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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Business in Maryland

A 2 1/2 day business trip to Maryland will of course mean finding a way to combine business with pleasure and cooperate with 2 other women. For the most part, flexibility is key. I knew I wanted Crab Cakes in Maryland and luckily, it was not a difficult task. Crab was featured at 95% of our lunch and dinner options and I wonder if I would have asked if I could have had it as an ingredient in an omelet at breakfast.

We drove down on a Sunday afternoon and by late evening were seated in a "world famous" restaurant that featured a claim in the menu, "We have the best crab cakes and we ship anywhere."

Starting with a calamari appetizer, I loved the gentle and crisp coating on the fresh rings. The marinara dipping sauce was a comforting hug around the squid but with a frisky pinch of heat in the background.

Though our salads were somehow forgotten until the waitress brought out our main course and we reminded her, but the service was friendly.

You can check them out online: and see what you think. The crab cake was succulent large lumps of crab meat with just enough breading to bind the meat. A forkful of the crab cakes tasted like crab, not stuffing or filler and one crab cake was more than enough as an entree. With a choice of sides, I tried the french fries and vegetable of the day which was a stewed zucchini in tomato sauce.

After a night's attempt at sleep which included a bit of tossing and turning, then a shower under the double shower heads, it was time for breakfast.

While it may seem odd to discuss double shower heads when we are discussing food, this feature would lead to discussion among my colleagues and reveal that one of them has a "car wash" assortment of shower heads and jets in her shower. I was fascinated.

Breakfast buffet at the hotel. I was worried until I saw the omelet station and then it was as if the clouds parted, the heaven's opened and the angels were singing, "Ahhhh." I looked among the toppings though I knew I wanted tomatoes, I added onions and peppers (I would have preferred spinach, but compromise, compromise) and a luscious bowl of fresh fruits and berries. For me, this is how breakfast should be!

On to the forward to lunch. An orzo salad with bits of ham and feta cheese, a tossed salad with more feta cheese and a lot of raw onion and tender chicken skewers with layers of onion and peppers. After this meal I realize I have met my quota of onion, peppers and feta cheese for the day. The lunch is full of flavor on its own, but after having a softly baked cookie with cranberries and chunks of white chocolate, I am ready to finish the day's work.

Anyone I spoke with before the trip asked where I was going in Baltimore and insisted I must see the Inner Harbor. At the end of the seminar, our speaker also advised everyone to take in the fairly local sights. We took a shuttle to a light rail and with a bit of hesitation, we were off. A mix of popular chain foods and sidewalk cafes, museums, shops and street vendors, we checked menus and decided on M and S Grill.

The only culinary request I had was for a cup of Maryland Crab Soup. I was served a hearty cup and for those who may be new to this crab-a-licious soup creation, it is similar in many ingredients to Minestrone (in vegetable content) and the broth appears to be tomato based, but add in some large shredded crab meat and a healthy kick of spicy heat.

Bring on the main course - a huge platter sized serving of cavatappi pasta with bay shrimps and scallops that has been generously bathed in a garlic cream sauce and sprinkled with parsley.

Yes, always room for dessert. A chocolate chip ice cream sandwich served with a swirl of whipped cream in a puddle of chocolate sauce. I never said I finished or cleaned my plates, but everything tasted divine.
Day 2 of the conference yielded a similar omelet and since the speaker was sitting with us for lunch, I felt about taking pictures of the meal. A Cesar salad, a side of grilled chicken and a ziti pasta in a creamy sauce with split cherry tomatoes and lumps of crab meat were our midday meal. Yes, I was able to have a second soft cookie with cranberry and white chocolate chunks. While I can tell you what the conference was about - it is the food that I choose to remember.
*Note about photos: without my camera, all photos were taken with my camera phone and I apologize for quality, but will not be stopped by lack of equipment. Additionally, the shot of the dessert could not be included due to low lighting, but it was still fabulous to eat!

Monday, September 6, 2010

How Girl's Night Evolves...

Once upon a time, female friends gathered in a bar, maybe for a designated ladies night with drink specials or maybe just because that was the easiest way for them to get together and socialize. One day, one of the friends realized she really couldn't stay out late anymore and go to work the next day. And, it really wasn't about having a drink, it was about the gathering, the getting together and talking so how much dirt could you dish in a bar?

The ladies planned field trips and though they are a lot of fun, less intimate conversation can happen on a mini-golf course and the search for another venue continued.

"Breakfast," one of the friends suggested. "Are you free this Sunday?"

Breakfast it is and though the core group is small a guest appearance is sometimes made by different friends in common. When a local fire department hosts a pancake breakfast fundraiser, the group can grow up to 10.

Though it really isn't about the food, the ladies have their favorites and have joked about reading the menu and ordering the same thing anyway. French toast. Eggs Benedict. Scrambled with bacon. Drinks are root beer with no ice, one coffee and one hot tea with or without orange juice. Something solid and dependable in knowing what to expect.

Locations change slightly depending on the mood. One chain hot spot offers the best or at least current favorite breakfast potatoes and a local diner has superior and generous omelets.

On this morning, it was the chain and an invited guest who was traveling and the ladies had not seen each other for a few years.

New breakfast platters with stylized photos in separate laminated menus scream out to customers. The marketing works. "Stuffed french toast, oh, that looks yummy."

Fruit seduces the ladies with a wink at health conscious eating though it is blatantly smothered in whipped cream.

2 order the strawberry and banana french toast with the exact same side of scrambled egg and bacon.

Another french toast order, with scrambled egg and bacon but one fruit has changed from banana to blueberry.
Of course a selection of flavored syrups are also offered and though I didn't pay attention, I'm almost positive this crowd reached for traditional maple flavor.

The typical Eggs Benedict or Omelet morphed and customized into an omelet with Hollandaise Sauce on the side. With a teaspoon dipped into the sauce, a drizzle was created and the diner is allowed to feel in control.
I recently watched Ina Garten on the Food Network create a lovely looking Hollandaise in a blender. Though I haven't tried it myself yet, here it is:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
4 extra large egg yolks at room temperature
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 pinches cayenne pepper (honestly, I know I would leave this out)
How to:
Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Place all other ingredients in blender and blend for 15 seconds. With the blender on, slowly pour the hot butter in and blend for an additional 30 seconds until sauce is thick. Can be stored at room temperature for up to one hour. If sauce is too thick, add one tablespooon hot tap water before serving.

Back to our meal... the crispy breakfast potatoes are always the correct texture and no one cares if they are hand or machine cut or how they are cooked. The point here is for them to be consistent and they are gloriously successful.
Ah, and the fruit - melons, pineapple and a grape or two.

The ladies talk of love, friendship, children, a wedding, work and school - just as any other group of women might then they pose for a picture taken by the waitress. A crowd is starting to gather waiting for tables as they leave and go their separate ways, off into the day with full bellies and warm hugs.