Category Archives: Food

You rang?

How many of you remember the episode of Seinfeld in which a parking valet left a certain something in Jerry’s car?

Fortunately, that didn’t happen to me.

The other night, I met a friend for dinner at a wine bar in busy downtown Bethesda, Md., where valet parking on every block is a zoo.

Around 10 p.m., I claimed my car from a most grumpy valet. Perhaps he deemed my 30 percent tip insufficient. His shoulder could not have been colder, his good riddance reeking of ‘tude. Like the Seinfeld valet, but in a different way, this guy was a real stinker.

I got in the car, pulled away and tuned in to an oldies station. Nearly halfway home, I heard some unfamiliar music within a familiar song. I thought maybe it was an alternate recording with an edgy backbeat.

The music persisted. I turned off the radio, but the music continued to play.

While driving, I carefully patted my surroundings and came upon a cell phone. I knew it wasn’t mine. (My ringtone is my cousin’s two-year-old granddaughter yodeling.) The music stopped before I was able to answer it.

I deduced that the villainous valet had left this valuable in my vehicle.

There was no choice but to do the right thing. I pulled a U-ey and returned to the restaurant, where I found a frantic fellow fumbling for his phone.

When I got out of the car, waving the attendant’s smartphone, his attitude changed.

In retrospect, I kind of wish I had done one of two things: change his ringtone to something like “You’re No Good” or ask for my tip back.

What would you have done?

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Filed under Food, Rants and Raves, Technology and Social Media

Friend of the trendless

Do you know what’s trending? The word trend as a verb, for one.

Trend as a verb has been around a long time, but its use was always narrow. Data points trend upward, for example. As best I’ve observed, the verb trend is usually followed by an adverb or other modifier.

Lately, everyone’s talking trending, which I fear went out as soon as it came in. Or should anyway. I know, I know, it’s on Twitter, it’s on the news, it’s on the radio, it’s PR-speak. The Today show has introduced a daily feature, accompanied by the most annoying techno music, called “What’s trending Today?” At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, this bugs me. I suspect I’m a party of one.

This doesn’t mean I don’t notice trends. One hit me between the eyes this week. Three times in 36 hours, in fact. Does that ever happen to you? Never heard of something and within a day it’s everywhere?

What’s trending? Pisco. First I read about Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan enjoying a Pisco Sour at a local establishment; then twice more, someone or other was noticed to be sipping it; I think one might have been Justice Antonin Scalia. I’ve read that, as trending goes, Pisco could be the new Mojito. Or for D.C. foodies, the new Mumbo Sauce.

According to PR Web, Pisco consumption in the United States increased 101 percent in 2010. Whether or not that’s a legitimate trend would depend on what it was in 2009, or 2008. I was always taught that a trend is at least three data points.

I haven’t tried this Peruvian potion, Pisco. Heck, I’m not sure I even know what it is. One source I consulted says it’s a brandy while another calls it a spirit. We have a knowledgeable guy at our local liquor store, but I’m afraid that if I went in asking about Pisco, he’d laugh, sigh, roll his eyes or all three.

If he did, I’d know it’s already trended.

In a piece on Monday, Slate cautioned us to not hate Pisco because it’s fashionable.

I don’t think I’ll be serving up piscopolitans any time soon.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Food, Marketing/Advertising/PR, News, Technology and Social Media

Culinary crack

I don’t do reality.

Reality TV, that is. Count me out of any televised competition that involves voting anyone off, sending anyone home or criticizing anyone to his or her face before millions of viewers. To my mind, while contestants are willing, there’s nothing more disturbing than watching someone being humiliated. Maybe this goes back to the days when I was always picked dead last for teams.

Since the inception of Survivor and American Idol, I’ve proudly shunned these competitions and rolled my eyes at my friends who get all wrapped up in discussing who’s faring how each week, using contestants’ first names as if they were their buddies.

I find it disgusting to hear people talking about “Scotty” and “Taylor” and “Adam” as if we knew them personally, getting into the dynamics of the competitions and the personal attributes that are going to make or break their success.

There but for the grace of God go I.

I am hooked on The Next Food Network Star. Or I guess it’s just called Food Network Star this season. I wouldn’t know; I never watched the previous six seasons. In Season 7, I haven’t missed a single episode, as contestants are called to create signature dishes, work around situational constraints, endure criticism by celebrity chefs and demonstrate their on-camera presentation skills, for the chance to have their own Food Network show.

As it often works with addiction, I was lured into my first taste by a peer. In the late Spring, a friend from church was generating buzz and support for a fellow church member who had auditioned to become one of 15 finalists. Ever loyal to my churchies, I faithfully went online every day and voted for Mary Beth Albright, whom I had met a few times. She’s a dear.

Mary Beth indeed became one of 15 finalists so, when the season debuted June 5th, I was there—in front of the television. My husband and son jumped on the chuckwagon.

Soon our family conversations, even during the week, centered around the fact that Penny was a good cook but wasn’t likeable, that Alicia’s constant crying was going to hurt her chances, that Mary Beth was going to have to punch up her dishes if she’s to survive. When Paula Deen praised Mary Beth for putting buttermilk and panko in her meatloaf, I immediately altered my own meatloaf recipe. We bristle when the judges speak to our girl harshly, even though we know she can take it.

Every Sunday night, at the end of each program hour, our house is filled with gasps and exclamations, shrieks and high fives, as Mary Beth escapes—often narrowly—the judges’ cleaver.

I recognize that my addictive behavior is hurting my relationships. We’ve left family parties early to make it home in time (we’re a DVR-less household) and already, I’m fretting over how to broach this with friends who are hosting us at their beach house Sunday night. Would it be impolite to request an hour in front of their television? Or is it better to leave a day early to make it home in time for the final four?

Seriously, I’ve got the shakes.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Food, Movies, Television and Radio

Torte tango

If you’ve been following the Nymph this week, you’ve now learned at least two things about the writer: one, that there is an abundance of musical talent in my family that has eluded me with a wide swath, and two, that I make a good pesto torte, which we agree is more aptly called a cheese loaf. If you’ve read this week, you also know I have a fondness for all things Spanish.

To further illustrate these tidbits—and because you know I like occasionally to share the clever writing of others in this place—I must share something that brings these morsels to life.

Like my father, his brother has a gift for parody. My uncle wrote me one when I got married and another for my 40th birthday. After we spent time at his place over the weekend, enjoying food and music, he sent over another—in honor of my pesto torte.

Imagine a tune similar to “Jalousie.” (Among the popular lyrics set to this instrumental tango are: “Jealousy, night and day you torture me! I sometimes wonder, if this spell that I’m under can be only a melody, for I know no one but me has won your heart but, when the music starts, my peace departs, from the moment they play that langourous strain, and we surrender to all its charms one again. This jealousy that tortures me is ecstasy, mystery, pain!”)

If you don’t remember it, the melody goes something like this. Join me in listening, while reading along the lyrics of “Monica’s Spanish Tango.”

“Pesto torte?” I snorted
“A pesto torte?”

They had come for a visit;
I had asked her “what is it?”

It was so beautiful, I must report
I adored her and her “pesto torte”

The only trouble was
It seemed too pretty to eat

Still, I took a slice and shouted
“Hold the fort!”
It didn’t taste like a “pesto torte”

I was thrilled with a rapture
That no title could capture 

And I’m lost in the language of España
My tongue trips and slips
Like the heel on the peel of a banaña

In short
It’s not a pesto torte

I’m a linguistic oaf
And I love love love
Monica’s
Cheese-loaf

 Olé!

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Filed under Family and Friends, Food, Music

El plato ostentoso

I gather the Spanish gastronomic community is deeply mourning the closing of El Bulli restaurant. For 50 years in Catalonia, El Bulli created culinary inventions that inspired chefs worldwide.

If you like food or if you like Spain, read The New York Times story about El Bulli; you’ll be captivated. During the short time I attended university in Spain, I lived on dorm food and bread and cheese. Oh, to have had the chance to go back with a little jingle in my pocket to indulge in some real cocina española.

If you like food and the words that describe it, check out Slate’s recent piece on the names of El Bulli’s menu offerings. This one caught my eye; then kept me entertained for way too long.

We’ve talked in previous posts about the wording of restaurant menus, about which you shared some of your favorites, some with tongue in cheek, hold the beef.

In the Slate piece, Jeremy Singer-Vine muses that dishes bearing such names as “Irish coffee of green asparagus and black truffle jus” cry out for satire.

Singer-Vine took the names of some 1,200 El Bulli dishes and created a technological algorithm that generates satirical sound-alikes. Though it’s not quite ready for the Wii, you can go online and play a guess-the-real-name game.

Because we have talked recently about simple versus pretentious language, I thought you might enjoy this timely diversion.

It also got me thinking about the name of my signature dish. 

In my social circles, I’m known for my pesto torte. It wasn’t mine originally, but because I have no one to whom to attribute it, and because I’ve made more than 50, and because I don’t know anyone else who makes it, it’s mine.

The problem is, when I say “pesto torte,” no one ever knows what it is. It’s fair to say some people know neither pesto nor torte.

My son’s girlfriend calls it “cheese loaf.” And you know what? That’s exactly what it is—cheese stuffed inside cheese, prepared in a loaf pan (layered with enough other ingredients to almost justify the fancy name).

I took one to my aunt and uncle’s last weekend. As I was setting it on a platter, someone said, “It’s beautiful; what is it?”

I said, “Pesto Torte,” which didn’t tell anyone a thing.

“What does that mean?”

I threw the question to my son’s girlfriend who said, “cheese loaf.”

Aha. Everyone knew immediately. Kind of like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “It’s a bundt.” (After several rounds about, the realization, “Oh, it’s cake!”)

In El Bulli’s defense, who’s going to pay 50 euros for a glass of asparagus juice?

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Food, News, Travel

No secrets

Having just opened today’s mail, I eyeballed a credit card statement for accuracy before I put it in the queue for payment.

There was a charge I didn’t recognize, from a hotel in which I stayed on a recent business trip. All expenses for the trip had been put on my business card and charged to my client. This one, for $39.77, was a mysterious personal charge.

I called Marriott and was put through to the corporate billing office. When I reached a human being about the charge, which had been tagged “F&B” for food and beverage, the billing clerk and I together determined that the charge was made at the hotel gift shop. This still did not jog my memory.

The clerk delved deeper in to the system.

“Our system shows that you purchased 13 paper items.”

“Paper items,” I questioned myself silently, while staring at the stack of greeting cards that has towered on my desk, neglected and unaddressed, for the last three weeks.

“Oh, those must have been greeting cards,” I remembered aloud.

“Yes,” said the clerk, adding, “and one candy bar.”

Embarrassed, I replied, “Did you have to remind me of that?”

She was  not amused. “Would you like me to e-mail you an image of the itemized receipt?”

“No, that won’t be necessary,” I huffed back. Now she and whoever monitors the call for security purposes are privy to my greeting card and sugar addictions.

With a little nudge, I remembered the gift shop, I remembered the candy and I remembered the cards. If you have a June or July birthday or anniversary, I have this great card for you. I just need to remember to send it.

The moral of this story had something to do with memory but I can’t for the life of me recall what it was.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Foibles and Faux Pas, Food, Holidays, Travel

Lil something for everyone

The other day I complained to you about a recent case of writer’s block. You reassured me with good advice.

Truth be told, I’ve also been suffering from acute reader’s block—provided that too isn’t a made-up disease of lazy people.

While I usually read more than ever in the summer, I’m still reading a book I started last December, while nibbling bits of other books and articles in between.

I’m three months behind on my Vanity Fair and two months behind on Esquire and, these days, it takes me longer than usual to get through The Washington Post in the morning—sometimes until well into the evening. Or the next morning, when I feel I must read it before starting that day’s paper.

I know this all seems strange; I know it’s strange for me. I’m still reading; I’m just reading a variety of things in no logical order. Habits change, I suppose.

All this said, a magazine has come into our house that recently captured my attention.

In April my husband received a birthday gift subscription to Garden & Gun. Perhaps you’ve seen it.

I know, Garden & Gun doesn’t sound like reading material suitable for a household of flaming libs. Well, maybe the gardening part. Our household is, however, composed of one native North Carolinian, one recently-returned North Carolina transplant and one whom my father calls the “Beltway Baby.”

The magazine’s full title is Garden & Gun: The Soul of the South and, obviously, covers all things Southern. This week I decided to crack open the last two issues—while I was in the middle of reading something else, no doubt.

I commend it to you. Rest assured; you won’t see Larry the Cable Guy or read anything that reveals, “You know you’re a redneck if…”

G&G a rather nice piece of publishing and superb writing on some interesting subjects.

Granted, you’ll be shown the anatomy of the perfect hush puppy and learn the characteristics of the ideal tomato and maybe learn something you didn’t already know about rhubarb.

You’ll also get to meet Nashville painter Emily Leonard; Merigold, Miss., pottery artist Lee McCarty; Athens, Ga., fabric designer Susan Hable; and Steve Huff, thought to be the Best Fishing Guide Alive.

If you pick up these latest issues, you’ll read about the so-called Memphis Mafia, learn the Rules of Yard Art and get a glimpse into Livestock of the Rich and Famous. This Beltway baby was tickled to see a spread on the Washington, D.C. dining scene.

Moseying through Dixie on your summer vacation and want to know where to find a good barbecue joint? I recommend their list of the 20 best, in part because Red Bridges of my husband’s hometown of Shelby is featured.

Last night I was finishing an article on Gregg Allman when I wondered why I hadn’t seen anything about guns. Then, near the back, on page 108 of the April/May issue, I saw a piece about Griffin & Howe, a famous gunsmith and store—in Greenwich, Connecticut. Maybe it’s in south Greenwich.

The piece notes that Griffin & Howe “is presided over by Guy Bignell, president and CEO of G&H and a Brit of such surpassing handsomeness that he is often assaulted on the streets of Greenwich.”

Am I the only person who finds that funny?

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Filed under Family and Friends, Food, Reading