Into The Heartland

Yesterday Kish and I drove east and north on a weekend trip.  Our destination was Carroll County, to pay a visit to Cousin Jeff.

Carroll County is one of the least populous– and therefore one of the most bucolic — counties in Ohio.  It’s primarily farming territory, with some Amish communities mixed in and the occasional fracking platform tucked behind a screen of trees.  It’s a wonderful place to go if you like rolling countryside, the sound of birdsong, and winding roads that seem to never really go anywhere except past pretty Midwestern scenery, with horses and cows, silos and hay bales, and farmhouses and barns.

During our visit we stopped at the lovely Twigg Winery, where I had a glass of tasty Ohio red and we took in the captivating vista inadequately pictured above.  There we bought several cartons of strawberries that were hand-picked yesterday morning.  Forget the fist-sized, fibrous monstrosities you get at your neighborhood mega-grocery store — these sweet, tart beauties were bursting with flavor and freshness and made you remember what strawberries are supposed to taste like.

Carroll County is a good place to visit if you want to get off the beaten path and kick back into our rural heritage.

Unbearably Enticing Brownies

As somebody who enjoys basic, recreational baking when the holiday season rolls around — that is, cookies of all kinds, but not much else —  I’m in awe of the really good bakers out there.  If you can craft light, flaky pie crust that melts in your mouth, I’ll be a big fan.  If you can bake an angel food cake that doesn’t partially collapse on one side, you’ve admittedly outdone the best baker in the Webner family, and I’ll sing your praises.

bear_1494327955157_9409774_ver1-0But if you can bake brownies that smell so good that a large black bear will scale your back porch, stand up on its hind legs, balance on the railing encircling your deck, and start banging on the patio door in an effort to get a taste, then in the baking world that really takes the cake.

OK, that was an incredibly bad pun, but the bear incident actually happened.  This past weekend, in Avon, Connecticut, a woman was innocently baking brownies when she hear a pounding on the glass patio door.  She looked up and saw a bear peering in, obviously angry that it couldn’t get at the baked goodies.  The bear actually opened the screen door, but it wasn’t able to open the sliding glass door.  The incident freaked the woman out, but eventually, after the woman and a neighbor made some noise and the frustrated bear wasn’t able to get in, it wandered away.

I can see how the bear incident would be disconcerting, but I think the woman in question should take it as a compliment to her baking.  And I want to know one thing that isn’t addressed in the article linked above — when is the woman going to publish that unbearably enticing brownie recipe?

End Of An Era

After more than 75 years, the Diamond Grille in Akron is changing hands.  Since 1941, the restaurant with the great name and the classic, cool neon sign has been owned by the Thomas family and has held down the same spot at 77 West Market Street.

12024588-largeThis week the Thomas family announced that it has sold the restaurant to a long-time waitress who promises to keep things pretty much the same they always have been — with the exception of renovating the bathrooms and adding some fresh vegetables to the menu.  I guess that long-time fans of the restaurant, and I am one of many, will be willing to accept those slight modifications so long as you can still go to the Diamond to get the same great steaks and seafood, drink the same great drinks, and enjoy an atmosphere that makes you feel like it’s 1958 and Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. might just be found in the booth next to yours.  It’s one of those joints that is unforgettable and timeless.

The Diamond Grille has been an important part of Webner family lore and was a place that my mother and father used to socialize with their friends.  Uncle Mack worked there when he was a callow youth, and Kish and I had had a memorable dinner there with Mom, Aunt Bebe, and Uncle Mack and Aunt Corinne a few years ago.  The last time I chowed down at the Diamond I took a colleague there for lunch.  She’d never been there before, and as we were eating she looking around with a sense of wonder and said:  “This place is great!”

Of course, she was right.  The Webner family wishes the Thomas family the very best as they move on to other things, and wants to thank them for a lifetime of wonderful memories.  If you’re interested, you can read about some of our experiences at the Diamond here, here, here, and here.

Putting Our Destructive Appetites To Productive Use

The State of Maryland really doesn’t like the frightful northern snakehead.  Its name, while grimly evocative, doesn’t quite do the creature justice.  It’s an ugly, slimy fish that can reach weights of 15 pounds or more, it looks like a torpedo with a mouthful of sharp, needle-like teeth, and it can even survive out of water for several days and wriggle along on land.  And, it’s an invasive species to boot.

snakehead-fishThe northern snakehead is native to Asia and simply doesn’t belong in Maryland, but when one thoughtless pet owner dumped some of the fish into Maryland waters, the state took action.  (Anybody who would want these horrors for pets probably shouldn’t be permitted to own them, when you think about it.)  When the state found the fish in a pond, it poisoned the pond, and when it found the fish in a lake, it drained the lake.  But the northern snakehead apparently is as wily and hardy as it is repulsive, because the fish kept turning up — and then it was finally found in the Potomac River, where the poisoning and draining approaches obviously wouldn’t work.  In the meantime, people started catching the northern snakehead, or seeing it in the river, and were close to freaking out for fear that it might eat their pets or be some kind of poisonous mutant.

So Maryland decided to take another tack — now, it is encouraging people to hunt for the northern snakehead and eat it.  Maryland sponsors snakehead fishing tournaments and offers licenses to hunt the fish with bow and arrow, and Maryland restaurants have started serving the fish to customers, too.  The fish apparently has a firm, white, mild flesh, but to get to it you have to first scrape off a thick layer of slime — which doesn’t exactly make the fish seem appetizing, does it?  Still, its meat apparently stands up well to seasoning, and it is perfectly edible for most people . . . if they don’t know about the monstrosity from which the meat came.  Some people, on the other hand, actually like the idea of striking back and eating the flesh of the scary invasive species that shouldn’t be in the Potomac River in the first place.

Maryland has gone from no commercial fishing of the northern snakehead to harvesting thousands of the pounds of the fish for restaurants.  It’s still got a long way to go before it can eat its way out of the northern snakehead infestation, but it’s made a good start.  We all know about how the destructive activities and appetites of human beings have put some creatures onto the endangered species list, and worse.  Maybe this time we can finally put those destructive tendencies to good use.  Who knows:  if we can eat our way to the demise of the northern snakehead, perhaps we can take the same creative and filling approach to the dreaded Asian carp, zebra mussels, and sea lampreys that are invasive species in the Great Lakes?

Birthday Beercake

At work today some of my colleagues surprised me with a birthday beercake — locals brews configured to form a kind of layer cake, with a special sour beer as a quasi-candle on top.

What a thoughtful and artistic gesture!  They insisted, however, that I leave their creation in my office for a few days, so all visitors can enjoy it.  I wonder how the nightly cleaning crew will react to the new addition to my desktop art?

Dinner Of Champions (Travelers Division)

Lately I’ve eaten a lot of dinners in airports.  It’s not a good thing.  Airport food has definitely improved over the years, but it’s still significantly burger/pizza/chicken-centric and often loaded with sodium, and eating a heavy, salty meal doesn’t exactly sit well when you immediately stumble onto a plane and then sit on your butt for hours.

So, I’ve started looking for these do-it-yourself yogurt/fruit/granola combos when I’m required to eat an airport dinner.  They seem reasonably light and reasonably fresh, they’re relatively low in calories and sodium, and they don’t leave you feeling like every ounce of moisture has been sucked from your mouth and a lead ball has been lodged in your stomach.

As airport dinners go, those are pretty high standards.

The Detroiter At Buddy’s

Last night we had dinner at Buddy’s Pizza, a Detroit institution for decades and also home to rectangular, “Detroit-style” pizza.  Russell and I split a “Detroiter” — pizza loaded with meats and cheeses, with the cheese placed on top to maximize the meaty flavor and avoid charring the pepperoni.  

The Detroiter was fantastic.  That should come as no surprise, because Buddy’s is frequently identified as one of the very best pizza establishments in the U.S. of A.  The crust was perfection itself — light and crunchy, without the doughy gumminess you find in many “deep dish” pizzas — and the cheese on top approach really does enhance the flavor.  We also enjoyed a pitcher of Buddy’s beer, a very refreshing lager with hints of citrus that went well with the pizza.

I’m pretty sure there will be another trip to Buddy’s in my future.