Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Sublime to the Ridiculous: Washington Monuments to Harry's Bar

On a late Saturday afternoon in May, about 4:30 p.m., we set out for the Washington Monument and decided to visit the various memorials around the Tidal Basin. My first impression of the Washington Monument was that it was big, but other than that it did not provoke much feeling for me. However, before the evening was over, after seeing the Washington Monument from many different angles and as a backdrop to many photos, I'd fallen in love with it. 
The World War II Memorial had some nice fountains and a view down the reflecting pool toward the Lincoln Memorial, but again, did not feel particularly significant to me. 

The Washington Monument loomed large above the WWII Memorial. 
The walk over to the Jefferson Memorial was significant. We had to cross a number of busy streets and go some distance, winding around the Tidal Basin. A am a lover of the Jefferson Memorial, partly because I admire Jefferson so much, partly because the architecture of the memorial is so Jeffersonian, and partly because it is plain gorgeous. 

The Washington Monument from the Jefferson Memorial. 
It is another significant walk to the FDR Memorial, although not as long and without as many obstacles. The FDR Memorial is spread-out and less monumental. It is a succession of large blocks, lots of water and lots of green plants. I probably need to go back some day and read all of the signs, but I did not have it in me that evening.
This cute little girl riding Roosevelt's dog was the highlight of this monument for me. 
The Washington Monument from near the FDR Memorial. 
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was monumental, but did not grab me as much as some others. I have great admiration for King and he deserves his place there, but I felt more of him in front of the Lincoln Memorial, where he gave his "I have a Dream" speech, than in this location. 
The Korean War Veterans Memorial is stunning. The life-size statues walking through vegetation transports you to Korea. One of my favorites. 
The Lincoln Memorial is also beautiful, the inside light conveying a sense of inward purity. Lincoln is revered. Martin Luther King's speech gives that place the memories for me, but Lincoln provided the gravitas for King's speech. 

It was getting quite dark by the time we hit the Vietnam Memorial. We could barely make out the names on the wall. It was the Washington Monument shining brightly above it that lent its significance to this spot for me. 
This circular trudge around the Tidal Basin was long and tiring, but inspiring. About the time we were back even to the Washington Monument we were in front of the White House, albeit a long distance away. It was illuminated, but it shines less brightly for me these days. By contrast, Washington's Monument seemed particularly bright this night, Washington's greatness magnified by comparison to the current occupant of the White House. 
We walked further along, quite hungry. It was after 9:00 p.m. and several places we looked to eat were closed. We passed Harry's Bar and it was doing a steady business, both inside and out. We stopped as much for a cold drink and to rest our tired legs as to eat dinner. 

I ordered a lobster roll, thinking it might be good given our proximity to the eastern seaboard. I was wrong. The bun was pretty much condiment free and the lobster chunks were very cold and a little chewy. Perhaps the worst lobster roll I've ever eaten and I've eaten another one or two that were pretty bad. The french fries that came with it were also cold.
Judy ordered a salmon salad with avocado, carrots, cabbage and garbanzo beans. It had over-cooked salmon and lots of garbanzo beans, but no avocado, cabbage or carrots. Judy eventually caught the attention of our inattentive waitress and asked her about the missing ingredients. The waitress told her that they'd run out of those ingredients, "sorry." No offer to try and fix anything, no discount, no prior explanation when she brought it to the table. 
One of our worst restaurant experiences ever. Fortunately, it was not enough to take the shine off the sublime of the monuments we'd visited earlier that evening. A walk that helped restore some hope and pride in our nation's capitol that seems hell bent these days to destroy the institutions that have made our country great. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Old Ebbitt Grill - Washington, D.C.

As we planned our visit to Washington, D.C., one restaurant that came up a number of times was Old Ebbitt Grill. One of my partners, who has visited Washington each year for about 30 years, told me that it is a place where the politicians and business leaders of the city go to eat. The food is not always great, but the atmosphere is fun. 

I find that it actually has its own reference in Wikipedia.  Some interesting tidbits: It was established in 1856 and is the oldest bar and restaurant in Washington. Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Andrew Johnson both dined there frequently. Presidents Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Warren G. Harding drank in the bar there. In 1977 it was the location where a Soviet spy ring operated. In 1986 it was the location of a discussion among Reagan administration officials, including Oliver North, seeking to protect President Reagan from fallout from the Iran-Contra affair. President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush had dinner with Sting there in 1989, followed a few weeks later by the Rolling Stones. In 2013 it was ranked third in the nation in terms of revenue for a restaurant with revenues of $26.7 million. It turns away 800 to 900 customers a day. One of the two restaurants that beat it that year (with revenues of $35.3 million) was Joe's Stone Crab in Miami which we happened to visit that same year.

My sister-in-law, Mary Cannon Smith, and her husband, Doug Smith, joined us for dinner there. They are serving an LDS mission in the area and took time out of their busy schedules to be with us. The place was packed. I'd made reservations for the two of us several weeks in advance and Doug and Mary were able to get reservations after some people cancelled and the hostess was able to seat us together. 
This photo was taken by our waiter.
We arrived during oyster hours (before 6:00 p.m.) when the oysters are half price. So we ordered a dozen oysters (they go through about 14,000 oysters a week). They provided cocktail sauce with horseradish that could be added in. They were very good, but King's Fish House still does the best job with oysters for my taste. King's seems to have more of the salty clam juice that really makes or breaks the raw oysters for me, plus they are nicely chilled and their pre-mixed cocktail sauce is a perfect amount of heat to my taste. 
Doug and Mary had eaten there once before and Doug said that the crab cakes were the best he'd ever tasted. So Judy ordered them and shared a bite or two with me. I have to agree that they are the best crab cakes I've eaten. The cakes were large, moist and succulent. 
Crab cakes
I love soft-shell crab which are blue crabs that have recently molted and their new exoskeleton is still soft. They are removed from water to prevent hardening of the shell and the entire crab, other than the mouthparts, gills and abdomen can be eaten. The edible part of the crab is deep-fried or sauteed. Given our proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, one of the primary sources for blue crabs, and being the right season, I had to have soft-shelled crab (I ordered two). These were coated in cornmeal and flash fried, and came with new potatoes, asparagus and a Cajun remoulade. The crab was wonderfully moist and the body was thick and juicy. The thick remoulade was a very nice addition. Perhaps the best soft-shell crab I've ever eaten. 

I wanted to get this view as well - it shows the crab legs. 
My experience was that the food was excellent and reasonably priced by Washington standards. I would love to go back again some day.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Mt. Vernon Inn Restaurant - Mt. Vernon, VA

In May we visited Mt. Vernon, George Washington's 500 acre estate on the Potomac River, about 18 miles outside Washington, D.C., and were awed by the beauty of the place. Given current events, I was particularly appreciative of the political foresight and humility of General Washington who resigned his commission as general and refused to be named king, then later voluntarily stepped down as president after serving two terms. We would all be better served if our current president had even a tiny bit of Washington's humility and concern about the long-term welfare of the country. 
The front of the main mansion. 
View of the main mansion from the side...
...and from the back.
The Potomac viewed from the back porch. 
The bed where George Washington died.
And the crypt on the estate where George (right) and Martha (left) are buried. 
Somewhere during our tour Judy heard of peanut and chestnut soup and decided she wanted to try some. We inquired at the Mt. Vernon Inn Restaurant, on-site at Mt. Vernon, and found out they had it, so we got on their waiting list and were seated in about 20 minutes. It turned out to be one of my favorite meals of our trip. 

Judy shared the peanut and chestnut soup which contains peanut butter, chopped unsalted peanuts, water chestnuts, chicken broth, onion, butter, flour and Worcestershire sauce. The soup was worth the stop. It was thick, very peanuty, even more-so than Penang curry, with chunks of peanut and water chestnut with discernible differences in their textures. 
Peanut butter and chestnut soup.
We also shared skillet cornbread topped with vanilla bean honey butter. It looked really amazing, but the cornbread was overcooked and crusty and the honey butter was too cold - it needed time to thaw and melt, which we did not permit, and were underwhelmed by the result. 
The corn bread looked fantastic, but was disappointing.
I got a grilled grouper sandwich with lettuce, tomato, cole slaw and remoulade sauce on a wheat bun. They followed my instructions to under-cook the fish, so it was moist and worked well with the other ingredients. So far, I've not had a bad grouper sandwich. 
Grilled grouper, cole slaw and a fantastic remoulade. The remoulade really made the sandwich. It is typically made with mayonnaise, herbs, pickles and capers and melded the fish and other fixings together in a great way. The plate also contained home-made potato chips that lacked saltiness. 
Judy got a warm goat cheese salad with added chicken and we shared some potato salad. The potatoes in the potato salad were not cooked sufficiently, they were still semi-crisp, and the dressing on it was more the consistency and taste of sour cream than mayonnaise, so I was not impressed with it. 
Almond-crusted goat cheese bookends the salad.
Very mediocre potato salad.
However, the sauteed garlic spinach was the best spinach I've ever eaten - anywhere. The spinach was wilted, but not a clumpy mass of greens, and the broth had a significant savory garlic flavor that I absolutely loved. 
Fabulous sauteed garlic spinach.
Anytime I get a meal where two or three items are outstanding, even though other items may be mediocre or sub-par, I feel like we've done well. 

The meal capped a very nice visit to Mt. Vernon and contributed to our over-all good feelings about the visit. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Camel Hump Fat

I've eaten quite a variety of meat in my lifetime, and particularly over the last ten years, and camel meat is one of my favorites. One of the items on my wish list has been to try camel hump, which is primarily fat. 
Dromedary camels in Kenya. The wild camels in Australia where we get our camel meat from are also dromedary. 
Camel meat is much less fatty than beef. Camel meat averages 1.2% to 1.8% fat, while beef averages 4% to 8% fat. The reason for that is camel's are built differently than cows, or pigs or sheep, or other meat animals. Most of the fat in the camel is deposited in its hump. Many people believe that camels store water in their hump, or alternatively, that the fat in the camel hump provides water for the camel when it needs it. However, that is not the case. 

Camels are more efficient in handling water loss than other animals: first, they produce a very sparse and concentrated urine and very dry droppings; second, their bodies tolerate temperature rises to above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning they do not need to cool themselves by sweating or panting; third, they can lose 30% to 40% of their body weight in water loss and still continue to walk in the desert sun; and fourth, their large noses act in a way to reduce water loss when they breathe. When a camel drinks water, it can drink up to 20 gallons at a time, but they drink just enough to restore the normal water content in their bodies and do not store excess water in their hump.  

What the camel hump is is a food reserve. When food is scarce, the fat in the hump is degraded and used for nutrition. 

In a 2016 article in The Washington Post, camel meat is extolled as a good alternative to beef and other mainstays of the American diet. Anshu Pathak, owner of Exotic Meat Market, is referenced as a spokesman for camel meat. The article notes than Anshu gets his camels from wild camels in Australia that are an invasive species. He gets camel hump fat, when he can get it, and uses it in the production of camel and some other types of sausage, and even cooks with rendered camel fat when he can. 

The other day I was at Anshu's retail store in Grand Terrace, California. I told him that I would love to try camel hump fat if he ever got any in. He said that he had some and produced for me a vacuum sealed rounded package of camel fat. 
Package of camel hump fat.
I've been anxious to try cooking with it and found the opportunity this weekend. The camel fat is quite dense and does not break down and start to melt at room temperature, like I expected (at least for the relatively short amount of time I allowed it to sit out un-refrigerated). But when I put the fat in a hot skillet it melted down very quickly. 
A knife cut through the camel fat.
Camel fat in a skillet, quickly melting.
I cooked a meal of shishito peppers fried in camel fat; small baked potatoes baked, and then fried in camel fat; garlic cloves that were microwaved, then fried in camel fat; onions that were fried in camel fat; and elk ribs that were cooked sous vide, then fried for several minutes in camel fat. 
Shishito peppers fried in camel fat.
Elk rib chops, sous vided first, then fried in camel fat to give it outer texture.
Elk rib chops after frying.
A meal of elk rib chop, fried shishito peppers, fried onions, fried garlic cloves and baked, then fried potatoes.
I have to say that the camel fat was a bit too much for me. It was great on the elk ribs, but it was a little bit too thick on the fried vegetables, particularly as they cooled. So, for me, it will not be a substitute for olive oil or butter when frying vegetables. However, I will consider using it when frying meat for a couple of minutes after I having cooked it sous vide, to give it a nice outer texture.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception - Castries, St. Lucia

The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Castries, St. Lucia, is the largest church in the Caribbean and one of nine basilicas in the Caribbean. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Castries, which covers the entirety of the island nation.
Cathedral in Castries, St. Lucia.

This Door of Mercy is a result of a Papal bull issued by Pope Francis in  October 2015 to designate a Holy Door in each diocese throughout the world to celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy. He stated, "The Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope." 
We visited in a rush to get back to our cruise ship just as a funeral was letting out. So our timing was limited and the crowds prevented some photos we'd liked to have taken. 

It was built in 1897 on Micoud Street in what is now known as Derek Walcott Square (after a St. Lucian poet and Nobel Laureate) and named a Minor Basilica on May 11, 1999.

One of the things that caught our eye in pictures before-hand were the bright colors used to decorate the inside of the cathedral, including trompe l' oeil columns (painted columns that make them look three dimensional) of purple and pink. Unfortunately, the lighting inside was bad for photos and my pictures don't convey the extent of the amazing color.
From near the entrance, looking forward toward the altar. 
Looking back toward the entrance. 
The main altar.
My favorite thing about the cathedral is its adaptation of the Christian story to local culture, with Caribbean and African (slaves brought to the Caribbean) themes. I particularly liked stained glass windows featuring the holy family as black. 
Mary, Jesus and Joseph

St. Lucia's most famous artist, Dunstan St. Omer, did murals inside the cathedral. He designed the flag for St. Lucia when it became a nation in 1979 and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2010 for his contribution to the arts in St. Lucia. He is known as the father of the prismism style of painting, which is to show the subject in a fragmented form, as seen through a prism. He has been criticized and acclaimed for his portrayal of black divinity. He was quoted saying, "If my faith depends on Christ being white, I think I will lose my faith because the relationship that exists in the world between the white race and the black race is one of prejudice and inferiority for the blacks." From what I can find, it appears that he did all of the murals around the inside of the building. St. Omer's concern about racial inequality is a main theme in these murals. 
St. Martin de Porres (1579-1639) is the patron saint of mixed race people and those who seek racial harmony. He was born in Peru as the illegitimate son of a Spaniard and a free slave. Native people and Africans were barred from joining religious orders in Peru. The Dominicans of Holy Rosary Priory in Lima accepted him as a volunteer and eventually the prior allowed him to take his vows, despite the law. He was known for his charity and working with the sick. He was canonized in 1962. 

Here is one of Dunstan St. Omer's depictions of Mary and Jesus as black. 
The Holy Family. Unlike the stained glass above, Joseph has a dark beard, instead of a white beard, 

Bishop Gachet and Father Tapon before the Virgin Mary. Father Tapon began construction of the church in 1894 (it was finished in 1897). It became a cathedral in 1957 when Castries became a diocese headed by Bishop Gachet. 
St. Anthony of Padua, the finder of lost objects and St. Jude, also known as Thaddeus, one of the 12 apostles, the patron of lost causes. Behind them is the image of Edessa, a rectangle of cloth upon which a miraculous image of Christ (here black) has been imprinted, brought by Thaddeus, which healed the King of Edessa. I assume that this represents the need for the natives and black descendants of slaves to be found and healed. 

The Blessed Anne-Marie Javouhey (1779 to 1851) is known as the Liberator of Slaves in the New World and "mother of the blacks." Among other things, she established a colony in Guiana and prepared a group of 520 African slaves for emancipation. The majority of them became Christian and learned European ways. She was beatified in 1950.

This depiction of Jesus is not black, so I assume this mural was not painted by Dunstan St. Omer. 
Saint Lucy, or Saint Lucia in Spanish, is the patron saint of the island of St. Lucia. Saint Lucy lived from 283 to 304 in Syracuse, Sicily, and died as a martyr during the persecutions of Diocletian. Late accounts of her persecution depict her as having her eyes gouged out, or taking her own eyes out to discourage a persistent suitor. Then at the time of her burial, her eyes had miraculously been restored. Therefore she is often depicted in iconography with her eyes on a dish. She is also depicted holding a palm branch as a symbol of victory over evil. Several sources note that St. Lucy is depicted above the altar in the cathedral. The only thing I can see that could be that depiction is the star-burst type painting above the three chairs behind the altar.  

A Minor Basilica is entitled to show the Tintinnabulum (bell mounted on a pole) and Umbraculum (umbrella). The only indication I found of them was a mural above one of the doors featuring the Umbraculum. 
Finally, some odds n' ends photos.
A very modern rose window.
St. George slaying a dragon.

An altar to the side of the main altar.
Another altar to the side of the main altar.