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

wake

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!



ululate!

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:






Thursday, August 16, 2018

cooking for my little bro

Both of my brothers cook, and they both take pride in how they organize their kitchens. I spent the afternoon in my brother David's kitchen, prepping my Middle Eastern chicken and appreciating the logical, intuitive way in which David had organized everything. Whatever I wanted, be it utensils or a skillet, I knew right where to go to find it. While I don't think you have to be a genius to organize a kitchen well, it certainly helps to have a dose of common sense when it comes to how a kitchen must be arranged to work smoothly. David obviously has that sense, and as a result, today's cook proceeded swimmingly.

Here's a tantalizing, shadowy shot into a pot in which I had dumped most of the meal's components:


And here's my plate:


All in all, quite good, except for the gross moment when I bit into a chunk of chicken and got a mass of gristle for my trouble (damn you, Wegmans!). Unlike many Asians, I'm not into cartilage and knuckles and fascia and tendons and connective tissue. All I want is meat; everything else is irrelevant. Aside from that little horror, though, the meal was fine.

I had told David he should pack the leftovers up for lunch tomorrow. He just texted back that, when he came back inside the house after walking two of the dogs, he saw that Maqz the chihuahua had hopped up on the table and begun eating the chicken himself. So, alas, David had to throw out all the leftovers. Oh, well.




Middle Eastern chicken: American invasion

Last night (Tuesday the 14th), I did dinner with my brother David at a local Thai place called Rice & Spice. The food was good, but the air conditioning was blowing directly down on my head.

We did dinner there because, in that same shopping complex, there's a Wegmans. I had told David that I wanted to make him my Middle Eastern chicken, and after giving him an idea of the ingredients, he suggested that Wegmans would have everything I needed. So we went there and, sure enough, the place had everything. It was a relief, for once, not to have to shop at three or four different, scattered places all over Seoul just to make one meal.

Wegmans somehow pulls off the trick of seeming high-end while actually being fairly cheap. I saw dozens of items that I wanted to buy, including that heavenly triple-creme Brie that Mike got me addicted to, but in the end, I held my impulses in check and stuck to my shopping list.

David gamely took my groceries to his place and dropped me off at my hotel. Today, Wednesday the 15th (a belated Happy Liberation Day, Korea! as always, you're welcome, even though you never have the good grace to thank us), I'll be sneaking into David's place to prep food and serve my little bro one of my more popular dinners.

Expect photos soon.



Wednesday, August 15, 2018

meet the new Gregory


I'm still debating as to whether this is a step down, but meet my new backpack, a Gregory Baltoro 75 purchased at REI. This new backpack replaces my old, now-defunct Gregory Whitney 95, which had accompanied me across the world on many adventures before dying last year at the very end of my walk from Seoul to Busan.

The numbers in the backpacks' names signify the internal storage capacity, in liters, of each backpack. I've gone from 95 liters to a mere 75, but knowing what I now know about hiking across South Korea, I'm sure I don't need a huge, high-capacity backpack to spend 26 days hiking along bike paths that connect the dots between frequent centers of civilization.

When I was at REI, I grilled one staffer with a barrage of potentially rude questions regarding changes in Gregory packs since 2008. He didn't seem too comfortable, especially when I was pointing out the backpack's several flaws, which haven't been detected and improved since eight years ago, when I first bought my Whitney. The Baltoro's hip-belt assembly, for example, uses the same nylon belt and plastic buckle that the Whitney used, plunging the stocky hiker into a frustrating cycle of belt-loosening and belt-tightening. Also unchanged is the poorly designed chest strap, which in my experience can easily pop off its mounting, thus necessitating a jury-rigged solution. And once that chest strap pops off, it'll pop off again, even more easily, in the future.

The Baltoro also has no side-access pockets, which caused me to gripe: I missed those pockets. The exasperated staffer explained that the recent trend has been to eliminate side pockets because they make internal-frame backpacks too bulky. I call bullshit on this: I never had trouble with arm swing despite my Whitney's side pockets, and arm swing is about the only factor relevant to "bulk" for an I-frame backpack. How else is a backpack bulky, I ask you? By height? No one designs an unreasonably tall backpack. By depth, i.e., by how the pack projects rearward? That's absurd: no one's going to design a pack that will make you topple backward. So "bulky" basically means "wide," but even with side pockets, I-frame packs aren't wide at all, which was a major selling point in the original concept for such a pack. No, I don't buy it: to me, eliminating side pockets is a big mistake. It reduces storage volume and utility, and it forces the pack designers to make compromises on whatever space remains, all for the sake of supposed streamlining.

Once I got my gripes out of the way, though, I told the staffer that I saw many good qualities in the Baltoro. The new pack had kept the U-shaped all-access zipper on the back, which allows easy access to the pack's main compartment. All of the zippers still had the sleek, waterproof design that my Whitney's zippers had had. Top-loading and bottom-loading were still features, all of which meant I could access the pack's main compartment from multiple angles, which is important when it's dark and a hiker is tired. I was a little dubious about how the pack's top compartment had been divided into two small chambers, but I figured I could get used to that eventually. I cheered the Baltoro's many cleverly designed pockets and straps (except for that damn chest strap), many of which I knew I'd end up using on other long-distance treks.

All in all, I'm happy with my purchase, although I wish the pack could have been a hundred dollars cheaper (the Baltoro set me back almost $350). Part of me would still rather have a Whitney, despite that pack's flaws, but I'm sure I'll come to think of my new Gregory Baltoro 75 as a good and faithful travel companion.

UPDATE: with thanks to commenter John from Daejeon for the suggestion, I'm taking back my Gregory and ordering a black Baltoro 85 from Amazon for over $100 less than what I'd paid for this 75. REI is normally expensive, but overcharging by that amount is simply shameless.



shtuff

I had a list of things I wanted to purchase while in the States, but I was also open to buying some things on impulse. The collection you see below is a combination of planned and impulse purchases. I found some cheap, Spandex-ish boxers that will be useful for long hikes (pictured still in their box, upper left); I also got some generic aspirin as well as armpit deodorant (left). The whitish, rectangular box (right) contains two much-needed pillow cases, and the large, black rectangle underneath the pillow cases is a griddle (cheol-pan) of the type that I'd had a hard time finding in Korea. I can't wait to make burgers and pancakes on this when I get back.






shoeses

It seems my best bet for buying new shoes that actually fit my feet is to go physically to the States and find shoes there. Although it's been dying a slow and painful death, the local JC Penney in Springfield had both shoes and shirts to my liking, so I bought a few of each.

The blue New Balance shoes replace my beaten-up New Balances, the ones I wore during my long walk last year. The brown shoes replace my old Rockports, the ones that got thrown in the trash by that idiot custodian last year. I've tested out the New Balances, and they're great. I'll be wearing the brown St. John's Bay loafers when I go out to dinner with my brother tonight. They seemed comfortable, but will they be as comfortable as the Rockports? We'll soon find out.







Tuesday, August 14, 2018

great article by Joy Pullman

Over at the Federalist is a fascinating and far-ranging article by Joy Pullman that purports to examine the relationship between the left and Jordan Peterson, but which in truth provides a clear-eyed and sweeping commentary on who and where we are as a culture. Recommended.



Monday lunch at Young Chow

Young Chow is a Chinese restaurant I discovered while living in Front Royal and commuting to Centerville, Virginia, back during the 2011-2013 era, when I worked for a tutoring and test-prep service. Young Chow, which appears to be family-run, makes great fried wontons, not to mention an addictive crispy beef, which I inevitably order every time I swing by for a visit.

Below are photos of the wontons, some pan-fried dumplings, and that glorious crispy beef. I had been thinking about which restaurant I wanted to visit during my Monday jaunt to Front Royal, but I decided to stop early, in Haymarket, just off Route 55, to relive this particular experience.








the wisdom of Mike's dad

Mike's father, John, who is in his seventies and frail, has been staying at Mike's house for the last little while since the passing of his wife, Mike's mom, in early July. I hadn't seen Mike's father for several years, and it was good to meet him again, albeit under somber circumstances.

John said something when we had a moment to talk. Noticing Mike's family dog Bella, an affectionate black Labrador, John said, "You can judge a family by its dog. And that's a happy dog." Bella does indeed have the look of a dog that is loved and well cared for, but that's no surprise. Mike is the patriarch of a good family, and I doubt I'd be friends with someone of lesser character.





Saturday with the cleaning lady

When I got back from the DMV on Saturday, I saw that housekeeping had been in my room to make the bed and otherwise tidy up. Unfortunately, the cleaning lady had left a large pile of bed linens just sitting by the door, so I lumber-waddled over to the front desk and politely asked the clerk, who also seemed to be a manager, what was to become of the pile of linens at my door. The manager looked mortified, and we both walked back to my room. The cleaning lady was out in the hallway, so the manager called her over as I opened my room's door and indicated the linen pile. "Take that," whispered the manager. The cleaning lady breathed an "Oh, my God!" and scooped up the linens post haste. I tried to smile and indicate that this wasn't the end of the world as far as I was concerned.

On Sunday, I left my usual two-dollar tip on my bed, but when I came back to my room, I saw that the room had been tidied, but the money hadn't been picked up. At a guess, the lady felt guilty about what had happened the previous day, and this was her way of saying she was sorry. I left the two dollars for her on Monday, and she picked the money up this time, so I think we're square, now.




Kellie Collins: gift to the NRA

Anti-gun activist and campaigner Kellie Collins, a Democrat, shot her live-in partner and campaign treasurer, Curtis Cain. The irony writes itself.

If this article is true... wow.



Monday, August 13, 2018

first Sunday back in the States

Sunday morning, I slept in. The plan was to hit my buddy Mike's place in Fredericksburg, perhaps do some shopping there, then maybe drive out to Skyline Drive to catch the last possible viewing of the Perseid meteor shower. I also had a load of gifts to drop off, so there was that task as well.

My brother David had warned me that traffic along Route 95 south would be bad after noon on Sunday. Sure enough, it was: Route 95 was stop-and-go pretty much the entire way down from Alexandria to Fredericksburg. I've seen articles dealing with this phenomenon, which appears to be a statistical inevitability: the aggregate result of all those drivers' various and seemingly random behaviors is that you end up with compressed, slow-moving patches of traffic alternating with decompressed, fast-moving patches of traffic. Inevitable or not, it was a pain in the ass to alternate between a crawl and a gallop.

I ended up spending about seven hours at Mike's place; in the end, I didn't shop and didn't drive out to see the meteor shower: a huge but brief summer thunderstorm moved into our area, knocking down trees, flooding homes, and depriving the area of electricity, including Mike's residence. Cell coverage was lost, which rendered my mobile hotspot useless. With clouds now dominating the sky, and with the Front Royal forecast sounding gloomy through the night, it didn't seem worthwhile to try either shopping or meteor-gazing. I simply hung out with Mike's family for a while, then drove back home.

Family life strikes me as profoundly nonlinear. I've noted this before, but it's worth repeating: in a family context, you're lucky if you can finish uttering a complete thought without getting interrupted, overruled, or otherwise sidetracked. Mike's kids are great, but they all feel they have something to say, they love saying what they have to say dramatically, and they'll interject without regard for whether someone else is talking. Hilariously, when someone interrupts someone else, the victim of the interruption will loudly call out the rude behavior, but that very loudness only serves to sidetrack or bog down the conversation even further. I'm heading out to my friend Dominique's home in France this October; I'll be curious to hear how his family handles everyday dinner conversation and other forms of discours en famille.

I did, however, have time to chat a bit with Michael's father, who has been spending time with Michael's family since he lost his wife to cancer. I'm going to be coming back to Fredericksburg this coming Saturday for a long-planned wake, at which time I'll meet more old friends and possibly my old high-school French teacher, who was a good friend of Michael's mother.

The drive back to my hotel went a bit faster than the drive down, but not by much. It had stopped raining; much of the temporary flooding had receded by the time I was back on the road. It had been good to see my friend again, even if the ambient family chaos hadn't given us much time to truly sit down and talk. And dinner, which was grilled hamburgers and salad, was delicious.





stop-and-go traffic on Route 95 south

Sunday, August 12, 2018

David brushes Penny's teeth

Penny the dog knew what was coming, but she went to David all the same when he held out the toothbrush and called her over to him:


According to David, Penny's been getting her teeth brushed since she was a puppy, so she actually enjoys these little dental-hygiene sessions. She did seem to be radiating enthusiasm. Good for her.