Archive for the 'review' Category

Review: Tackle Box, With a Side of Overdue Research

The Wednesday before last I had dinner at the Tackle Box with a visiting Uncle.  Technically a first cousin once-removed by marriage, but let’s leave it at uncle.  He emailed a few days in advance requesting good seafood, and I found out about them through WaPo’s restaurant guide- best-reviewed not-gaspingly-expensive seafood restaurant in DC.

Perspective:  I don’t like fish.  Well, live ones that I have to look at or let be anywhere near me.  Fish are ugly and slimy and might bite me.  In theory, I’m ok with living fish far away from me.   I’m usually happy if they’re fried in chunks without visible fish-resembling portions.  And I just finished reading Taras Grescoe’s Bottomfeeder before I left for NZ, which describes plenty of the incredibly destructive and disgusting ways most seafood is raised and harvested around the world.  More on this later.  In conclusion, eating seafood was daunting before, and now I find it possibly revolting.

Still, I happen to like this Uncle, so seafood it was.  Luckily, the Tackle Box (a less ritzy version of it’s big-sister restaurant Hook) has a big old section of their website devoted to their sustainable fishing practices, with earnest promises that they source local and smaller fishing operations and change their menu based on availability, etc.

I don’t know of any way to make sure it’s true.  That’s one intimidating thing about seafood- oversight from the fisherman to the table is more often than not lax, and fish are often labelled incorrectly.  But their website does sound earnest, and a little googling doesn’t reveal any scandals.  So, tentative trust, Tackle Box?

I had the bluefish with the sweet potato fries and asparagus.  I enjoyed the asparagus- crisp enough, well flavored, and the sweet potato fries could have been less oily, but were pretty good anyway.  Bluefish tasted fine, had some pleasing darker portions of meat.  Again I have no real fish experience with anything but fried slabs of the stuff, so don’t rely on my palate.  Uncle seemed to like it.

Afterwards (tonight), I looked up the species to see about overfishing issues.  I started at Wikipedia, but that was silly of me:  if you want to know more about fish that are safe and sustainable for your eating pleasure, go straight to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch site.  They keep close tabs on this stuff, and they say Bluefish are a “Good Alternative” in their rating system- though they are overfished in the Atlantic and they contain lots of toxins, beign at the higher end of the food chain.  Whoops.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium rates fish choices as Best Choice, Good Alternative, or Avoid- and you can print out their pocket guides here or check out their website on your fancy internet phones.  A better choice at the Tackle Box would have been the tilapia- if it was farmed in the US.  Or the trout, if it were US-farmed Rainbow Trout and not so much the wild-caught lake trout.  The staff seemed very nice and informed- go ahead and ask them.

The more you know, hunh?  I’m printing out a guide for the next time Uncle comes into town.

Review: Karen Dionne’s “Freezing Point”

A few months (a lifetime) ago, I received a review copy of Karen Dionne’s Freezing Point.  Ms. Dionne also sent me a swag chapstick, if you recall?  It was excellent chapstick-quite worthy of the book with which it came.

The novel centers around Ben and Zo, two idealists who have moved beyond their most starry-eyed phases.  Ben is an executive in a global corporation, selling water for profit.  Zo and her husband are researchers in an Antarctic base.  A cracking ice shelf, a mysterious disease, and entirely too many rats later, they discover a common cause.

Dionne’s basic premises resonate- the privatization of water resources and the unintended consequences of messing with nature- and give this light thriller a weightier backbone.  Her plotting is plausible and only occasionally overwrought, her language use well-considered, and her details convincing enough for me.  Basically, if you intend to have a beer near a body of water this summer, read this book while doing so.  It’s enjoyable, fast, and illuminates its message without too much preachiness.  Plus it’s very helpful if you’ve ever wondered what life would be like if rats tried to eat everyone you knew.  Teaser!

If you’d like your own copy, you can find Freezing Point at Amazon.  Visit Karen’s website to read about her next book, Boiling Point (of course!).

P.S. Yes, the book’s cover blurb reads only “Gangbusters!”.  In case you are wondering, this refers to a radio show from the 1930s.  The opening sequence had a very intense and exciting series of sound effects, and inspired the phrase.  Some days I don’t think I’d know anything without the internet.

Vermicomposting with WormEco

The Naturemill unit seems to have bought it after the last move- I am not pleased with that thing.  Given that it’s full of half-rotten stuffs now, I’m not excited about investigating its inner workings to fix the problem.  So when I got an email from WormEco last week, inviting me to a vermicomposting workshop, the timing was fortunate.

Wormeco

Elvira Jakovac, the founder and owner, gathered a few groups of people in a local park Saturday to demonstrate vermicomposting.  Basically, get some worms, make them a lovely moist home, and shove in your food scraps for them to eat from time to time.  In a few months, remove their poo.  Voila!  It looks more like regular dirt than poo, which absolutely helps the squeamish.

Elvira has bins for purchase, with bedding and about a half pound of worms she has raised herself inside, so all you need to do is add the food, check to make sure the worms are happy, and remove the compost in about four months- then repeat.  She will not only start them for you, she has fantastic advice on how to keep the worms going so they’ll multiply to eat all the food you give them (if there isn’t enough to eat, they’ll stop multiplying- no worries about some horror movie of forever-multiplying worms).  On Saturday, we were regaled with a short history of vermicomposting (Europeans brought worms on boats by accident!), and the story of her own work in the field- she weighs a lot of worms.  She’s also got environmentally friendly plans on how to deal with bugs and critters, and household chores- her presentation was informative, and a pleasure to listen to.

WormEco is only a few months old, but I hope it’s got a long and prosperous life ahead.  Elvira is serious about getting her green-living message to not only Alexandria, but the world- she’s entered in a National Geographic competition that will reward a person starting a movement in their local communities with a nice chunk of money to make it happen- and she’s promised to walk from Alexandria to DC to accept the prize, if she wins, and would like to invite us all to walk with her.

If you’re interested, check out her website to learn about upcoming workshops ($10 a person) and you may also buy pre-made bins or fresh compost from her directly.

Full disclosure:  I was invited to the workshop free as a guest.  I liked the idea and Elvira enough that I will buy my own bin.  If i get my Naturemill running again, I’ll have compost races!

Oh man a bin of worms!

worm bin

Much less creepy than you thought.

Review: Practical Recycled Calendars

I get a wall calendar and an appointment book every year in one of those green-light, year-by-year-receding-before-us kind of dreams of organization.  I had a pretty date book I got from a seller at etsy for assignments last semester, but it only had date pages and was consequently driving me crazy flipping back and forth trying to remember what was going on.

I am picky about my calendars, since it’s hard enough for me to remember to use them in the first place, and if I don’t like them, they’re just going to get “lost” on a shelf for 11 months.  I require tabs, month pages, and daily spaces from my calendars, and they must be in either sober and dignified or totally awesome patterns.  Plus, now I try to buy sustainable, so…I figured etsy was as good as I was going to get for a while.

But! When I was at Staples near Bailey’s Crossroads, I found a display of At-A-Glance weekly and Monthly calendars, in a new recycled version.  They’re 100% post consumer recycled paper, and the cover and binding have 50% and 90% recycled material, and the ink is vegetable-based.  I got the weekly/monthy appointment book for me, and the monthly for the Gentleman Friend (understandably, he was thrilled, with the smallest “th” possible), but they’ve got other recycled configurations, too. 

Then! My wall calendar was from Barnes and Noble in Potomac Yard this year.  They have an in-house printing company called Silver Lining, which is a member of the Green Press Initiative, and they print on recycled paper using soy ink.  There were a few displays of different calendars from Silver Lining before the New Year, when I got mine, but now you’ve got to search their website for “Silver Lining” to see what’s still in stock.  They are on sale.

Um.  This all assumes that you still need or want a calendar this far into 2009.  Or prep for 2010?  Either way, here’s to procrastination and post-New Year’s sales!

Review: Restaurant Eve is a Classy Mouth Party

In conclusion, it was a tasty, exciting, and relaxing experience.  It is worth every penny of somebody else’s money.

See, I began with my conclusion because I wanted people actually interested in food to understand that this is not that kind of review.  I will not be waxing eloquent about the freshness of the shallots or the balance of the sauces.  This is partly because I can’t remember the names of the sauces, or if shallots were involved in any dish, but really mostly because I do not have a developed palate.  Also because we got seven courses, chef’s choice, and we got the wine pairing with each of the seven courses, so my memory of the last two or three is a bit dim.

What I will say is that the service was attentive but not annoying, languid so that we could properly enjoy each course and pairing, and I ate sweetbreads (brains!?) and monkfish cheeks.  Monkfish cheeks!  Beats the heck out of my boxed organic macaroni.  The wines were paired thoughtfully, and each selection brought out something new in the food.  None of the combinations of fancy bits we were given seemed too bizarre- though I never even knew monkfish cheeks were a thing one might reasonably eat, so I don’t have the best concept of what’s reasonable.

Also, everything tasted good!  Like, eating each bite was lovely and interesting, and the portions weren’t huge or ludicrously tiny, so you could enjoy all seven courses without bloating, and not tire of each one before you finished.  And brains are chewy.

As to the local, sustainable aspects, you’ve read the news articles.  They do it.  They also had real towels in the restrooms for drying your hands, so no paper waste.  Otherwise they’re not overt about it.

I’d definitely go back to the tasting room, if somebody else was paying.  You’ll enjoy it even if you’re not really into fancy food.  If you go, make sure you go with people you like, since the tastings can last four hours.  I’d like to hit the less-expensive Bistro for dinner and the lunch menu is downright reasonable.

Yearly Green Drycleaning

I dropped off my winter coat (wrinkled and stained, what was I doing last year?) and a few other items at the Green Earth drycleaners on North Quaker, and was reminded how much I like them.  They’re just north of the trisection with Braddock and King St., and they have really nice, helpful staff, and an older gentleman named Buddy who appears to make the place tick.  He saved me $40 on cleaning my leather coat (apparently they have to send out leather and suede because cleaning them fully can mess up the dye), but since I just wanted it sanitized and to smell less like a thrift store, they can do it right there for way less.

So yes, I like them, and you should check them out.  Here’s the store story, and a wikipedia article on what they do.

Review: Barbara Freese’s “Coal: A Human History”

I’ve been prevaricating on this review, because I wanted to say something profound about it.  I didn’t not enjoy reading it, but I’m not sure I got an informational return on my time.  So, briefly, here’s what stuck.

Coal  tells many of the little stories of people and events that make the history of coal way more interesting than it should be.  At times, it feel shallow, like the author is trying to jump from interesting bit to interesting bit, and spare us the boring parts underneath.  I’m a fan of the boring backbone of history, though, so we may disagree on this.

The first part of the book discusses when coal was first used, how it grew England, how it grew America, how it grew unions and anti-union sentiment, and briefly sketches the state of coal and the coal industry in America today (important, but dwindling, sort of).  The second bit describes her trip to China, and how it’s doing industrialization on its own coal power.  Vivid descriptions of pollution in London during the coal years echo recent reports of pollution in Beijing.

There are three things you should take away from this book:

1) Coal is very dirty, and it kills a lot of people at every stage of it’s production and use.

2) Without coal, the industrial revolution, growing of manufacturing economies, and wonderful increases in the standards of living for billions wouldn’t have happened/be happening. (Now juxtapose 1 and 2, and you see our dilemma).

3) We should try to not use coal for energy any more, since there are safer sources, but it is going to be very difficult to wean ourselves from it, much less convince the rest of the world to lay off.

Know that, and you’re solid.

The book is informative and well-written, but unless you make a concerted effort, or are just really into the industrial revolution, it’s very likely you’ll forget it on a table somewhere and not notice you haven’t read it for weeks.


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