Tuesday, August 21, 2018

how Monday went

I think a lot of what I've been doing this vacation, aside from fattening myself for some sort of slaughter, has been about reliving the oldies.

Today, I drove back out to Skyline Drive for the final time this trip and did the Dark Hollow Falls trail one last time. The entire round trip, way down then way up, took 38 minutes. I once again walked faster than everyone else on the trail, but as before, this was because people were walking in pairs and groups.

The major difference, this time, was that a thick fog had rolled in and covered the entire north-south axis of the Drive by the time I got there. This made driving somewhat hazardous, even at only 35 miles per hour; it also made the trail more hazardous, but not by too much: the rocks along the trail hadn't formed a layer of moss, algae, or lichen, so they weren't as slippery as I thought they'd be, Cthulhu be praised.

The fog put everything in an eldritch cast; at some points, driving visibility was only about 100 feet (30-ish meters).

The mist made the trail a bit more mysterious, but the people I encountered were more bouncy, talkative, and extroverted than last time. I even passed by a Korean family on its way back up, but I refrained from butting in on their family-only repartee.

You hear a lot of foreign languages on these trails. Along with Korean, I've heard French, German, Russian, Spanish, and Chinese. There may have been some sort of Scandinavian tongue thrown in for good measure. A lot of foreign tourists end up in Shenandoah National Park.

As I was on my way back up, I happened upon the tableau you see below. Did the leaves fall that way of their own accord? Did someone arrange them that way? We'll never know, but I found the image pretty enough to pause in my climb and snap a picture:

And here I am, selfie-ing with an old friend:

Dark Hollow Falls is at Mile 51 of the Drive: about halfway down (the Drive is 105 miles long). After my hike, I doubled back and drove to Front Royal, where I hoped to eat at one of two favorite joints: Foster's Grille (a burger joint) in "upper" Front Royal, or Melting Pot Pizza in "lower" Front Royal. I tossed a coin and headed for Melting Pot, telling myself I'd eat at Foster's if the pizzeria proved too crowded. Sure enough, I saw that Melting Pot's parking lot was full, so I headed for Foster's.

To my grief and horror, I discovered that Foster's no longer existed. In that same shopping complex, though, was the depressing but passably good China City Buffet, so, defeated, I stopped in there to eat dinner. Plate One:

Plate Two:


And finally, the "fortune" from the fortune cookie that came with my bill:

I took this to mean, "Go ask that chick out as soon as your ass is back in Korea." The "fortune" is sitting in my wallet, emitting talismanic vibes.

I drove over to my brother's house and hung out for a while, watching "American Ninja Warrior" and other "reality" shows, which seem to have taken over American TV. One thing you learn from living in different countries is that TV is shite just about everywhere. I prefer my current method of TV-watching: find out about an awesome show from online chatter, then purchase several seasons of it and binge-watch.

Anyway, that's how Monday went down.

the Good Lord is trying to tell me something

Monday, August 20, 2018

birfday linner/dunch at Chima

My brother David took me out to Chima, an expensive Brazilian eatery in Tysons Corner, for a birthday lunch today. (My birthday's actually on August 31, but I'm leaving the States this coming Thursday.) I've been there a few times before, and the food is always magnificent. We have rodizios in Seoul, but they don't hold a candle to Chima, which truly is some fine, fine dining (and without demanding the whole suit-and-tie thing).

Here's an establishing shot:

The card you see below lays out our set-menu options; we had a choice between the sumptuous $35 menu or the even more extensive $49.90 menu. "We're going for the $49.90 one," David proclaimed, and I wasn't about to fight him, despite the damage I knew this would do to his wallet.

If you click on the image, you'll get a magnified view that will show you in detail what the fancier option entailed.

While David and I were raiding the super-extensive salad bar, the servers brought our appetizers: yucca fries, cheese bread, and turkey spread, which worked well as a dip for the fries. The fries were incredible, as was the cheese bread. The trap, of course, was that eating too many carbs at the beginning would mean not having enough room for meat later on.

That said, I wasn't modest with my salad-bar selection. There was a pomegranate-and-peach salad, a garden salad, and a seafood salad. Along with that, Chima's salad bar also offered an assortment of deli meats and cheeses, along with Brazilian standbys like farofa and feijoada, which David went for.

Here's a pic of David getting a serving of Brazil's most famous cut of beef: picanha ("pih-KAHN-yah"), or top sirloin with a healthy fat cap. This bit of muscle sits at the top of the cow's ass, right at the base of the tail, and right next door to the beef tenderloin, which runs along the cow's spine. When I looked up the picanha cut, I discovered that most American butchers tend to remove the fat cap and divide the muscle group into three subsections: the rump, the round, and the tri-tip (see here). For Brazilian chefs, the fat cap is essential, and I can see why.

One server came around with beef rib, which proved to be as tender and juicy as a well-cooked brisket. Amazing:

The sides arrived while we were digging into our salads and initial meats. Below, you see some incredible polenta fries:

Next, some amazing fried bananas:

Finally, a small dish of whipped potatoes. These deserve a bit of commentary. When I first saw them, I was worried that they would be over-whipped into a pasty glue, but the cooks managed the nearly impossible trick of getting the potatoes just shy of over-whipped. The tubers were buttery and delicious, and their texture almost made them seem appropriate to use as the world's carbiest dipping sauce.

Here's a shot of David's salad-bar selections. The dark-brown food is the feijoada; just above it, looking a bit like couscous, is the farofa.

One of my faves of the afternoon was flank steak:

Next: minty leg of lamb. After this, I stopped taking pics of the meat because it just kept coming and coming. There were two versions of garlic beef; there was also bacon-wrapped chicken and pork sausage, plus several other cuts of beef. It was a barrage of succulent proteins, and I never needed to accent the meat with salt and pepper.

The next phase, after a brief pause, was dessert. David had quietly let the servers know that this was a birthday celebration, so along with the desserts we ordered, there came a lovely tiramisu-style cake with a dark-chocolate sign on it that said "Happy Birthday!" in tasteful gold-leaf cursive:

David got the cheesecake:

I got the chocolate cake:

In all the chaos, the servers had forgotten to give us the traditional cinnamon-coated roasted pineapple, but they brought it over as soon as we mentioned it:

By the time the afternoon meal was over, I was stuffed but not explosively so. I thanked David profusely for an unforgettable birthday meal, and we drove back to his place, digesting happily.

Chima comes highly recommended, but know that meals are normally closer to $70 per person: this just happens to be "Restaurant Week" in northern Virginia, so participating restaurants are offering all sorts of specials. Still, even at $70, the food represents money well spent. Chima is as much an experience as it is a meal.

the old men and their godchildren

L to R:
Mike, Dave, Mark, Kevin

With our godchildren now, L to R:
Iain, Mark, Emma, Dave, 'Rina, Mike, Kevin, Rachael

(With thanks to Mike for texting me the pics.)

Sunday, August 19, 2018


My buddy Mike's mom passed away in early July, but Mike and his family decided to wait on having any sort of memorial service until mid-August, perhaps out of consideration for others (like me) whose schedules wouldn't allow them to join a wake until later. Today (Saturday the 18th), I drove down to Fredericksburg, fighting my way through a fourteen-mile-long traffic jam, to go to the wake.

I saw quite a few people I hadn't seen in years, including Dave, a friend since junior high, who also lost his mom a couple years back. I met Mike's uncle, also a David, who is apparently a pilot. Mike's sister was there, along with her husband and two lovely daughters, one of whom I taught to use chopsticks. Mike's in-laws were there in force, along with several other friends, one of whom I know fairly well, but another of whom I remembered not at all. Various other friends of the family were in attendance, including my old French teacher from high school, Madame Landgrabe, and her husband Ed, both looking spry despite being 80 and 82, respectively.

This was a cheerful wake, which I think was apropos. There was a respectful slideshow retrospective playing on the big-screen TV downstairs, but no one was sobbing while watching it. People were talking intently and intensely with each other; if Mike's mom had been there, I think she would have appreciated this celebration of life, which was also the celebration of a life. Mike's mom, who was named Ann, made many ripples during her time on this earth, and today was a testament to the number of people she affected, and the depth to which she had affected them.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

dunch/linner in the old stomping grounds

After rolling out of Skyline Drive, I stopped at the Apple House, which is technically in Linden, not Front Royal.

You can't stop at the Apple House and not buy a box of the place's apple-butter doughnuts. I bought a dozen for my brother; the cost has gone up, but the doughnuts are the same dollops of apple-cinnamon deliciousness that they've been for years:

And here's the receipt.

The Apple House used to sell a huge one-pound burger, but that's no longer on the menu. In its place are a gaggle of half-pound burgers, one of which is called the Jumbo, which is what I ordered, along with sides of kettle chips and coleslaw. Here's the burger, in all its glory (note how the meat positively droops out of the bun: a good sign):

The final stop of the evening was the local soft-serve joint, where I ordered a banana split from a cheerful server. The dessert was decent, but not a true banana split. First, a true split has three different kinds of ice cream: the Neapolitan combo of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Next, there ought to be three sauces/toppings: pineapple, hot fudge, and cherry. This split featured only two sauces: pineapple and hot fudge. It also featured only one type of ice cream: vanilla.
While not a true banana split, the dessert was good on its own terms. I managed to finish it without developing brain freeze.

And with a trail walked and food eaten, I hopped into my car and headed back to Alexandria, tired and replete.

poster has a subtle sense of humor

This billboard has been around for years. Note the subtle dig at McDonald's, which I only just noticed.

the creepy tree at Mile 20

There's something eldritch and uncanny about the dead and naked tree that stands alone at an overlook by Mile 20 on Skyline Drive. It looks even creepier in the rain:

What ancient hatred keeps the tree at its vigil? What evils has the tree witnessed? Or committed? The thing radiates malice.

Dark Hollow Falls (Skyline Drive)

Until Thursday's excruciating walk in tight shoes, I hadn't gotten in any cardio. Today, Friday, I decided to drive out to Skyline Drive and hit Dark Hollow Falls, a fairly short but somewhat steeply descending trail that leads the day hiker to a modest waterfall. Most people (including yours truly) walk down to the fall and walk back up, but the trail actually goes on a ways for those who are curious to know what lies beyond.

Despite a week of no exercise, I still retained a great deal of conditioning from all the staircase work I'd been doing in Korea. I was the fastest to descend the trail, passing many couples and families, and the fastest back up, passing a few ascending hikers and leaving everyone in the dust. I did take time to rest once, but the pause lasted only thirty breaths before I pushed myself to continue.

When I'd done this same hike with Charles and Hyunjin a few years ago, I'd been completely out of shape and needed to take long breathers to recover from the exertion. This time around, I was much stronger and faster. Staircase training really does work.

Here's a wide shot from early on in the descent:

It took me only 18 minutes to walk/run down to the falls, which you see here:

BigHominid triumphant, but without having started back up the path:

A final shot of the falls before starting back up the trail, which proved not to be nearly as hellish as all that:

Admittedly, one major reason why I was faster than everyone was that everyone else was traveling in pairs or groups; greater numbers can slow you down. While I was descending, I passed a pair of blond German teen guys who were striding up the path as if it were nothing, which it probably was to them. They were the only people moving more robustly than I was. The typical family cluster that I encountered consisted of skinny little ten-year-old boys and girls who ran ahead of their overweight parents, with the adults shouting plaintive "Don't go too far!"s.

I was a sweaty, panting mess by the time I reached the parking lot, but I think the cardio had been worth it. As I was driving north to Front Royal, where Skyline Drive begins, I ran into some clouds that had decided to breeze over and among the ancient mountains; after that, I ran into some intense rain. I mentally thanked the old gods and the new for allowing me to complete my hike without getting rained on.

Around Mile 20, I again saw my old nemesis, the undead-looking tree. But that's the subject of a different blog post.

Friday, August 17, 2018

a better "Justice League"

I'm not able to embed YouTube videos with my cell phone, so I'm sorry, but you'll have to settle for links.

I found this parody of the "Justice League" trailer to be superior to the movie itself. Look for Danny Trejo as Wonder Woman.

eat your hearts out, celebrity chefs!

A heartfelt "Screw you!" to each and every celebrity chef who claimed the "quick" way to extract seeds from a pomegranate was to beat the fruit with a wooden spoon. Untrue.

dinner at Famous Dave's

Tonight, David and I hit Famous Dave's, a barbecue chain that I've long enjoyed.

Here's the inside of the menu:

And here are the desserts:

David got a house salad for a starter:

For his main, David got the Ultimate Burger, which comes loaded with a small pile of pulled (or chopped) pork and bacon:

I, meanwhile, chose the two-meat combo platter, opting for brisket as my old standby, and taking a risk with the second meat by choosing rib tips, which I've never had before. The tips turned out to be a great choice: they were an interesting mix of textures and flavors, with all the succulent ribbiness you expect of ribs:

A sexier angle:

David said he wanted to try something different for dessert, so he got the banana pudding. I sampled it and will definitely order it next time, whenever that might be.

My dessert was Dave's legendary bread pudding, which seemed to have shrunk a bit, but which was every bit as good:

My phone (well, Google) prompted me to write a review of my prandial experience, so I wrote a very positive review for Famous Dave's. It's a decent place for midrange, family-style dining. Not cheap, but not expensive, either.

wut u luk like after 20K steps in tight shoes

I need to return my walking shoes and exchange them for larger ones. The ones I bought were plenty wide enough, but my feet must have grown from all the walking I've done because they (the shoes, I mean) sure as hell weren't long enough. My left foot's screaming toes can attest to that.

Today's walk in the summer heat while wearing shoes that became increasingly painful was both a welcome return to exercise (of which I've done none since arriving Stateside) and a bit of a disaster. I had thought that the New Balances I'd bought were a perfect fit, but there's nothing like a 20,000-step walk to test a shoe's mettle.

My post-walk face:

I'll be driving back to JC Penney's at Springfield Mall (will say hi to the Simpsons, har har) to take back my shoes and, I hope, find a better-fitting pair. I imagine the new shoes will be larger, so I'm prepared to pay whatever difference in cost there might be. And assuming the new shoes are indeed to my liking, that will conclude the major-purchases phase of my trip. I've got money, but I can't spend myself into oblivion.

PS: I did take back my Gregory pack, and the new Baltoro 85 arrived from the Amazon affiliate today. Woo-hoo!


Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, has died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76. No matter where you turn, the woman had hit after hit in an amazing career that spanned not just decades, but generations.

My fondest memory of her comes from her only movie role.

RIP, Miss 'Retha. Respect.

meals just in case

I was at a Walmart a few days ago when I saw packs of Mountain House dehydrated camp food (my favorite brand). I decided to snap up a couple meals for those days when I can't eat out with my brother or with a friend:

haben Sie mich gesehen?

Seen taped to the side of a bus stop: