Another Anything-Can-Happen Season

April 6, 2016

All the harbingers of the season — cherry blossoms, the city of trees alive with fresh buds, Easter and the end of March Madness — have already come and gone. But the coming of spring really means nothing until the baseball season has begun.

More than any contemporary sport, baseball still relishes its association with hope and the season. The traditional retort “Wait until next year” follows the failure to make the playoffs or win a division flag or the World Series — not an NBA title, a gold medal, the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup. It ignores not only a losing season but insane salaries, drug tests and bad behavior, instead savoring the spirit of Ernie Banks, who said: “Let’s play two.” Ernie never complained (and never won a World Series).

Baseball fans — old and young, past, present and future — go against the modern grain because they trail with them, more than fans of any other sport, the baggage of yesteryear. It’s not just statistics, though baseball fans and sports writers are probably more obsessed with data than hedge fund managers, inventing new categories (see Wins Above Replacement) of achievement or failure every year. It’s a kind of tribal memory that blankets every city worthy of having a team.

For years, for instance, the Boston Red Sox lived not only in the shadow of the New York Yankees, but also of the Curse of the Bambino, whereby Babe Ruth, arguably the greatest power hitter in the history of the game, was traded by the Red Sox to the Yankees. For decades, the Sox remained without a World Series title. To collector of mementos of good fortune and misery alike, whisper the name Bill Buckner and see what happens.

The Red Sox finally won a World Series in 2004 (in improbable fashion, trailing the Yankees 3-0 in the playoffs, winning four in a row, then sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals). But the Chicago Cubs haves not been so fortunate, having failed to win a World Series since the first decade of the last century.

Guess who’s favored by many to win the World Series this year?

The Chicago Cubs.

This is not necessarily a good sign. Guess which team was favored by many last year? The Washington Nationals — who suffered a strange, inexplicable collapse after the All-Star game and failed to make the playoffs.

But baseball hope springs eternal. At least one Sports Illustrated writer has the Nats winning the World Series, and a number of others have brash outfielder Bryce Harper, who sports a millennial beard and haircut, repeating as NL MVP. (If those initials mean nothing to you, you should perhaps stop reading.)

The Nationals, who brought baseball back to Washington, have already built up enough history to create a tribal memory of sorts, one of per-usual expansion-team defeats, but also of never-fulfilled expectations. That is the way of baseball. These things hurt in a way that knowing Dan Snyder still owns the Redskins does not. The Nats already have a history of two playoff losses that defy explanation, wound the heart and survive as bar talk. In today’s world, there are as many explanations of how the Nats lost those games as there are regional beer brands, which is a lot.

Like no other game, baseball has the beauty of endless hope. It has no clock, and therefore anything can happen and quite often does. Time is not an enemy and not a friend; it barely exists except as a backdrop where things like a 22-inning game can occur deep into the morning, where a kid brings a glove to the game in hopes of being the one — out of 30,000 people — to catch a home-run ball.

If it’s one hit by Bryce Harper, it will be a treasure. Harper, who will be playing on a team that also includes relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon, who very nearly strangled him in the dugout last year, is one of the game’s superior two young naturals (the other being the much more well behaved but equally lethal Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels).

Anything can happen at a baseball game. Two years ago, I was present at an opening-day game in which often wounded pitching ace Stephen Strasburg pitched a shutout and Harper hit two home runs — the kind of game which, if it had been the seventh game of a World Series, would have made many fans feel that they could die and go to heaven right then and there.
Hope springs eternal. Come next Thursday — the exhibition game doesn’t count — it starts all over again.

Mykita Opticians Welcome to Georgetown

March 24, 2016

Upscale opticians and eyewear store Mykita has opened up its second D.C. branch, here in Georgetown. The new store is on the corner of 30th and M Street, at the previous location of a frozen yogurt vendor. The Georgetown branch boasts the “largest selection of Mykita frames in the Washington DC area.” The Germany-based company produces their handmade frames in Berlin. Mykita’s other locations in the metro area are at Tysons Galleria and the corner of 14th and T Street.

The Antiques Addict: Early American Pottery

February 12, 2015

Governor Gooch had a secret.

Virginia Governor William Gooch had good reason to hide the truth in his 1732 annual report to the British Board of Trade. The colonies were forbidden to engage in manufacturing any products in direct competition with those imported from England, except for those that would benefit the mother country.

Yet, he and his government had long encouraged local entrepreneurs, including a Yorktown merchant known as William Rogers.

An enterprising brewer and businessman, Rogers’s pottery was one of Virginia’s most prosperous businesses, producing 23 types of redware and stoneware, which were shipped up and down the East Coast. Since the quality of Rogers’s vessels was comparable to anything imported from England, and clearly posed a conflict, Gooch maintained his deception until the end of the decade.

The most utilitarian pottery available, redware was one of the first necessities that the colonists made themselves. It’s no wonder Governor Gooch was covert about this flourishing industry. Redware pots were used like plastic is used today. They were comparably cheap, plentiful and locally crafted, using clay with high iron content (this is what gives redware its characteristic red or orange hue).

Redware jugs, jars, plates, bowls and tavern ware of various kinds were used throughout 17th- and 18th-century America. If the housewife needed it, the potter made it. Unfortunately, the potter, or anyone who regularly used redware vessels, commonly developed nervous disorders, like palsy and tremors, associated with lead poisoning.

There are multitudes of contemporary pieces on the market that are being advertised as antiques. Hence, collectors should educate themselves to be able to discern fakes.

Examine the back of the piece to see if it is blackened, which would indicate that it was used on the hearth and is likely an old piece. Since tallow or fat leaches into clay, smelling the piece for faint remnant odors of either can help determine whether it’s an older item. A glaze with a glassy quality is a sign of a modern piece.

Stoneware was developed due to the fear of poisoning from lead-glazed earthenware. Made of dense, blended clays, salt-glazed and then fired to vitrification, stoneware was imported to the colonies from England and Germany.

Early American redware potters rarely inscribed their names in the soft clay, but stoneware quite often bears the maker’s mark. Crocks, jugs, butter churns – chiefly utility items – were typically decorated with freehand cobalt decoration of flora, fauna and, occasionally, military motifs. An urn featuring Civil War soldiers recently sold at auction for $350,000.

The mellow, golden-colored ware is a type of stoneware made of fine yellow clay that was found along riverbanks in New Jersey and other Mid-Atlantic states. Since the yellow clay contains a lower level of iron, causing it to vitrify at higher temperatures than red clay, yellow ware items were much harder and more durable for kitchen use.

The collector can determine whether an older piece is American yellow ware by tapping it: American pieces will thud; English yellow ware will ring. It was a popular choice for kitchen use up until the 1940s, when homemakers began to be seduced by pieces made of modern materials.

The south has a wide and diverse 200-year history of pottery, covering multiple states. Southern redware and stoneware research has made significant strides in the last 25 years. Entire new schools of pottery have been discovered, uncovering new forms and traditions.

The pottery of the “Great Road” represents some newer discoveries of the southern pottery tradition. The Great Road, considered part of the “Great Wagon Road” initiating in Philadelphia, was the primary route from Roanoke, Va., to eastern Tennessee.

A wonderful piece of antique American folk pottery, whether it is redware, stoneware or yellow ware, has its own distinct past. A potter – who probably dug his own clay, mixed his own glaze recipe and fired his pieces in old wood-fired kilns – made each piece, and every piece tells its own unique story.

An antiques dealer for more than 25 years, Michelle Galler owns Antiques, Whimsies & Curiosities, based in Georgetown and in Washington, Va. Contact her at antiques.and.whimsies@gmail.com to suggest a topic for a future column. [gallery ids="101984,135444,135446" nav="thumbs"]

‘The Good Stuff Cookbook’

November 3, 2011

Last Monday morning I watched Spike Mendelsohn on ABC’s “Good Morning America” from the luxury of my bed. He was doing a food demo on the sidewalks of New York with fellow Greek George Stephanopoulos. Spike’s a down-to-earth real deal guy who, no matter how famous he has become, will still shake your hand, look you in the eye and flip your burger. Then he’ll stick around to make sure you liked it.

Five days earlier I spoke with him at The Good Stuff Eatery, his restaurant on Capitol Hill, along with a small group from the press gathered for the launch of his latest project, “The Good Stuff Cookbook.” Surrounded by baskets of his farmhouse bacon cheeseburgers, crunchy tender “Village Fries,” and tall frosty toasted marshmallow milkshakes, he is humbled as usual by the attention lavished on him. I’ve always been impressed with Spike, his work ethic and his accessibility. He is naturally giving and open. I’ve watched him jump from behind a searing grill on “Spike’d Sundays” at the Capitol Skyline Hotel pool on the hottest day of summer to hand off a burger and fries to a passing guest. He wants to please everyone.

His new books were stacked for signing on a small table when a word bubble floated aimlessly over my head: “Can a cookbook with hamburger recipes really captivate jaded foodies in a fresh and creative way?” The answer would hang in the air until I returned home.

He begins as most authors do, with acknowledgement of agents’ guidance and chefs’ inspiration. But it is his warm descriptions of family and the integral part they have played in his career that tell of Spike, the man. “The restaurant is the epitome of family,” he avows. His sincerity is palpable.

There is a tender tribute to sister and co-author, Micheline, to whom he writes “To say I could never have done this book without you, is like calling the sky blue.” His grandfather — “Papou, whose love was like an heirloom passed down” — and grandmother, Zas, who started his love of food and people since the day he first washed dishes in the family’s restaurants, are showered with his adoration and respect. They taught him well. He has become a man who believes in inclusion, a generous ambassador of his food knowledge and philosophy. Nobody is surprised at this.

If you’ve ever eaten at his lines-out-the-door Good Stuff Eatery you know that he has reached people by serving honest, homey, un-pretentious food — albeit with an original twist. There are no fewer than eleven different takes on mayonnaise in the book, from chipotle to pomegranate and my personal favorite, Old Bay.

From long-time New Yorker pal and grill partner Brian, he gets Big B’s Baked Beans. Uncle D’s Chili and Cheddar Burger is a thankful nod to Great Uncle Denny. On the lighter side there are grilled watermelon, yuzu and feta salad with fried goat cheese and dried cranberry and almond wedge salad, where the Greek influence shines brightly.

The restaurant’s recipe for their popular “Village Fries,” speckled with fresh chopped rosemary and thyme, is given here, along with the “Michelle Burger,” featuring ground turkey mixed with mango chutney, green apples and chipotle chiles served on a multi-grain bun. The “Prez Obama Burger” pays tribute with a juicy beef burger, applewood-smoked bacon and crumbled blue cheese topped with horseradish mayonnaise and red onion marmalade. The Obamas LOVE this place!

Southerners will relish his take on fried chicken in his recipe for the fried chicken burger with smoked bacon, gingered honey mustard and sauteed collard greens. It’s a Sunday-go-to-meeting supper on a bun.

There are plenty of useful tips throughout the book. There are two pages of photos and directions on cutting perfect onion petals, one of his signature items. It’s his delicious rendition of onion rings that keeps the batter tight to the onion, while the onion petal itself retains its integrity, still meltingly tender and fully cooked. I’ve always wondered how this was done.

Rivetingly lush photographs by Joel Shymanski capture the intimacy of the moment between the arrival of the hot, smoking, gooey, oozing, herbed, slathered dish and the split second before you pop it in your expectant and salivating mouth. The images taken are so close up, you might want to eat the page before you read the recipe.

Many of the dessert recipes are perfect for on-the-go entertaining. Cherry-apricot jam blondies and Vietnamese coffee brownies speak directly to the popular “pick-up sweets” geared towards picnics and grill-outs. Imagine cardamom and caramel popcorn on the lawn at Wolf Trap. Yes, it’s trendy, but oh-so-cute.

I’m saving the best for last when I tell you that recipes for Mendelsohn’s scrumptious milkshakes, floats and malts served in the restaurant are revealed to the reader. That’s right — 22 glorious pages of creamy, mouth-watering ice cream treats to freeze your brain. Hallelujah! This stuff is so good it should be illegal. Sign a waiver to yourself before you try it at home. “Plan a party,” Spike entreats his readers. There’s plenty of the “Good Stuff” to go around.

For questions or comments, contact jordan@whiskandquill.com.

Good Stuff Sauce (makes about 2 cups)
2 cups homemade basic mayonnaise
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
Add the mayonnaise, ketchup, molasses, vinegar and salt to a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth. The sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week.

From “The Good Stuff Cookbook,” John Wiley & Sons.
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