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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Thing 71: Oyster Happy Hour at Old Ebbitt

Just between you, me and the Internet, today is my birthday. And I can not think of a more perfect way to ring in a whole new year of my life than with this:

Old Ebbitt Orca Platter
Champagne and oysters? How luxe!

And not just oysters. That picture, my friends, is of the two-tiered raw bar beast knows as the "Orca Platter" at Old Ebbitt Grill. This bad boy consists of one dozen oysters, one dozen clams, one dozen crab claws, one dozen jumbo shrimp and a one pound lobster. It'll set you back $95. Unless you know the secret.

I hesitate to even divulge it. But just between you, me and the Internet, Ebbitt does an oyster happy hour, Monday through Thursday, from 11PM to 1AM when the raw bar goes half price.

Half price.

Oysters are a dollar a pop, and that beautiful display of iced pink and white goodness is only $50. $50 to drown my fears of old age in sweet lobster, meaty crab claws and creamy, briny oysters? Yes, please.

Our bartender, Jason, was just as nice and attentive as you could ever hope for in a bartending professional. No glass sat empty for long, free cake and singing followed our orca platter, and GFD got a good natured ribbing after knocking over my champagne glass when he single-mindedly reached out for sweet, sweet lobster. Jason introduced himself to our party and then felt like part of the party, as though he were a friend we'd known a long time, guests in his house to celebrate my birthday.

Ebbitt is one of those power lunch institutions, adjacent to the White House and full of the martini-and-cigar lobbyist set. Tourists frequent it in the hope spying powerful deals getting done in a corner. But between you, me and the Internet, I've never been particularly taken with the food. It's never bad, but it's never great either. Not particularly adventurous but good for what it does.

Ebbitt's raw bar on the other hand is another matter entirely. It is magnificent. Glorious, even. It is six different kinds of raw oysters from a little bit of everywhere, whatever is fresh and in season. Big, small, salty, creamy, Pacific or Atlantic, they are always fantastic. And the jumbo shrimp are actually jumbo, huge hunks of shrimp, lightly steamed until bright pink and begging for a dip in the horseradish-laced cocktail sauce.

Yes, please.

So here is to a happy birthday, another year rung in in style, with an orca and champagne and dear, great friends. May you find yourself demolishing a midnight orca soon, too.

GFD and his new best friend

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thing 70: Reel Affirmations

An actress friend of mine (Jenny), recently participated in a staged reading of screen plays for a screen writers' conference. Prominent screen writers came to listen to these up and comers' works and then gave feedback and criticism. One of the things they kept saying, as reported back by Jenny, was that you have to establish everything in the first five minutes of your movie. Characters, setting, conflict all have to be clear and catching in five minutes, or no one will keep reading your script (or presumably watching your movie).

I kept thinking back to that when watching the short films as part of the Reel Affirmations International LGBT Film Festival. What if your movie is only five minutes long? How do you tell a compelling story when there's hardly any time to establish character, plot or conflict?

Having watched these nine short films, I think the answer is, "with difficulty." Two of them succeeded all the way, creating characters you were invested in immediately, and one even creating a heartbreaking twist of an ending that surprised me in my emotional response after only 14 minutes of movie. A couple of them were funny and charming, but more like comedic sketches or offbeat art projects than mini-movies. And some of them were failures -- failing to make me care about the characters, introducing trite or cliched conflict, and then hitting me over the head with the moral at the end of the story. No, thanks.

Of course, this is a gay film festival and all the shorts dealt with gay topics and themes. And of course, I'm not gay, so maybe this sentiment is not shared with the festival's target audience, but I felt the strongest films were the ones able to transcend their 'gayness.' In other words, they were able to address the themes that face everyone -- loneliness, connection, love and longing -- within a gay context. The films that limited themselves to being gay films only were the ones that didn't succeed.

This was the only night of films I made it out to see, during the ten nights and fifty-odd films showing during the festival. Anyone else out there see anything good? Bad? Care to chime in on my amateur critical take on the men's shorts?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Thing 69: Apple Picking


I grew up in a place without seasons. In Northern California, you knew it was winter when it rained for a month straight. The rest of the year, it was always a dreamy 75 degrees, sunny, with no humidity. It sounds nice, but it's actually hard to mark time when there are no seasons. Leaves don't change colors in fall, snow doesn't close the schools in winter, and when spring rolls around, you just notice a bit less rain. Most foods never go out of season. California is where those avocados and asparagus you see in the supermarket come from in the first place. It is a perpetual spring time there.

Give me sweet Virginia for the fireworks of fallHere in DC, if you're paying attention, you can mark time by the foods that come and go from the market. In the spring, the Boyfriend and I ventured out to Delaplane to celebrate the joy of strawberries, and came home to make the freshest strawberry ice cream I've ever had, warmed in the field that morning, in my dessert bowl the next night. In the fall, it's apple and squash time, as we ventured out once more to rural Virginia to the fields that grow our food.

This time, we found ourselves at Stribling Orchard in Markham, Virginia. About 60 miles due west of the District, we set off before noon and drove about an hour and a half. Upon arrival, they hand you a brown paper bag and a long wooden clawed apple picker and point you towards the orchards.
Stribling Orchard
Acres of long rows of apple trees, some hanging with little red orbs, some already asleep for the winter, were ours for the picking. I stuck to the lower branches, reaching up on my tippy toes to capture a ripe apple. The Boyfriend demonstrated his hunting and gathering prowess by Boyfriend shows off his catchwielding the apple picker, refining his technique until he was able to capture four or five fat apples at a time from the highest branches.

As we wandered through the orchard, sliding on fallen apples and getting poked by the occasional stray branch, I overheard a brassy matriarch telling her brood not to bring her back any bruised or damaged apples. "I'm not paying for damaged fruit," she kept repeating. I smiled to myself. Nearly every apple was imperfect in some way -- bruised or scarred or wormy. These are late season apples, the fighters of the family, and they have seen some things and have the scars to prove it. I knew I was just going to can mine as apple sauce and pie filling, so I had no problems with their beauty marks, but these aren't grocery store apples. Among the branchesThey don't look uniform, but they are sweet and firm and natural. I can tolerate a bruised fruit here and there.

Eventually, I had to call the Boyfriend off before we could no longer carry our treasure back to the weighing station. We hoisted our heavy brown sacks to our hips, and walked back through the orchard to the country store where they weighed your apples and took your money. At $1.09 a pound, we had picked $40 of apples -- yup, we are now the proud owners of 35 pounds of staymons. Already last night I got out the mason jars and made quick work of seven or so pounds into a spicy, chunky apple sauce.

Before leaving, we made one last tour of the store, through the shelves of sweet vidalia BBQ sauce, peach butter, apple jelly and blueberry preserves. Apple cakes and turnovers scented the air deeply with cinnamon, our mouths watering. We bought a pumpkin for dinner that night, and a half gallon of fresh cider and called it a day. The car was heavy with the fruits of fall as we drove east, back to DC.

Our apple sauce to be

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thing 68: W Domku

Some of you remember a time when I lived in Petworth. I lived there for a couple years in fact, way up north on Gallatin Street in that formerly Jewish, currently Black and about to be White gentrifying neighborhood. I lived in a house with vegetable garden in the back yard, two friendly dogs, marble counter tops and no central air. It was a bit removed, a bit inconvenient, but overall a really great place to live.

Back then, my local was a bright and funky Scandinavian joint on Upshur: Domku. And I was tickled to be able to go back last night, to eat and drink with old friends over plates of smoked fish and pierogies.

Domku's storefront blends in on the block
Domku is located an easy three block walk from the Georgia Avenue - Petworth stop on the metro, on a very unlikely block. If you weren't seeking it out, I doubt you'd find it. It's tucked away on a commercial block of a residential neighborhood, a simple store front surrounded by a greasy Chinese takeout counter, a liquor store, a dry cleaner and a church.

Inside, the decor is bright and inviting, a bit eclectic and lived-in. It's a little bit like the coffee shop from Friends meets an art gallery. Large couches and mismatched tables from the Central Perk meets art gallerySalvation Army fill the room, with paintings hung on brick walls, a canopy that changes with the season hanging from the ceiling, and ornate antique chandeliers. It feels a lot like Tryst, but without trying so hard.

Jenny likes itThe theme of the menu is Russian and Scandinavian, a cuisine you may not be used to and in fairness, you may not like. Although meatballs and potato dumplings are pretty appealing, pickled herring and smoked sprats are not for everyone, which GFD and I once learned after an unfortunate bout of fearlessness and optimism. This time, I stuck to what I know: a salad with house cured salmon, salty and rich and decadent, and Swedish meatballs served with lingonberry jam and creamy mashed potatoes.

Domku: Salad with house cured gravloxThe heavy meatballs get a nice pick me up from the sweet jam, and the mashed potatoes are smooth and rich, heavy on cream and butter and quite filling on this warm autumn day. (Can we have a word about the weather please? I want it to get chilly. I want leaves to change. It is nearly November, and what is going on?).

Domku's Swedish meatballs with lingonberry jam

Jenny had a red onion and cheese pie, a little galette looking thing with a flaky crust and a filling heavy on the onions. And Jessica Jenny's mealhad the pierogis, those Polish dumplings filled traditionally with mashed potatoes and served slathered with dill and sour cream. Jessica has spent a good bit of time in Russia, so I trust her when she says those were some good pierogies. The menu also includes toasted sandwiches, stuffed cabbage rolls, sausages with 'kraut, and beet salad. If you are an Ashkenazi Jew like me, or if you yearn to try Slavic and Scandinavian cuisine, this is probably the best (and I think the only) place to go.

The drinks menu is where things really start to get interesting. They carry a wide selection of beers both bottled and on tap from Eastern Europe and Russia. I highly recommend the Baltyka series, which is numbered according to potency (a word of warning, don't drink more than one "9." You'll be unhappy in the morning). Domku also serves aquavits, made in house. These flavored vodkas that are popular in Nordic lands come in a dozen different flavors from the tame (orange) to the unusual (dill, rose petal or caraway). You can order them by the shot, in flights of three, or in one of their house cocktails, which are named things like the "Warsaw Uprising" and contain strange ingredients like herring juice.

We spent a couple hours at Domku, eating and drinking and then eating more and drinking more until we were sated and tired. The days when I lived a stone's throw from the place are long gone, but it was so nice to be back.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Happy Fall!

There is a chill in the air and a butternut squash on my counter. Happy Fall!

Where have I been? Well, as Deb put it, work has been these past two weeks. And after a ten or 12 hour day in front of a computer in my cubicle, I just have not been able to bring myself to sit back down at one in my leisure time.

And I've been doing fun Things, too! There was an amazing dinner at Oyamel, caramel bread pudding at Buzz, and a very poorly organized party in the Hirshorn sculpture garden. There just hasn't been the time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, if you will).

I'll be back to my old tricks next week. I will try.

In the meantime...throw on a sweater, visit a pumpkin patch, and enjoy the Fall!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Thing 67: Crafty Bastards

Portrait of Michael Jackson, yarn

Ya'll are some crafty bastards, DC. Does anyone need a yarn-woven portrait of Michael Jackson? No. Of course not. But you kind of want one now, don't you?

In that last weekend of September it was still blissfully summery. Downright hot and sweaty as we wandered from crowded booth to crowded booth at the City Paper's annual Crafty Bastards festival in Adams Morgan. Over 100 local and regional crafters had turned out to showcase and sell their wears, from the beautiful to the practical to the wacky to the downright ridiculous. If you thought recycling was boring, you must visit the crafty bastards next year.

Caitlin Phillips of Rebound Designs makes book-bags. As in, purses made from the hard covers of used books.Rebound Designs' book bags That purple one is Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. While they are adorable and all, I was concerned about the books that were stripped naked for the making of crafts. When I asked Caitlin what she did with the multitude of naked books running around coverless, she assured me that she donates some of them to other local artists for their art projects (is there a paper mache sculpture of an octopus that originated as Harry Potter VI somewhere in the world?). But mostly, she told me, she just has a lot of coverless books on the shelves of her apartment. You can still read them just fine, she reminds me.

Old sweaters found new life as cute, 1920s reminiscent winter caps with huge flowers at A. Bel I just don't knowStudio. Plastic flowers and scrap metal became an elaborate diorama.

There was plenty of jewelry - all kinds of beading and metal work, which I browsed through until I broke down and bought a green plastic necklace that says 'avocado'. There were postcards and journals, pillows and magnets, skirts and dresses and hand-printed tee shirts. Crafty people seem to really like buttons. There were many, many buttons for sale, the tiny kind that say something witty (my favorite: "Tim Gunn '08"). I've never seen anyone wear these buttons...where do they all go?

Buttons for sale!If you got hungry wandering beneath the hot sun, Sticky Fingers bakery (the vegan bakery) had a booth, and so did Cake Love (the anti-vegan bakery). I was excited to try a vegan cupcake, but by the time I felt peckish they were completely sold out. So I went over to the butter lover's Cake Love booth, and darn it, they were sold out too. Expect a post about the Love Cafe and their seasonal pumpkin cupcakes, soon.
If the vast array of crafting was not entertainment enough, there was a DJ on one end of the fair, and a live performance venue on the other, which featured spoken word poets and emcees and even a break dance battle at one point.

Crafty Bastards is eclectic and creative and sometimes downright weird but it is hard not to be inspired by these people who know how to create something new and different from old things most of us don't give a second glance to. Where I see a magazine, they see a new shelf that can hold your keys, your loose change and tell you the time. I see scrap of fabric, they add a clasp and suddenly it is a tampon case. You may not have known you needed one, but now that it exists in the world...well, you kinda want one, don't you?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Thing 66: The Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Woolly Mammoth has a lot to say with a lot of laughs. The Unmentionables by Bruce Norris explores issues of racism, colonialism, globalization, exploitation, development and international aid, evangelical Christianity, corruption, stereotypes and torture. Doesn't that all sound hilarious?

But the thing is, it is all hilarious. This show kept the Boyfriend and I -- and the whole audience -- laughing the whole way through with its quick writing and excellent acting.

You may recall that I toured Woolly Mammoth a couple weeks back as part of the Arts on Foot Festival, at which time the Artistic Director of the company praised very highly their current show, and since he would have absolutely no reason to exaggerate, I bought two tickets that very day. Lucky for all of us, he hadn't been exaggerating, the show really was great with humor and charm and some very serious issues at its core. (The tour also allowed me to regale the Boyfriend with trivia about the theater and the company, which I'm sure he enjoyed.)

The show began with a monologue by one of the characters. Speaking directly to the audience, the young African man tells all of us to get out now, while we still can. "Why you no go home and watch the TV?" he asks us in his staccato accent. "This show is no good. Go home!" And when no one moves, he tells us "Too late now!" as the lights go down.

Well from his perspective the play progresses very poorly indeed. Without giving too much away, bad things happen to the poor guy. But for the rest of us, this show is wonderful and witty, moving quickly between laughter and outrage. I was glad I stuck around.

The Boyfriend has two degrees in theater, and is a pretty serious snob about such things. He enjoyed it, though did make the point that it lasted a bit too long and I agree. It could have ended about 20 minutes earlier and still gotten the point across while avoiding the heavy hand at the end. The acting was marvelous, especially the witty wisdom of the African doctor, and the fast talking American woman who takes it as a terrible affront when her husband mentions that maybe, just maybe, she talks too much sometimes.

Unfortunately, that was the last weekend of the show and the main stage has moved on to a show called Current Nobody, a modern, gender-flipped remake of the Odyssey. If it is of the same caliber as The Unmentionables it will make you think, it will make you laugh, and it will make you glad you didn't stay at home watching TV.