Citizens Kick Off Black History Month at Holy Trinity
Book Lovers and Authors Gather en Masse for National Book Festival (photos)
Jeff Malet • September 26, 2016
There were more than 100,000 attendees, and many celebrity authors, at this year’s festival, held Sept. 24.
Georgetown’s Frida Burling Dies at 100
Robert Devaney • June 7, 2016
Frida Frazer Winslow Burling, one of Georgetown’s oldest and noted citizens, died May 26 at her Washington, D.C., home.
Her daughter Belinda Winslow told The Georgetowner: “Mother passed away peacefully this morning about 10. She was surrounded by family and love. We did a circle of love and recited ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ ”
Last weekend, Burling began receiving hospice care and died in her own bed in her own house on 29th Street.
That same weekend, she received an award — which her daughter Belinda accepted on her behalf — from the Episcopal Bishop of Washington Mariann Budde at St. John’s Church on O Street in Georgetown. Burling was also visited at home by Rev. Gini Gerbasi of St. John’s and by Rev. Johnsie Cogman of Mount Zion United Methodist Church across the street from her house.
A memorial service is planned for September at St. John’s in Georgetown.
Yes, Georgetown’s Frida Burling — born in Sept. 16, 1915, in Newport, Rhode Island — led a life that merited many an award and was worth celebrating, especially in her town.
When people talk about legacies and life stories, usually the tale is about how you lived your life, and what your markers there are along the way that tell your story and note what you bear your participation in your life and in your community.
Here at The Georgetowner, we’ve always felt, ever since we encountered Frida Burling in her first forays into making something iconic, lasting and permanent out of the annual Georgetown House Tours, that in many ways, she represented an ideal of community and citizen here. Not just because of the tour itself — although she always gave the yearly celebration of Georgetown history and essence her full energy — but because she embraced the idea of community service and identity with place with all the joy she could muster, which was considerable. Ask those involved with the Junior League of Washington, another one of her favorite efforts.
Burling was and has always been, even now — with that beautiful energy now extinguished — a Georgetowner who represented her town and herself more than well.
She had a deep, abiding love for the place where she lived and was never afraid to show it —and to be persuasive in her efforts to get others to join her in her various efforts that included the Georgetown Ministry Center as well as other programs at St. John’s Episcopal Church.
When she came looking for volunteers and help for the tour, whether to host patron’s parties or have homes on the tour, she was pretty hard to resist, because Frida always had an immense reservoir of charm, humor and knowledge and a sense of life’s duty and rewards.
When we sat down with her in early September 2015 just before her 100th birthday at her 29th Street home — which is one of those sunny, stylish, book-filled residences that perfectly reflected the life she and her late husband Edward Burling shared there — she still had that empathy in her eyes and certain certitudes also.
She led a life which allowed her to dive into causes with fervor that was fueled by compassion, as well as self-assurance — she was at the 1963 Civil Rights rally and historic Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. In her book, you will find a picture of her gleefully holding up a sign (“Money for Jobs Not War”) at a rally protesting U.S. policy.
Burling’s lifetime spanned 17 presidencies: Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, Truman, Ike, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2, and Barack Obama. She remained firm about her loyalties and preference. Asked who her favorite president during the course of her life was, she emphatically said, “Barack Obama.”
Her long life produced a sense of continuity, a feel for its history, detailed and otherwise, and that burgeoning consistent warmth provided by family. In Burling’s case, one that produced a fair-sized clan and tribe from two marriages, both by any measure fruitful and well-shared.
But knowing Frida and knowing about her also gave you a sense of her values and the values and history of the community — she was exercising in the gym in her nineties — which she championed with that sustained energy of hers.
World War II Veterans Mark 71st Anniversary of Victory in Europe (V-E) Day (photos)
Jeff Malet • May 11, 2016
The Friends of the National World War II Memorial and the National Park Service paid tribute to the Greatest Generation during a special Mother’s Day event at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., May 8, commemorating the 71st anniversary of the Allied Forces Victory in the Atlantic and the end of World War II in Europe.
As part of the ceremony, nearly a dozen World War II veterans laid wreaths at the “Freedom Wall” of the Memorial in memory of the more than 400,000 Americans and 60 million people killed worldwide during the deadliest military conflict in human history.
Approximately 60 WWII veterans were in attendance, all in their 90s, including veterans visiting the memorial with the Puget Sound Honor Flight. The Civil Air Patrol, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, took part during the ceremony as well. Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States Valeriy Chaly presented a special memorial wreath on behalf of his country. Leon Harris of ABC7 News Channel 8 served as master of ceremonies.
Another V-E observance followed, this one by the Russian community of the U.S. on behalf of the men and women who defended Russia against Nazi aggression. After marching past the White House, dozens descended on the World War II Memorial holding signs carrying placards with photos of ancestors who died in WW II. Organizers hope to make this an annual event.
View our photos from V-E Day at the World War II Memorial by clicking on the photo icons below. (All photos by Jeff Malet)
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The Music and Life of Prince: Beyond Category
Gary Tischler • April 22, 2016
When news came April 21 of the death of Prince, the 57-year-old rock-funk-jazz-soul ageless music dynamo through the course of the day and night, the response here in Washington, D.C., seemed especially electric and full of shock.
A Hispanic bank teller looked unbelieving and asked, “How, when, what happened?” A black woman, pacing back and forth, replied, “Today, this morning . . . We’re losing our icons. He was an icon. I mean whom do we have left?”
As his name, given to him by his father, another Prince and musician, indicated, he performed from the get-go as some kind of special royalty — not in any kiss-the-ring fashion, but in a way that set him and his multitude of gifts apart. He was an original, who could play all the instruments that any sort of music required. He was a gem and something of a genius, a songwriter, a movie star in his own movie based on his life, a live performer who was brazen, colorful and full of color, a thin, small African American who cast a large shadow on America’s music. He was a chameleon of independence. He changed bands, identities and clothes, styles and ways of walking and talking and writing.
To America’s black funkadelics and soul-searchers, this was a hurtful loss because it seemed to come out of nowhere. The cause of his death — he was found unresponsive in his Minneapolis compound — has yet to be determined, although there have been rumors and speculations swirling that he had several days ago perhaps overdosed on the highly addictive pain killer drug Percocet and that he had been in serious pain for some time due to hip problems and the fact that religion forbids the blood transmissions required for such surgery. Whatever the cause, the end result will be only sadder for all the loss.
To youthful and also memory- and music-driven African Americans, his death is a heavy blow, every bit as painful as the deaths of the legendary Whitney Houston — and perhaps more to the point, Michael Jackson.
Prince embraced — and then often improved upon, and certainly embellished just about every form of American pop music that he encountered. He jumped into those waters gleefully, confidently, even arrogantly early on and just stirred and muddied the waters, singing with a certain rawness about sex and love, and also a adding a considerable amount of soul-searching content, especially in “Purple Rain,” which was the title of his best known album and a movie about himself in which he starred. The film grossed around $80 million — not a bad outing for the times and for what it was, plus an Oscar for musical score.
The youthful generations of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s embraced him, including young white people, while others were baffled by him and underappreciated him. That could include many of us who didn’t bother to explore the depth and range of the body of work which placed him — and continues to — in the top ranks of rock, pop, soul and jazz musicians. Some folks scoffed at his attempts to put almost every kind of music into one album, or one song—but he did it anyway. Duke Ellington’s phrase “beyond category” appears created for him.
He pressed issues of his identity — including his much speculated-upon sexual identity. On stage, he managed to project a kind of direct, male sexuality that could also be at turn androgynous, driven by a feel for costume and style, and his forays into high-pitched vocals. Girls — and boys — loved him. Boy George claimed he had an affair with him, but then so did some high-profile female sex symbols like Kim Basinger and Madonna.
His appeal seemed to defy category, gender, ethnicity and race, while embracing all their aspects.
His younger self party-inducers were explicit. In his later years, Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness and toned himself down a little. He seemed always to be searching: so much so that for a time he dropped the name Prince and instead went by his own love symbol symbols or as “the artist formerly known as Prince,” partly in a fight with his record company.
The musical beat this year has been darkened by sadness. The world has lost David Bowie, Glenn Frey of the Eagles and recently one of country music’s most authentic voices, Merle Haggard. And now, Prince, and doves cried.
Primarily Yours: Past New York to California — But Time for Home, D.C.
Gary Tischler • April 21, 2016
It looks as if we’re going to be in for another round of non-stop political noodling, Trump-o-mania, Hillary-Bernie battles, and who will clinch the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations.
It will be presidential politics 24-7, right up to the California primary in June which ought to settle things — if they haven’t been settled by then.
The roller coaster ride, which once used to feature a whole slew of candidates, but now contains only three Republicans and two Democrats, begins, well, yesterday.
As far as Donald Trump is concerned, he’s won already, which is maybe why his victory speech sounded a little like a national victory speech. In the big New York primary for both parties, Trump won 60 percent of the vote in the Republican race, leading him to claim that Ted Cruz was technically eliminated. This isn’t quite true, but let’s face, when you finish third in a race to John Kasich (I know, we forgot again) as Cruz did, your chances are on life support.
Hillary Clinton also did well, stopping the onrush of victories that Bernie Sanders brought to New York . She won convincingly, with 57 percent of the vote. Sanders had 42 percent, which, while not entirely crush-worthy, was impressive for her and disheartening for the Bern, who had thought — as did the polls and the media, which dashed out a 52-48 exit poll — that he would do better here, what with the proximity to his home state and such. But New York is Clinton’s home state, too. The more Sanders won, the more he seemed to lose. This was also the case with New York. If you look at a map of the counties in New York, he won almost the entire state — except for the big urban areas, except for New York City jurisdictions.
Now, we’re off and running — five major primaries will be held next week in Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut. This will spark — as it already has — another round of speculation, predictions and the meaning-of-it-all articles like this one. The media — and this is especially true of the television media of all stripes — and objective non-objective persuasions have been reduced to cheerfully congratulating themselves on being wrong every time out when it comes to the fate and progress of Donald Trump. Some weeks past, when Cruz won an unlikely victory in Wisconsin as well as Colorado — victories which sparked a Trump cheating tirade which he’s never entirely abandoned — the media had Trump finally stopped, wounded, all but derailed and predicted that soon enough the mysterious GOP establishment would rally around Cruz or the other guy, whomever that might be.
Didn’t happen. Trump did a showy reshuffling of his staff, added some veteran strategists, a mixed bags of effective pros, old-timers going back to the Dole campaign, foreign policy advisers that included Cold War warriors and so on. He made some policy speeches that did include complete sentences and were read from prompters. Gone were all but a few rallies and clashes with demonstrators and free-wheeling claims about history and events that did not happen. True, he whined about the delegate system, saying it was rigged. This was like a guy cleaning up all the chips, and claiming that the other guys had cheated.
Of course, the danger of an ur-Trump who doesn’t behave like Trump is that he may become boring. His victory speech was something like that: Trump light. “Huuuge” has been replaced by “amazing.” Gone was “lying Ted,” replaced by Senator Cruz who, of course, doesn’t stand a chance any more. Trump will still get rid of Obama-care. He’s still going to make “amazing” deals, with the help of other dealmakers like him. “The economy, we’re going to fix it. It will be amazing, you watch.”
The idea that Trump — and less so Clinton — might sweep the next batch of states is not as viable as it might sound, especially since that’s what media types are positing. They have been known to be wrong. Pennsylvania is not New York, and neither is Maryland, for that matter. Trump’s message to the forgotten working class will resonate in troubled mid-sized cities like Scranton, where for a time “City in Crisis” seemed like a permanent headline in the local newspaper.
The thing of it is we’ll be talking Trump morning, noon and night again. Trump said the media was wrong about his chances, but added, “I don’t mind. As long as they keep on talking. Just keep on talking.”
Maybe Washington, D.C. — the center of the world, not necessarily Trump’s world, at least not yet — will escape the political immersion that will visit other states and cities.
This time of year, there are other things happening here that reminded you that there is a life after primaries and elections. This time of year, we’re invested in modest and celebratory things like house tours, and the not so modest operatic extravaganza of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Kennedy Center, which begins the same night of the also im-modest and out-of-touch-with-the-reality-of-daily-life White House Correspondents Dinner. This dinner and parties before and after are where elected officials, the Washington establishment of politicians and media go kiss-kiss without trying to bite each other. That other surreal world showing up at those parties will be the denizens of Hollywood — at the tables and on the red carpet.
Daily life here is different in the city and in the neighborhoods removed from Trump and Clinton land. Here, we have neighborhood parties and neighborhood issues — liquor licenses in Georgetown, a homeless shelter plan for all the wards still being chewed over, a June 14 election which may see the return of Vincent Gray to the District Council at some point, no matter what the Washington Post may opine. We live in a city that is still defined by the people who live in it, although we live in a rapidly changing city that is also redefining its demographic identity. We have a mayor who is faced with the unusual task of making prosperity work for everyone. We live in a city that still has little or not enough say in some of its critical concerns — such as its budget, guns and civil rights.
But we live in a city of people, nonetheless, a city that, besides its monuments, has some unique qualities that are common to small towns and the great wide world all at once. I was present at a celebration, a Sunday afternoon party in Adams Morgan attended by a group of people that fought long and hard and won a zoning battle on the issue of pop-up housing projects. There was music by a rock band headed by a veteran diplomat, playing “Mr. Tambourine Man.” There was beer, paella, strudel and conversation about dogs and neighbors and schools and crime and news of an impending grandchild. There were, as it were, dogs and children present, and the realization of neighbors and neighborhood.
More recently, on the evening of the New York primary, there was a musical offering with the aid of the Embassy Series of Chopin and Jewish prayers at the Embassy of Poland, commemorating the 1943 uprising of Jews against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, fought bravely by Jewish resistance fighters. The uprising failed militarily but triumphed morally in history. There were Holocaust survivors in attendance along with the writers and diplomats. There was a lighting of menorah candles, and the music was as sweet as spring incense.
Now, that afternoon and that evening were amazing.
Nationals Home Opener: It’s Not Just the Game. It’s the Community
Juliana Zovak • April 9, 2016
The Washington Nationals lost their home opener to the Miami Marlins 4-6 on Thursday, April 7 — after both an exciting opening day program and a rain delay.
The loss will be dwelled on for a day or two, and analysts will debate what went wrong and why the Nationals couldn’t hit with runners in scoring position.
But the game itself is unimportant — there will be 159 others this season to discuss and break down, many more exciting than this one. This opening day was about celebrating the community that makes baseball so special.
Prince William County, Virginia, police officers Jesse Hempen and David McKeown threw out the honorary first pitch in front of a crowd of more than 40,000, the memory immortalized for them in the baseballs signed by pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
On Feb. 27, Hempen and McKeown were injured while responding to a domestic altercation. Their colleague, Officer Ashley Guindon, was also shot and fatally wounded in the incident. She and first responders Officer Jacai Colson, Officer Noah Leotta, Lieutenant Kevin McRae and Officer Brennan Rabain were remembered in a moment of silence before the game.
In collectively remembering the slain first responders, in hearing the crowd chant “MVP” as Bryce Harper emerged from the dugout, in watching young kids with their gloves on eagerly awaiting a foul ball, we are reminded of how this sport brings people together.
Governors Larry Hogan of Maryland and Terry McAuliffe of Virginia joined Mayor Muriel Bowser and Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lynn Lanier down on the field. After he received his MVP award and a Silver Slugger award, Bowser presented Harper with a key to the city, a symbol of how much this team and its success means to Washington, D.C.
Fans left work early, braved narrow and congested streets and rode Metro’s crowded Green Line to see their team begin the 2016 quest for glory. Anyone who read the weather report knew it would rain and the game would most likely be delayed. They came anyway, and they celebrated together.
The emcee announced that this day was the beginning of “our annual right to hot dogs and high fives” (a right you can enjoy for the bargain price of $6.25 per hot dog!). He called this season’s mission “our one pursuit.” Our.
Baseball is a business. It’s about making money, selling tickets and hoping for the ultimate payoff in a World Series title. But it’s also about uniting fans behind something that inspires them. It’s about making sure that the community that supports the Nationals can count on the team to have their back on and off the field. It’s about the feelings of hope and possibility that come with every new season.
That feeling could be captured during a special moment yesterday.
The sun was shining brilliantly as it does after rain.
The United States Army Chorus Quartet sung “America, the Beautiful,” whose words rang throughout the stadium: “O beautiful for spacious skies …” The cast from “Jersey Boys” at the National Theatre then sang, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthem, joined to baseball more than a century ago in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
The songs ended. The crowd roared yet again. The umpires arrived.
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Another Anything-Can-Happen Season
Gary Tischler • 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
Georgetowner • 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
Michelle Galler • 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 email@example.com to suggest a topic for a future column. [gallery ids="101984,135444,135446" nav="thumbs"]
‘The Good Stuff Cookbook’
Jordan Wright • 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.
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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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