Thursday, January 24, 2008


I get the Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day, which is slightly more detailed than the word of the day, as it gives the first known usage of the word.

Today's word is HAGGIS, and is described thusly:
1. a. A dish consisting of the heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep, calf, etc. (or sometimes of the tripe and chitterlings), minced with suet and oatmeal, seasoned with salt, pepper, onions, etc., and boiled like a large sausage in the maw of the animal.

I like this description, too:
1. d. A mixture, hodge-podge; a mess. 1899 Daily News 13 Sept. 7/6 They cheerfully go through the curious haggis of social and philanthropic duties served up to them each week. 1928 Bengal haggis. 1929 H. MARWICK Orkney Norn 66/1 He'll just mak a haggis o' the job.

My feeling is that if you can eat scrapple, you can certainly eat haggis. I had it a number of times when I was living in the UK, and it was even served at a black-tie dinner I attended at the famous Murrayfield Rugby Grounds in Edinburgh.
How handy... cocktail-size haggis balls! mmmmmmm.....

Junior's Wine Bar

It was Christmas present time with two of my besties, the Blonde and the Redhead, the other night. Yes, I know we're a bit late, but we've done it later! We had originally planned to have dinner at Sobo Cafe, but when the Redhead wanted to try Junior's Wine Bar, we were game.

If you know Federal Hill at all, Junior's is where Vespa used to be. I wasn't a huge fan of Vespa and I always thought it had a funny small. Their metal chairs were so uncomfortable that by the end of dinner, my feet had gone numb. It was also pretty small, very cramped and supremely loud, with a cement floor and lots of metal.
When I walked in, I had to look around to make sure I had gone in the right building. The place was HUGE! There had been an old Muhley's Bakery, where, after leaving the bars in the area, you could smell the donuts. Juniors has taken over that space and the building now goes the depth of the block. They have little areas with couches for sitting and sipping, a private room towards the back and plenty of other space.
The menu was pretty limited, but nothing was more than $20. For a wine bar, they had a very limited wine list, which surprised me. The Redhead had a red wine and the Blonde and I both had whites. The B and I split a salmon appetizer, which was on an olive bread. Very good and nicely presented. The R had a tuna entree, the B had a pork shank and I had a Kobe beef burger. For dessert, we had a tiny choclate creme brulee, a lemon tart, and peanut butter and raspberry jam cheesecake, which didn't appeal to me in the slightest.
The total for dinner with about six or seven glasses of wine was just a little more than $100. There were a couple of big parties in there, but overall it was quiet. They don't have a website up yet, which I think is a big mistake, but you can google them and find their info.

Sorry about the bad image quality. The place is rather dark, and I didn't want to be shooting off my flash.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Hoppin' John

Tradition says that eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day will bring you good luck. This is something that comes from the American South, and I know that other cultures also have their good luck traditions.

In Scotland, the first person who enters your house on New Years should be tall, dark and handsome. Red-heads are considered bad luck. Noisemakers and fireworks are believed to drive away the evil spirits. In Italy, lentils, which looked like old Italian currency, are eaten to bring riches.
But Hoppin' John, with its black-eyed peas, rice and pork, is the dish of choice around my house. I took the easy way out yesterday when I made it with canned black-eyed peas and rice in a pouch. I had two parties within a few hours, so didn't have time to simmer the beans for hours.

Here's the recipe: Saute a diced onion and green pepper until the onions are translucent. Cook about six pieces of bacon or some pork sausage, using the same pan. Add black-eyed peas, rice and simmer for 10 minutes. If you want, add some Tabasco or other seasoning. I saw a Hoppin' John salad which also looked interesting.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The World is My Oyster

...Which I with sword will open.— William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor

So many of my good food memories are associated with eating oysters. I can't remember eating them before I went to college at St. Mary's in Southern Maryland, but I know my mother's family loved raw oysters, so I am sure I must have.

St. Mary's had its own oyster beds in the St. Mary's River, and after regattas at college, we'd have big oyster feasts. The scuba club would dive for fresh oysters and we'd either eat them raw or steam them on a big grill. I still remember a big oyster party after the first-ever intercollegiate Windsurfing Regatta in the US.
Later on, when I worked at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, I learned all about harvesting oysters under sail on skipjacks, about the buyboats, and the whole oystering culture. I also ate plenty of fresh-from-the-Bay oysters during my tenure there.

After college, my best college friend, Mr. G and I would meet up between Christmas and New Years and eat oysters, a tradition we continue until today. Mr. G and I have been friends through thick and thin and back again. It's over plates of oysters and many beers that we've kept this easy friendship going.
I still have a scar on one hand from trying to shuck oysters more than 20 years ago. For years, a group of friends and I hosted a charity New Year's Eve party - the Crystal Ball. We always had fresh oysters, shucked by our friend George Hastings, the 2003 Guinness World Oyster Shucking Champion.
On New Year's Eve, Mr. G and I met up at Nick's Fish House on the lovely middle branch of the Patapsco River. You might remember that we went there on December 1st for dinner. Nick's is a great place for many reasons, not the least of which is that parking is ample and free, unlike the area around Cross Street Market, which we'd also considered.
There were two varieties of oysters on offer at Nick's - Blue Points and Chincoteagues. Blue Points come from Long Island and are much brinier than the Chincoteagues that we had. They were also much larger and waterier. The Chincoteagues were smaller and more well-formed. I must admit that I liked the Blue Points better - they taste like eating the ocean.

Happy New Year, Mr. G... you're the best!