Friday, July 31, 2009

ph: Getting Floored

A portion of the floor filled with putty.

project hampden continues with floor work. The original hardwook oak floors are just gorgeous and it seems such a waste to cover them with any kind of flooring that I'm attempting to fill in the gaps between boards with stainable wood putty. Food service environments require washable floors and I'm hoping that a filled-in wood floor with heavy coats of polyurethane will be satisfactory for our inspector.

There's nothing like sitting/lying on the floor filling in gaps in the floor. It's slow and painstaking work. I haven't quite decided if I'm enjoying it, but maybe.

The back room's floors were painted white years ago and Spike had the great idea of sanding it down until it looked translucent and then sealing it. Good idea. Putty today, sanding starts next week.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Weekend BBQ

This weekend is BBQ, but not the American, slow-cooked BBQ you're used to. This time it's Philippine style pork BBQ, Korean style Kalbi ribs and Caribbean-style chicken at the Baltimore International Festival this Saturday being held at Poly-Western High School.

Along with teams of BBQ competitors, there will be over 60 vendors and 40 futbol (soccer) games with teams representing a wide-variety of countries.

And yours truly will be the head judge for the BBQ competition, along with Karen Parks (FOX45 Weekend Anchor, Jessica Starr (Fox45 Meterologist), Spike Gjerde (Chef, Woodberry Kitchen), Sam Holmes (Pitmaster, OnoGrill), and Sony Florendo (local restauranteur and cookbook writer)

Click here for Baltimore Sun article.

ph: Do The Demolition

Tunes for the boombox.

Luckily, there's not too much demolition to do in the new project hampden space, mainly a partition wall. In order to do this, I've brought along my trusty Panasonic boombox cassette deck.

Yes, cassette tape. That old trusty servant from days past that archived happy times, sad times and everything in-between with various mix tapes of music and straight recordings of vinyl albums. All the tapes above are circa 1987 and a glimpse back to a time before iTunes and the quick ease of burning a CD.

In fact, burning a CD just isn't the same. Sure, you're selecting some tunes to give to your friend (or hopeful girlfriend), but the act of creating a mix tape was serious commitment. While a 45 minute CD takes just minutes to assemble and burn, a ninety minute mix tape took nearly two hours. Two hours of selecting the tunes, setting up the turntable, adjusting the levels and then recording the songs real time one by one. A cassette tape was a Labor of Love and I've always found it nigh impossible to throw my old collection away - especially with such classics as Xymox and Strawberry Switchblade on offer.

For the day's demolition, I just grabbed a handful of cassettes from a box in the garage. Ah, nostalgia. To be young again and fighting the world...

I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

ph: For The Love of Wainscoting

Dad does detail work on the wainscoting.

For whatever reason, I've been/become a fan of wainscoting. It's ultra-traditional and very white (two things I'm not) and I'm just fascinated by it. It's formal and fanciful. Unique yet common. And I found it quite therapeutic to install.

By no means am I a skilled builder. I build because I'm cheap. Because I'm the owner and when things need to get done, the buck stops here. So, regardless of experience or skill, with saw in hand I go. For me, it's the details that make the difference and I sat there and pondered how to finish the raw end of chair railing - finally settling on a detail that I'm quite excited about. It's a detail that's surely elementary to an experienced carpenter, but for me it's wildly exciting. When you visit, I'll point it out to you.

In all truth, it's a very small detail in the space and a detail that I expect most people won't notice or pay attention to. But it's there for those people that are looking at the details. Of course, I'm hoping that these same people won't notice some of the other details where my inexperience rears its' ugly head...

Luckily, Dad came a calling to offer his help. I may be one who tries to think about the details but my father is the one who knows how to execute the details - in excruciatingly detailed detail. While my caulk work is decent, his is smooth and beautiful. Sure, it's something that will be covered by paint but the caulk work is just brilliant and I'm super-excited about it.

More to follow.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Old Barista and The Sea

Alexandra and Daniela no worse for wear.

When we die, we die alone.

The notion of dying is a lonely thought. Sure, different cultures and religions believe in afterlife or reincarnation or simple obliteration, but we really don't know. We can believe, but we'll never know for sure until that moment eventually arrives for us all.

I never thought too much about it, but I imagine death being a lonely place, and as Duncan and I floated off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico, swallowed up by a squall, trying to tread water in two foot chop with zero visibility and completely fatigued, I felt very lonely indeed. Scared, lonely and not quite ready to die.

Just a few moments before things had been going swimmingly. We were in the warm waters of the Gulf diving for bay scallops. The sun was out, the water felt cool and we were amongst friends. The ride out to the coast that morning had been through a storm front but we were assured that it has passed. Our skiff was loaded with snacks, snorkel gear and even in the face of questionable fishing, we were hopeful for a large bounty of scallops for that nights' larder. How many ways could one prepare and consume scallops? We were intending to find out.

I found diving for scallops to be about as frustrating as spear fishing for octupus off the coast of O'ahu. You can swim and swim and swim without seeing anything, until someone shows you what to look for then, suddenly, they're everywhere! Once Anthony had pointed out what I should be looking for, I started seeing them hidden amongst the sea grass. These weren't the large sea scallops most people think about, these were smaller scallops that produced muscle meat the size of your thumb.

Bay scallops are tasty, but not as sweet as their larger cousins. Regardless of the size, they were plentiful and the five of us were grabbing as much as we could. In a matter of minutes, my hands were full and I realized that I really needed my mesh bag that I had left back on the boat. No problem, it's only about twenty yards away.

That morning we had set out from Gainesville down to the Steinhatchee River where we rented a skiff to take us out to sea. As Anthony cleared the Steinhatchee channel and started to open her up, the girls were still sitting on the bow as the boat started to skip across the swells. Along for the adventure were Alexandra and Daniela, baristas at Anthony's Volta Coffee and Tea, and their friend Duncan who's manager at the local bike shop.

I have always been a sailor, but this year it seems I've been doing a lot of power boating. And while I very much enjoy the thrill of heeling the boat over until the rail starts to tuck into the water, there's something alluring about throttling forward in a power boat at high speed, seemingly daring the sea to break your hull as you crash from swell to swell.

Eager to collect as many scallops as humanly possible (or permissible by law), I started paddling towards our boat. Twenty yards, and a couple more scallops, and I expected to be near the boat. As I looked up from the water, the boat was still twenty yards away. Crickey, what's up with that? Oh well, keep paddling. After another twenty yards or so, I looked up again to find the boat the same distance away. WTF?

After a couple more twenty yard distances with no achievement, I started to get really irritated. Was the boat pinwheeling on the anchor and I'm just chasing after it in circles? Maybe. I decided to paddle faster and harder.

Admittedly, I'm no svelte man, so it's probably ill-advised to be paddling as hard and as fast as I was, but the boat wasn't getting any closer. Now, I've lived in Hawaii and spent numerous times there snorkeling around the islands. I'm no novice, but I would never say that I'm experienced either.

The harder I paddled, the harder I started to breathe. Not only was I breathing harder but also faster. So fast that I started to think that I might start hyperventilating and maybe I should slow down. It was about this time that it started to rain. Nothing to worry about, just a light drizzle. Maybe if I was dry and on shore, I would run for cover but I'm in the water - I can't get any wetter. But I was starting to feel a little tired.

Off to my right, I spotted Daniela swimming for the boat. She was passing me as it started to rain harder. She looked a little worried but since she was swimming better than me, I didn't bother to bother her. She'll make it back to the boat, I thought.

It was right about then that fatigue really started to lay into me. Had the waters been calm, I would have just rested and floated there but the squall was now a dark wall on our near horizon and the light swells turned into two foot chop, washing overhead as I was trying to get my bearings.

By this point, I had stopped pursuing the boat and was trying to tread water in position to calm down and regain my strength. The boat was rapidly floating away from me and visibility started to worsen as the squall set in over us. Crap.

I had been unsuccessful in slowing down my breathing and started forcing myself to take large, deep breaths in an effort to calm and control myself. I was getting worried. Screw that, I knew I was/could be on the verge of panic. I tried to keep my eyes on our rapidly disappearing boat.

Many thoughts race through your mind at times like this. Mine came at me in a blur. The thought of drowning/dying. The knowledge the I would make it: guaranteed. The deeper knowledge that knew that that was all bravado. Maybe I should never have gone on this trip. I hate deep water swimming. It all came at a rush and as the rain and fog started to obscure my vision, and the chop kept pounding over my head, I knew that I was in deep trouble.

I wanted to call out. I wanted to scream for help. I wanted someone to rescue me. This really sucks. I quickly reflected back on my life and on the times that I got away without killing myself and thought how much it would suck if I drowned here today. Alone, in the Gulf of Mexico: dead. I was on the verge.

The terror of panic started to grip me and I had to fight it back. If I gave in, I would be finished. Breathe deep. Breathe slowly. Don't think too much. Don't panic. Focus. As I fought back the urge to panic, in the back of my mind, I couldn't help thinking that this was going to be it: The End. I would die here. At sea. And be shipped home in a box. I would never get to know my niece/nephew who is scheduled to be born in December. It would just be me: the dead uncle. Killed at sea while diving for scallops.

In many ways, survival is a mental struggle. Lose the mental struggle, give in to panic and die. Not pretty. I didn't want to go out like that, but the truth is, I probably wouldn't have lasted much longer. I probably would have lost the mental struggle. I was right on the edge and about to fall off.

I'm not a very good Catholic. In fact, I'm a terrible Catholic. And I'm just a bad Christian in general. But I think I prayed a little in those moments, hoping that God would not abandon me (or perhaps bring me up for roll call). Some will think it's just coincidence, but maybe it was Divine Intervention that had Duncan swimming for the boat right past me at that moment.

He was about five yards away when he called over to me asking if I was okay.

Sadly, I'm afflicted with the male predisposition to pretend that everything is okay. That I'm a man and, therefore, in control of things. My first reaction, in spite of the fact that I was on the verge of panic and dying, was to tell him that I was okay and continue treading water in the hopes of making it. If I said that and Duncan kept going, I would drown soon after. I literally forced myself to call him over and tell him that I wasn't okay, that I was on the verge of panicking and would he stay with me while I struggled to calm down and regain my composure.

Duncan saved my life that day.

The guy stayed with me and let me hang on to him while we rode out the storm. It got worse. As the storm worsened, we lost all visibility. I lost all orientation. In the pouring rain, we were all alone. Alone at sea. As we floated there together, surrounded by nothingness, I started to think that we might die anyway. All that struggling to maintain sanity would be for nothing. We would be lost at sea and die.

Then, we saw a boat in the distance through the rain and haze. It was searching for their people. We waved. We called out. They couldn't hear us or see us and kept going, disappearing into the haze.

What could have turned out to be Blood Scallops...

As the boat disappeared, I had regained most of my composure, but knew that that could have been out last chance. We might die out here afterall. I didn't know how it would happen to us, but I decided that I would meet our demise stoic-ly. If death was going to come for us, I wasn't going to cry. I was going to try as best as I could to meet death head-on, without regret.

It was about then that Anthony had called out, responding to our calls to the boat. He had been floating and riding out the storm when he heard our calls and decided to seek us out.

One thing to know about this guy is that he's an experienced cave diver who's been in some harrowing and life-threatening events. Evidently for someone with his experience, this squall was nothing in particular. I guess when you've survived being lost at sea, in the water, for four hours, 70 miles offshore, our life-threatening storm is easy peasy.

As the storm subsided, visibility returned for us to see two boats heading towards us. Alexandra had called a nearby boat and asked someone to come aboard to pilot the boat and rescue us, and Daniela had been plucked out of the water by another boat and both boats were heading in our general location.

Something raw, something happy.

Back onboard, our crew looked a bit worse for wear. After I had seen her, Daniela lost a fin then decided to jettison her remaining fin, got caught up in the storm and lost her mask in the process before being rescued by the other crew. She looked shaken but not stirred.

Alexandra on the other hand, was completely blue. She was the lucky one who decided not to swim far from the boat and got back in before the storm hit. Three of her friends had been recently killed, the most recent due to a body boarding accident. I can't imagine her horror watching the four people she came out with slowly disappearing and being swallowed by the storm.

Armchair quarterbacking always reveals the little problems that combine into a force that threatens to kill you. Several things happened that day, but the one event that nearly did us in was the boat. Like I said above, the boat never seemed to get closer, not matter how much I swam towards it. I was wrong, the boat wasn't pinwheeling on the anchor. The anchor had pulled out of the seabed and the boat was being dragged with the current at 4 knots - meaning that no matter how fast I was swimming, I would never catch the boat. Doomed from the start.

In the end, all of us made it back alive. A bit scratched and beaten, but we lived. Sadly, our catch for the day was small. The scallops I had been holding, I jettisoned in the interest of staying alive, though as I reflect back on it now, it would have been just as easy to have given my scallops to Duncan (who was holding a mesh bag). That night, we shared a bowl of bay scallops in a light cream sauce over truffled pasta at Volta Coffee to celebrate our friendship.

A taste of glory: Bay scallops in a cream sauce on truffle pasta.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

When Going Large Is Not Better

I don't know why I do it, but I do.

Every day (or most days), as part of my daily reading, I peruse the blog of Elizabeth Large, the restaurant critic for the once-venerable Baltimore Sun, and each day I reel in pain wondering why I subject myself to what is the literary equivalent of dragging a shiv across my neck. You would think that the critic for Baltimore's paper of record could reach no lower, yet every day, she manages to stupend and amaze with mediocrity even more mediocre than the day before (bet you didn't know that was possible).

For the record, I've been banned by Elizabeth Large from commenting on her blog. She long ago tired of my constant criticism of her lack of discretion and standards and stopped approving my comments. I mean, what better way to live ensconced in your own mediocrity when there's no one to critique you?

A couple of weeks ago, the level of mediocrity was even noted by CapitolSwell on his blog, where he writes:

"A good food critic can remind people of what is amazing about a city. It expresses who we are as a people. A good food critic can elevate a great city like Baltimore unto a whole new level."

Read Elizabeth Large's blog and your constantly reminded of the mediocrity that this city has to offer. Cheap "top ten" lists of places she hasn't visited that are written "just because" and a never-ending stream of posts that demonstrate that Large has very little concept of food or cuisine. I mean, any critic that perjoratively states that a restaurants' kale soup "...tastes, well, like kale" is just beyond credibility.

But why am I ranting about this today - when I've been trying to be nice for the past couple of months? When these public criticisms of Large will only guarantee that my shops or restaurants are slaughtered on the day she decides to write about them? Because CapitolSwell is right. It is the restaurant critic that upholds the standard for a city. If the critic of record has low standards and champions them, then the restaurants of Baltimore falter because they know that they don't have to strive for very much to receive a favorable review.

In today's blog entry, Large writes:

" Once, a positive or negative review from the critic of the city's main newspaper would have made a huge difference. My reviews were prominently placed in the Sun's Sunday magazine. They were a must read if you loved going out to dinner because there weren't many other places where you could read about local restaurants in town.

Now we have, to mention just a few other places to find reviews, Baltimore magazine, the City Paper, Zagat, Yelp, Urban Spoon, City Search, MetroMix, and many local bloggers. People may like to read what I have to say about a restaurant, but they certainly aren't going to spend their hard-earned dollars (or not) on just my word anymore.

That's a relief to me. If anyone thinks I enjoy eating a bad meal or writing something that hurts the feelings -- or the business -- of people who are trying to run a restaurant the best they can, he or she is very much mistaken."

Maybe I'm just a bit strange, but I always thought competition (like Baltimore Magazine, Zagat, Yelp and Chowhound) made you work harder and strive better. I always thought the idea was to demonstrate why you're better than the competition. But the critic for Baltimore's paper of record thinks it's a "relief" that the readership isn't "going to spend their hard-earned dollars (or not)" on her word anymore? Am I in some sort of messed up culinary twilight zone???

Today, Elizabeth Large's reviews are no longer placed in a position of prominence, it's no longer a "must read" - and yet, somehow, she's thinks this is okay. It doesn't dawn on her that perhaps her reviews no longer have an impact, not because of the emergence of Chowhound and UrbanSpoon, but because the readership has come to realize that Elizabeth Large has no standards and proudly parades that fact daily on her blog. She doesn't realize that her position has lost its' prominence because of her own fault.

Critics like Tom Sietsema (Washington Post) and Frank Bruni (New York Times) are feared and respected because they have standards. Standards that they aren't afraid to hold anyone and everyone accountable. The emergence of Internet sources hasn't diminished the power and respect of the Washington Post and New York Times reviews, yet Elizabeth Large claims that it's the reason why her words no longer have prominence - total baloney.

Talk to chefs and restauranteurs in New York City and there's the very real concern that Bruni (et al) will not find their establishment up to par. The reviewer for the New York Times is feared and respected. Mention Elizabeth Large to chefs and restauranteurs in Baltimore and you hear ridicule and derision - even the cook slinging thighs doesn't think Elizabeth Large is credible enough to review Kentucky Fried Chicken.

I hear from many people that Baltimore doesn't have the food scene that Washington D.C. has but few people consider that much of the reason we're swimming in a sea of mediocrity and Applebee's is because of The Baltimore Sun's food critic, Elizabeth Large.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Three Rules for Young Men

My friend's son is sixteen years old. His mom tells me about a photo she has of me in their photo album holding their infant son sixteen years ago. Amazing. It seems like yesterday.

My friend and his family are visiting for the holiday weekend and it was just myself, my friend, his son and our other friend driving and taking care of things around town. The wives and girls were off doing other things (like shopping).

He's sixteen and fully aware of how things are in the world. Girls, drinking, drugs, sex - he's fed a continuous stream of this diet through media, the Internet and his peer group. As it was when I was that age, there's little to discuss that he hasn't already heard about from his friends at school. About the only advice that "The Bad Uncle" like me can offer is suggestions on approach and technique.

Amongst the guys, we're just a dirty group. It's guy talk and all of us (save for the kid) have been around the block (so to speak) a bit and there's very little use in pretending so it's a straight-up "have you had sex yet?" kind of questions - both he (and his mom) assure us that he has not (yet).

Listen to the kid speak about the kinds of parties they have nowadays where it seems as though blowjobs are doled out as a form of greeting, Three Rules emerged from his suddenly wise father:

1. Don't get drunk.

2. Don't do drugs.

3. Don't give blowjobs.

Three simple rules for young men to live by...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Cranky Wallpaper

Today was the day. I was finally doing it.

The NCR Trail is a relatively level gravel bed trail built on the former North Central Railroad line running over 20 miles through northern Baltimore County into Pennsylvania. After much delay, I finally rolled my trusty Univega onto the path and started pedaling my way towards the Pennsylvania border (okay, I wasn't going to do the 40 mile roundtrip but rather the six mile roundtrip to the first road crossing). Whatever the case may be, I was getting my fat ass on the bike and on the trail.

The morning was beautifully sunny and a cool 73F. With the wind in my face, I greeted fellow cyclists and trail joggers with a hearty Bonjour! signaling all was well in the world. As I clicked through to higher gears on the Shimano selector and started to increase speed, I started to feel a strange oscillating wobble on my left pedal.

That's odd, I thought and looked down to see the left crank starting to separate from the shaft. Merde. I could just see myself now, pedaling harder and harder when suddenly, snaaap! The crack snaps off the shaft still cleated to my foot on the downstroke. The force of the snapping crank as my left foot charges downward sends the cleated foot straight to the ground at 25 mph.

The results of that occurrence didn't play well in my mind and only seemed that it would result in my crashing and burning in a very painful (if spectacular) manner. I decided to stop. Not even a mile out and my ride was over. Doomed.

Back in the truck, I had an hour to kill before the bike shop at REI would be open. I decided to head over to Budeke's to check out their selection of paint colors and wallpaper for project hampden.

I don't know how many of you have ever decided to look at wallpaper but it's absolutely bewildering (and I know what I'm looking for). Books upon books upon books of paper samples jumbled together with no rhyme or reason. Want a specific color? You're outta luck - just gotta look. And the books aren't light. They're filled with high-quality wallpaper and they are heavy. Up, down, up, down, again and again. It's exhausting and drives me mad.

After an hour of reviewing papers, I'm starting to freak out over the sheer enormity of the sample collection. This is going to take awhile.

If You Really Want To Drive A Stake Through My Heart...

Yesterday, I blogged about some schmoe getting his panties in a bunch about me being a lame asshole (or something like that). As long-time readers of this blog know, I'm down with that.

While working the bar at The Spro today, I receive a call from Christine. She's returning from a multi-week trip to Manila and needs advice on where to go for ramen - in Honolulu.

Truth be told, I can take being called a lame asshole or dickhead. It bothers me not that some people don't find our vision of coffee to fit their own. And I'm perfectly happy with others hating on me because I don't share their enthusiasm for the barista competitions (or not bathing)...

But, if you're one of my friends and you call me to tell me that you're sunning it up in Honolulu, I'm crushed and ready to curl into a fetal ball in the corner of the room. As I told Christine: "I could have multi-million dollar stores, a house in the country and women half my age on my arm and you still will have beaten me by being in Honolulu."

No amount of being called a lame asshole is worse than calling me from Honolulu...

- BTW, I sent her to Goma Ichi Ramen, 631 Keeaumoku Street, Honolulu, Hawaii 96816, 808-951-6666.