Observations from the Road: The “How to Lose Your Vacation Zen and Regain Your Perspective (All in 30 Minutes)” Edition

WWII Vets

WWII Veterans greeted at Dulles Airport by an appreciative welcoming crew

You know you travel a great deal when your first day back from vacation includes leaving on a 3-day trip to Denver. That’s the situation I found myself in yesterday.

I was determined to keep my vacation Zen (and motivation to exercise – but that’s another post) as I returned to work. Yet the travel gods were conspiring against me.

Southwest Airlines decided to reset the preferences in their customers’ accounts a few weeks ago.  The result:  things like Known Traveler Numbers (which put you into TSA Pre-Check) and other preferences which get you into the “A” check-in group (and assured of an aisle seat) were lost.  In setting up this trip, we didn’t realize those weren’t in place until it was too late.

Now you may be thinking, “David.  Suck it up.  Lots of folks go through the regular security lines.”  That’s true.  But if you do it 2-4 times a week, the thrill of taking off your shoes and belt, pulling out your laptop, and getting reprimanded because you don’t have your 3-oz. bottles in a little separate packet, among other things, gets old quickly.  All of that happened yesterday.  Plus, I am carrying a jar of Vaseline to help with the healing of some minor surgery on my leg…and that always gets pulled out in the regular line.  (Candice and I have decided that Vaseline is the duct tape of medicine.  The past three doctors I’ve seen have told me to “put some Vaseline on XXX and slap a band-aid on it.  Who knew?!)

So I was already losing my vacation Zen when I arrived at the gate and realized I had an hour before boarding.  To help recapture it, I decided for a quick 15-minute shoulder massage.  Of course, I would have the masseuse who would work me over hard AND spend the entire 15-minutes telling me how terrible her niece had been to her family during a recent wedding.  To say I came out of that without regaining my Zen would be an understatement.

Then I was snapped back into remembering what’s important.

Our plane arrived at the gate – and at the same time an “Honor Guard” crew joined those of us waiting to board to welcome a group of about 20 WWII veterans who had flown to Washington to see the WWII memorial.  This happens quite a bit in DC airports, but I really needed to see it yesterday.  We stood and cheered as these men – many in wheelchairs, and all about my father’s age of 90 or more – came off the plane.  There were smiles and tears all around.

And all of a sudden, the TSA pre-check, the Vaseline pat down, the grouchy masseuse – they were all forgotten.

These men were all willing to give the ultimate sacrifice.  They came from every class and all walks of life.  They set aside differences and prejudices to work, live, laugh, cry – and for many of them die – together.

Vets at Dulles

Another WWII Vet exits the plan to meet a welcoming “Ground Crew”

Thank you, each and every one.

More to come…

DJB

2015 Feels A Great Deal Like 2013

Nationals LogoJust when Washington Nationals fans thought August couldn’t get any worse, comes this news item about the revocation of the Jayson Werth walk-off bobblehead from the Nationals’ website:

Jayson Werth’s walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS was one of the greatest moments in Washington Nationals history. While we tried to capture his jump into home plate and commemorate it with a bobblehead for our 10th Anniversary season, we were not satisfied with the final product. Therefore, we will be re-issuing a new bobblehead. The first 25,000 fans to enter Nationals Park on Sunday, August 30th for the 1:35 p.m. game against the Miami Marlins will receive a voucher redeemable for the new bobblehead. Fans will be able to pick up their new bobblehead on an offseason date at Nationals Park. In addition, you will receive a special gift for the inconvenience. More information will be available on the vouchers and on this site.

This is the August when the Mets never lose, and on the off day when they do finally drop a game (e.g., last evening), the Nats lose a completely winnable game and don’t gain any ground. Screwing up a bobblehead is par for the course. Perhaps the “establishment Republicans” who have had to live through the summer of Trump can empathize.  You think you have everything lined up in your favor, and then some brash New Yorker shows up and takes away all your glory.

This season for the Nationals feels very much like 2013.  Great expectations mixed with bombast.  A slow start, then some traction, only to see the wheels fall off.  Even a strong run in September – which is still possible – probably won’t be enough to get them into the playoffs.  The Mets would have to tank at about the same level as the 1964 Phillies for the Nats to sneak in…and I don’t think that’s about to happen.

There are so many things to dissect in this unimpressive year of Nationals baseball, and Thomas Boswell does as good a job as anyone. But here are three things that drive me crazy about this year (and two of three apply to 2013, for that matter):

  • BaseballCan we just stop all the talk about greatness until the Nats actually win at least a playoff series?  From Davey Johnson’s “World Series or Bust” marker that…well, fell well short of the mark…to Bryce Harper’s “Where’s My Ring?” quote after the signing of Max Scherzer this winter, this is a team that loves to talk about how good it is.  (An 11-11 Max Scherzer, I might add, after last night’s loss to the lowly Marlins.) Until this team wins at least one playoff series (yes, I attended two gut-wrenching losses in the 2012 and 2014 NLDS), just stop it.  And that goes for everyone from the General Manager on down.
  • BaseballThis is a team that needs a new training/medical staff, STAT.  The Nationals, over the past four years, have been the team where hamstrings go to be torn. I’ve spoken with two personal trainers over this period, and for the life of us no one can understand why this team has so many nagging injuries. Maybe it is time to hire away one of those guys who focus on flexibility, mobility, and stability – like the Seattle Seahawks – who were a last second interception away from winning two straight Super Bowls.  With Denard Span back (no pun intended) on the DL after two games, it appears that we’ll have all of two games this season when the eight position players in the projected starting line-up were all on the field at the same time.
  • BaseballWhat’s with all the crazy decisions? With all the injuries and players in their walk years having absolutely horrible years (Desmond, Zimmermann, Span, et. al.), it could be easy to give manager Matt Williams a pass…but I’m not going to. I realize that Williams knows a great deal more about baseball than I do, so I’m concerned when something appears obvious to me (and 10 million others) but not to Matt.  Like telling the hitter on your team who has hit into the most double plays to take a 3-0 pitch and perhaps work a walk to load the bases, so that the guy who hit a grand slam the night before (and has five in his career) can have another chance. Or not lining up your pitching staff during the All-Star break to have your top three pitchers ready for the team right behind you in the standings. Or not using your two best relievers in a critical series with those same New York Mets, and losing all three games. Or…or…oh, whatever.

The team is finally playing a little better ball, but the Mets are playing out of their heads right now and that brutal west coast road trip – following the debacle of the Mets series – probably put an end to all playoff hopes for 2015.  Let’s hope we can be like the Giants – who seem to win the World Series only in even-numbered years.  But don’t even begin to talk about what chances this team might have until they actually win something.

Until then, Andrew and I are off to pick up our vouchers tomorrow!  Par for the course for this August.

More to come…

DJB

The Tastes of Vacation: Wrapping Up DC Restaurant Week

Crostini at Fig & Olive

Crostini explosion at Fig & Olive DC

Our DC Restaurant Week extravaganza wrapped up on Sunday evening with our 7th restaurant in 7 days: the new Fig & Olive DC in the glamorous Foster + Partners and Shalom Baranes Associates-designed CityCenterDC complex (home to the 1% who want to live in a fashionable downtown apartment…but I digress.) Six of this week’s seven eateries were new to us, which was part of the allure, and we saved some of the best for last.

Friday evening, Candice and I visited Mintwood Place – a highly rated restaurant where we had sampled brunch in the past. We were excited about this dinner, as the restaurant is ranked #2 in Tom Sietsema’s 2014 Fall Dining Guide and is also a top-ten pick of Tom Kilman of Washingtonian magazine.

After our meal, I’m here to say I cannot understand these rankings.  The food was good, but not the best we had during the week (or even the weekend).  Mintwood did only serve off the Restaurant Week menu, so I understand that some of their outstanding regulars may not have been included, but I frankly expected more. The service was okay but not exceptional. And the restaurant is loud. Really loud. Did I say it is very loud.

The Burrata, kales, hazelnut, apple & tamarind first course offering was exceptional. I would eat kale every day if it was prepared this way.  (I know some of my friends are rolling their eyes, knowing my general feelings toward kale.)  My lightly smoked salmon with cream of corn, baby zucchini and sunflower shoots was good but not an entrée of the second best restaurant in the city. Candice’s rigatoni bolognese was very tasty but heavy (especially for a summer menu). Candice and I came away with three-star rankings. I think we’ll need to try Mintwood Place again when it is not restaurant week, and hope that the exceptional cooking is easier to find.

I’ve already reported on Saturday’s meal at Jackie’s in Silver Spring – which deserves a new look from all the restaurant critics who indicate it has lost its luster.

At Fig and Olive

DJB, Candice, and Andrew wrap up DC Restaurant Week at Fig & Olive

Which brings us to restaurant #7 of the week: the new Fig & Olive DC, which is part of an upscale, national eight-restaurant chain with locations in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and now Washington. What a way to end the week!

Everything about Fig & Olive was terrific, beginning with a large and airy dining room above a very sharp-looking bar. We decided to forgo the restaurant week selections and order off the main dinner menu, and we’re glad we did.  Even before we ordered, the wait staff brought out three different olive oils (one each from Spain, California, and Italy) for dipping. We began our two-hour feast with two wonderful appetizers: the Octopus a la Gallega (thinly sliced braised octopus, marinated bell pepper, heirloom potato, black olive, basil, arugula, pimenton lemon dressing with Cobrancosa Olive Oil) and Sea Scallops (seared scallops seasoned with l’orange spice, carrot olive oil tapenade, orange segment, micro greens, citrus dressing with Picual Olive Oil). Both melted in the mouth.

That was followed by six crostini (seen at the top of the post) which were as beautiful as they were tasty.  Our choices?

  • Burrata, Tomato, Pesto, Balsamic;
  • Pea, Asparagus, Ricotta Lemon Thyme;
  • Heirloom Carrot, Charmoula, Carrot Tapenade;
  • Prosciutto, Ricotta, Fig, Olive, Walnut (maybe the best of all!);
  • Crab, Heirloom Tomato, Zucchini Puree; and
  • Shrimp, Avocado, Cilantro, Tomato.

We carefully cut each one into three pieces, so everyone could have a small sample. What a treat!

Our main courses which followed were just as tasty.  Andrew became a big paella fan during his summer in Barcelona and Valencia, so he jumped on the Paella Del Mar with black tiger shrimp, sea scallop, calamari, mussels,saffron rice, green pea, red bell pepper, artichoke, saffron aioli, pimenton & oregano topped with Hojiblanca Olive Oil.  Candice wanted a lighter meal, so she ordered the Fig Gorgonzola Tartlet off the appetizer menu. It featured prosciutto, gorgonzola dolce, fig, walnut, arugula, scallion, tomato on thin puff pastry topped with Arbequina Olive Oil. I had read a review that called out the Rosemary Lamb Chops, so I went with this choice.  The lamb was “grilled, smoked à la minute with a bouquet of Herbs de Provence, goat cheese & chive gnocchi, braised eggplant with honey & thyme” and served with a wonderful rosemary garlic olive oil. In a word: Fabulous!

After all this food, I know you won’t believe that we discussed dessert…but I’m afraid it is true. However, Fig & Olive has something that every restaurant should adopt:  coffee or tea with a one bite-size side of dessert.  What a concept, as one bite is all you want!  We went all in, each of us ordering the Café Gourmand, with a side of crunchy praline and the one bite-sized version of the Chocolate Pot de Crème.  We left wonderfully satisfied (yet not stuffed) and with ratings between 4 and 4 1/2 stars. Yes, it was that good!

We’ve had a delightful week, and when I jumped on the scale this morning, I was able to keep my weight within one pound of the starting mark!  (Exercise every day certainly helps, and I’ve already been to the gym this morning!)

In our delightful Restaurant Week extravaganza, we found that the DC food scene continues to grow and mature – for individuals with all tastes.  After sampling the wide variety this week, we now have five new restaurants to add to our list of regular favorites (which in addition to Jackie’s range from Fiola to Cleveland Park’s Ripple to La Chat Noir to DISH + Drinks to Pacci’s Pizza and perhaps a dozen more).  We’ll certainly return to MXDC, New Heights, SEI, Mintwood Place and Fig & Olive in the weeks and months ahead.

Restaurant Week may be over, but that doesn’t mean the Browns won’t continue to venture out during our vacation.  This evening the three of us are going to another of our favorites – Iron Gate Restaurant in Dupont Circle – for their Agriturismo Menu on the patio, and later in the week Candice and I are going to test out a new Capitol Hill restaurant with one of my work colleagues.  But my days as a food critic are over for now.  It has been wonderful to share a bit of these meals with you, and I hope you’ve found something to enjoy.

More to come…

DJB

The Ambulance Survivor’s Club

Nancy and DJB

Nancy and DJB – the charter members of the Ambulance Survivor’s Club – toasting our good health at Jackie’s Restaurant in Silver Spring

If you know me, you know that I fractured my shoulder on March 3, 2015 – the night before my 60th birthday – after being hit by an ambulance.  Tonight, the two charter members of the Ambulance Survivor’s Club joined family and friends at Jackie’s Restaurant in Silver Spring to celebrate our recovery.

To take you down memory lane, here’s how I described it at the time:

Some people will do anything to avoid going to work on their birthday. My excuse? I was hit by an ambulance while helping a friend who had fallen on the ice. Yep, you read that right.

We made the local news. (A colleagues’ husband had seen it on one of those small screens they now have in cabs, so she wrote, “You’re famous in cabs!”)  A friend (Nancy) who was staying with us went out to dinner with a client, and she slipped and fell on the road behind our house when she returned. An angel of a neighbor found her and called us. We went out to help Nancy, and as she couldn’t get up we called 911. I was kneeling behind her as she sat where she had fallen, to keep her upright and to keep her alert. The ambulance arrived and couldn’t stop on the ice as it headed towards us. We couldn’t get out-of-the-way. I was hit first – my left shoulder against the front of the ambulance – and was tossed into a snow bank. Then the ambulance struck Nancy and pushed her down our hill. I could quickly tell I was okay except for shoulder pain but Nancy was obviously in a worse condition. They took her to the trauma unit at a local hospital and I was taken to ER at nearby Holy Cross.

To cut to the chase, I now have a fractured Humerus in my left shoulder. Nancy has some broken bones.

That was the story from More to Come… on March 6th.  But thanks to our wonderful families and friends – along with the medical professionals who have taken care of us over the past six months – Nancy and I are well on the way to full healing.   Because they took us to two separate hospitals after the accident, our good mutual friends Steve Campbell and Sarabeth Watson stayed with Nancy in Suburban Hospital and focused on her medical needs in those first hours and days while Candice was at Holy Cross Hospital with me.  All three of them then took great care of the two of us as we moved through the medical process.  Our recovery is going so well that Candice and I joined Nancy, Steve, and Sarabeth tonight for a celebratory dinner.

Pork tenderloin

The pork tenderloin at Jackie’s Restaurant

We spent the evening catching up, with Nancy and I comparing notes about physical therapy and the time it takes for bones to heal. All five of us told about what we remembered from that night and the first few days afterwards. We did all of this at Jackie’s, which is quickly regaining its reputation as the best restaurant in Silver Spring.

After working through a less-than-satisfactory chef or two, the kitchen has more than regained its footing since Adam Harvey’s arrival in May of 2013 and now regularly turns out meals that rate 4 stars in our book.  Tonight, Candice and I enjoyed the pork tenderloin, while Nancy raved about her Sweet Corn Risotto with grilled prawns, English peas and summer truffles. Steve was delighted with his Housemade Meatballs, and Sarabeth exclaimed over the pan roasted Arctic Char.

Putting the dinner aside, the important thing is that it was so good to see Nancy doing so well.  Six months ago, I’m not sure what I would have said had I been asked to speculate about our conditions in August.  But we have been blessed with loving support and care, and you can’t ask for much more in this life.

With (thankfully) more to come…

DJB

The Tastes of Vacation: The “We Are Still Eating (and Living to Tell the Tale)” Edition

Candice at New Heights

Candice gets ready to enjoy the Vegetarian Fettuccini Alla Bolognese at New Heights Restaurant during Restaurant Week DC

Four nights into DC Restaurant Week and the Browns are still eating (and living to tell the tale).  We last left you following Monday evening’s upscale Mexican dinner at MXDC. But we’ve continued our visitation to new (for us) restaurants in the Washington area.

How we’d missed the long-time Woodley Park favorite New Heights Restaurant is a mystery, but we found it on Tuesday evening and it won’t be our last visit. First, let’s begin with the setting: a lovely patio, downstairs “gin joint” and upstairs casual dining area with an Arts and Crafts decor – what’s not to like! Then the food and service were top-notch.  Andrew and I – being gin and tonic fans – tried two very different variations on this theme from the extensive offerings.  Both were superb. All three of us took advantage of the three-course Restaurant Week menu (which we have agreed we cannot do every night unless we want to add 15 pounds of weight by the end of vacation.)  We shared heirloom tomato salad, crab cake, fettuccini, wonderful scallops, and spaghettini aglio e olio, plus three delightful desserts: tiramisu, peach cobbler, and house made sorbet. All came away charmed by New Heights – giving it solid 3 1/2 stars across the board – and wondering how soon we could return.

DJB at SEI Restaurant

DJB gets ready for the duck at SEI…and I’m sure I didn’t notice that the woman behind me had her eyes (and mouth) focused on my plate!

Wednesday brought us to Penn Quarter and the modern Asian small plates restaurant SEI. The stark white and modern decor could not have been more different from New Heights. The crowd was younger, and our server was smart and a delight.  This time Candice went to the regular menu for Tuna Tartare sushi and Korean Kalbe tacos, with a refreshing Asian Pear sangria. I stepped off the wine and cocktail carousel for the evening, but did stay on the three-course restaurant week menu (as did Andrew).  Some of our favorites included a fabulous Braised Baby Octopus, Crispy Duck, and Honey Ginger Salmon.  The Orange Miso Bread Pudding with sea salt ice cream was a big hit.  Once again, we all gave SEI a very solid 3 1/2 stars and were still buzzing about it the next day.

Andrew has a standing commitment on Thursday evenings this summer, so Candice and I ventured out to DC Coast on our own. I had been to this K Street establishment for lunch in the past, but never for dinner.  The setting – in a rehabilitated bank lobby – is wonderful, and the service was terrific. If we were rating on those two items alone, we’d be right up there at the 3 to 3 1/2 stars.  However, the food was merely pedestrian, which was a disappointment. Perhaps we didn’t order very well – which is a possibility – but I didn’t see much on the menu that jumped out and excited me.  We split a very good Caesar salad, which – surprisingly – was the highlight.  Candice had the seafood gumbo while I had a soft shell crab tempura that was on the Chef’s selection menu for the evening.  Both were okay but much less flavorful than similar dishes from other area restaurants.  (I feel the seafood gumbo at the Tabard Inn is some of the best in the city, if you want a comparison.) The key lime pie was also “just okay.” We came away disappointed, with ratings in the 2 1/2 stars category.

Tonight we’re looking for a wonderful meal at Mintwood Place – which is rated among the better restaurants in the city – and then we have friends coming over to Silver Spring on Saturday for what we know will be an excellent evening at Jackie’s.  Sunday, we’re excited about our first visit to Fig & Olive.  And while DC Restaurant Week officially ends on Sunday, we’re plowing ahead into the next week…so look for more “tastes from vacation.”

See you at the gym!

More to come…

DJB

The Tastes of Vacation: MXDC Cocina Mexicana

MXDC

Andrew gets ready to kick off Restaurant Week by digging into the Sea bass at MXDC

Our “DC Restaurant Week” vacation began in earnest on Monday evening, as we took the Metro downtown to sample  upscale Mexican food at MXDC. A short two-block walk from Metro Center, this three-level Todd English restaurant was new to all three of us, making for a promising beginning to our week.

All three agreed that Andrew’s Black Sea bass with Brussels sprouts was the top choice of the three entrees.  I had a very good Mole de Costilla (short ribs) while Candice went with the steak option.  I also had an Azul Guacamole with blue cheese, bacon, chipotle, and red onion that was spicy wonderful.

We have six more of these lined up over the next week, so I have to pace myself in both writing and eating.  We all gave MXDC between 3-to-3 1/2 stars.  A good start!

More to come…

DJB

Forgiveness is the Result of a Long Journey

Paul Brewseter and Ruby Sales

Parishioner Paul Brewster speaks with Ruby Sales at St. Alban’s Parish

St. Alban’s Parish was blessed this morning with the presence and witness of Ruby Sales, a civil rights activist whose life was saved 50 years ago by the actions of Jonathan Daniels.  Michael Ruane, writing in the Washington Post, explains:

By all rights, Ruby Sales should have been killed on Friday, Aug. 20, 1965.

She should have been hit by the shotgun blast fired by the enraged white man on the porch of the general store in rural Alabama.

Her life should have ended at 17, an African American college student and civil rights worker, gunned down under a Coca-Cola sign in the fight for freedom and justice.

But there she was Sunday morning, age 67, in St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Northwest Washington, given a half-century of life by a white seminarian named Jonathan Myrick Daniels who pushed her aside and died in her place.

She sat in an ornate wooden chair in the chancel of the church, the decades having taken a toll on her eyesight and her knees, and called herself “a remnant” of the great civil rights generation now passing from the stage.

Ruby Sales may see herself as a remnant, but her call for justice was strong and unequivocal. “I never imagined that there would be people working overtime to dismantle those changes,” she said. “I never imagined that . . . once again black people would be fighting for our lives.”

Speaking for thirty minutes from the chancel in St. Alban’s, Ruby Sales took the three lessons from today’s liturgy and spoke to them from her perspective as an African American woman who grew up under state sanctioned terrorism. From the lessons in Samuel, she saw King Solomon – with his riches and slaves – in a different light than the traditional perspective of wisdom in which Solomon is usually portrayed. And she contrasted the decisions Solomon made with those made by Jonathan Daniels.

“You have to understand the significance of Jonathan’s witness,” she said. “He had graduated from the Virginia Military Institute. A doctor’s son, he had studied at Harvard and at a traditionally white Episcopal divinity school. He walked away from the king’s table. He could have had any benefit he wanted, because he was young, white, brilliant and male.”

She then spoke at a later forum with the title “We’ve Been Here Before.”

In that forum, Ruby Sales spoke of the spiritual genius of her parents and grandparents, and suggested that we all become better acquainted with African American history. It was in that context that I asked her thoughts on the fact that the families of those slain at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston had been able to offer forgiveness, while families of others killed in recent mass murders seemed to have such different reactions.  This is a topic that has been on my mind, and that of many others, over the past two months. (See also here, and here.)

Ms Sales responded with grace and understanding. She said, “Forgiveness is the result of a long journey.  Forgiveness comes out of lamentations.” She said that her parents and their peers did not allow her to hate. “If you said you hated someone, that was a ‘sit down and think about it awhile’ offense.” The forgiveness, as she saw it, was God’s forgiveness and not an absolution of racism and white supremacy.  It was one more powerful witness on a Sunday full of them.

With gratefulness for the lives of both Jonathan Daniels and Ruby Sales.

More to come…

DJB

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