties:
Enough already! (And this was only a small portion of the goodies.) We each decided on the regular Belgian hot chocolate and a slice of the pear William cake. Although chocolate and pears is a traditional French dessert combination, I'd never tried it before, in part because I didn't think I'd be able to taste the pear flavor against the chocolate. In this case, I was wrong, as the moist cake with chocolate was intensely flavorful. And the hot chocolate, rich and not too sweet. Heck, even the (few) tables there are vividly painted to accompany the rich flavors:
To mix it up, will try a different hot chocolate next time, one of the Divas (named after screen greats), probably the Rita Hayworth. And perhaps a different cake, if the Aztec lava is there when I come.
As great as the food and drink was, it has an amazing ability to summon the sandman. Barbie mentioned this while we were there (which I didn't notice at the time), but later, when I was on the subway, the rollicking rhythms of the rails conspired with the chocolate goodness to knock me out for a bit. (And I didn't order any of the dessert wines, either--although the sweet South African Shiraz is looking mighty tempting...)
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Strangely enough, only two weeks earlier across town, there was a gathering of professionals who are also keenly concerned about modern society's overreliance on petroleum--the ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas) USA's World Oil Conference 2010, which convened at the Capitol Hill Hyatt. While I might have liked to attend (I think), the cost was too rich for my blood (even the discounted rates), but various of the discussions and transcripts of some events are can found online at Energy Bulletin and The Oil Drum.
Many of the speakers and participants were knowledgeable energy consultants such as Robert Hirsch, who published the so-called Hirsch Report in 2005 at the behest of the Department of Energy, a document which posits that, according to estimates from knowledgeable investigators such as K. Deffeyes, world oil production could peak earlier than 2016. He was scheduled to speak about his lastest book, The Impending World Energy Mess, among other topics. Other speakers included Rear Admiral Lawrence Rice, former Secretary of Energy James Schlesinger (Carter administration), former CIBC economist Jeff Rubin, and many others.
Lest you think the perspective of ASPO members is overblown, reflect on this recent, underreported (as underreported as the ASPO conference) coincidence--in recent months, there have been reports issued by the US Forces Joint Command as well as the German military wondering about the consequences of dwindling levels of the world's petroleum reserves, and the effects on military operations. (Now the symbolism of President Obama bringing back solar panels back to the White House doesn't seem empty.)
Apparently, not everyone wants their fellow Americans (and others) to prepare themselves to withstand and thrive when petroleum reserve levels fall off the proverbial cliff. Allegedly, at each yearly ASPO conference, a couple of local demonstrators dressed as "Chicken Little" (believed to be hired by a Texas or Denver oil man) hand out flyers.
Hiring those demonstrators is of the same head-in-the-sand mindset as the Georgia county that sued a farmer for growing too many vegetables on his land, even after the zoning changed. View the insanity below.
If the hippie types at the Green Festival and the good farmer in Georgia agree with the engineer and military types at the ASPO conference (and in many aspects, they DO agree) with the need to drastically reduce our petroleum usage within the next few years, how do they, and the rest of us, convince our elected (civilian) officials to take seriously the prospect that world oil reserves may peak within our lifetimes? And, what to do first, as a society, to keep functioning as a society? Perhaps press for the expansion and electrification of our railroad system?
Friday, October 22, 2010
Even worse was when I went out back, and saw the horror:
Soon after (in the middle of the afternoon), the power went out; it only came back on this evening, after eight. After talking with a neighbor, I talked with a lady who lived in the third house (whom I later lent a blanket, as she ran out of her house with just nightclothes on this chilly day), which the firefighters used to fight the fire at the other two homes, suffered the least damage. Nonetheless, it was condemned like the other two, because of damage to the structural integrity of her home. Thankfully, she had somewhere to stay for the time being, but she was clearly, understandably, shaken.
My neighbors and me wondered why the sprinkler system seemed to fail, why the fire got so out of hand. One firefighter said that the effectiveness of the sprinklers depends on where the fire begins--if it begins in the attic (the only place in the house with no sprinkler), then it spreads quickly to the roof. If it begins outside, it quickly spreads upward, again before the sprinkler can really begin to put out flames.
I was told later by a fireman that the fire began in the back, and that it was probably electric in nature. Which only makes me more nervous. What was the source of the electic failure leading to fire? The fire, from what I can tell, didn't take that long to really get roaring, with the wind whipping around. I called a neighbor to let her know not to come home too early, as the streets were blocked from both directions (turns out, for more than two hours), and the electricity was out most of this time.
All this chaos got me to wondering just how prepared am I, if at all, for such an emergency. After all, fires are, unfortunately, not that uncommon, especially during the colder months. I did have enough canned goods on hand to not have to immediately crack open the fridge to get something to eat. (And have a manual can opener to open them, if needed.) The immediate streets were closed off for a couple of hours, which wouldn't have been too much of a hardship to hoof if I had to, as I'm used to taking reasonably long walks in the area. But that could have been a problem for seniors or the disabled. (As no one could get in or out this afternoon except by foot, and this is no cul-de-sac.) Having some cash on hand would not have been a bad thing, either.
Now that the lights are back on, and the fire's been put out, I'll have to check with some neighbors to see how we're going to help the ones who are displaced; there's been talk of taking up a collection. I hope it'll be more than mere talk.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
I wasn't sure I'd like the hotel/tourist trap/convention/local shopping-dining destination known as National Harbor before I came here on business, and what I knew of it was primarily the Gaylord Hotel, the development's anchor. Don't get me wrong--it's an impressive space to hold a meeting (but don't know what its hotel service is like, as I didn't stay in a room, and won't, if I have to pay for it, as it's too rich for my blood), but I find the rest of National Harbor interesting. (Although I'd like to perhaps head to the Gaylord's day spa someday.) It's nice to have another, scenic spot in the Washington area that takes advantage of proximity to the Potomac.
One weak spot (for me) is the placement of the famous sculpture, The Awakening, relocated from Haines Point. It's too close to the crowded marina for my liking, and appears cramped:
It should have been placed further down the shore, in a more peaceful area, like this:
Oh, the parking situation. I didn't have to pay for parking the first few times I came (whew!); the next few times I came (for pleasure), I came via the NH1 bus from the Branch Avenue metro, scared as I was of the ridiculously high parking rates, which can reach $20 if you stay long enough! (And when you can find the parking lots, which I somehow think are mostly for the condo residents.) I've heard that it's easy to get a ticket if you park at a meter, so I'm not eager to try that either. For the 'burbs, the rates are a bit much.
As the summer's over, there are no more movies being screened over the Potomac Sunday nights (bummer!). However, there are decent walking paths along the shore (see above), and a walking trail to the nearby Wilson Bridge has been completed, if you're in the mood for more of a hike. In fact, there are lots of walking paths, and places to sit down, which makes this a good area for a leisurely stroll.
Closer to civilization, yet away from the hotel proper (as hotels themselves tend to have the most boring, yet pricey, shopping and dining options), the shops and restaurants are somewhat varied, if upscale. There's an intimate looking outpost of Mayorga Coffee that opens early for hot coffee and accompanying noshes.
However, there's also coffee and tea available early at Aromi D'Italia, as well as breakfast (and later, lunch) panini/sandwiches, a view of the harbor, and frozen dessert (early in the morning).
Better, you don't need to run back to a hotel to take care of certain necessities after eating, because on the same level as Aromi and the Cakelove outpost (which is next door to Aromi, and whose baked goods I have conflicted feelings about), as seen from the following sign from heaven.
(Better still is that the ladies room is kept quite clean.) Somehow, though, Desserts by Gerard (a local patisserie located down the road with the most luscious cakes) would seem a better fit for National Harbor than Cakelove. But then, Gerard's prices would probably have to increase.
I can't recommend Ketchup for a breakfast option, as it wasn't open for breakfast as it stated (on a door); an employee at another Nat Harbor store told me that Ketchup advertises somewhere that it serves breakfast, but doesn't. The manager I spoke with seemed less than friendly, so I won't be returning. (What kind of name is that for a restaurant anyway?)
Lunch and dinner are available at a number of restaurants, which tend to be on the pricier side. A cousin raves about Elevation Burger's grass-fed burgers, and a friend enjoyed dinner at Rosa Mexicano, but mentioned that it will flatten the wallet. Of course, there are various seafood establishments, including a McCormick and Schmick's, as well as upmarket Thai and Chinese restaurants (Thai Pavilion and Grace Mandarin), so there should be something to please everyone. Also, there's a Rita's Ice and a Ben and Jerry's for ice cream after dinner if you don't want gelato for a frozen treat.
As to shopping, there are a few upscale stores, some of which actually carry items I might like to splurge on. There's South Moon Under, but even better, Fossil. For the men, there's the venerable Joseph A. Banks, and for the ladies, not just cutey-patootie stores like Charming Charlie, but two, count 'em, two expensive shoe stores. The newer one, Simply Soles, has a good selection of quality shoes, at a variety of sizes (not just the size 6's of the world). However, as its goods are in the $300 to $400 range, I don't see myself buying pumps there anytime soon. The local chain, Comfort One Shoes, has a nice store here, with a variety of styles for women and men. But again, it would have to be a major sale (again) for me to shop here in the near future.
Now, the National Harbor project is still a work in progress, as the new National Children's Museum is being built there, as well as as a CVS and a gourmet market, presumably for the condo residents who need more than the snacks that can be procured from Onsite News. Perhaps a sign of the times is a ride that was supposed to be completed this past summer, the Calleva Challenge (a type of battering ram, I think).
But then, perhaps this is simply in keeping with the Children's Museum that's being built, and this might be somehow related to that, as a type of demonstration, when it's finally finished. As for the Disney property up the hill from this battering ram, who knows?
My final gripe about National Harbor is not with the development itself, but how it and the county have fallen down in promoting its own proximity to history, in Maryland as well as Virginia. For instance, you will find nowhere on the National Harbor website that the harbor is literally next door to the historic Oxon Hill Manor, a picturesque site often used for weddings (and, apparently used by a number of Gaylord guests in town for weddings held at the manor). Or that Fort Washington is also nearby. Why couldn't that be a water taxi stop in the summer? Oh well, nothing's perfect, so neither is National Harbor. But it's a scenic, varied place to hang out with family and friends once in a while.