Thursday, December 24, 2009

5 years ago to the day

... my first article was published in Annapolis' own Bay Weekly on the vacancy of the Market House - a sad day for this town.  Today my second article in this newspaper has been published, this time profiling a great Annapolitan Michael Silitch, who has become a world reknowned mountaineer in Chamonix, France.  Read more at


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

We'll Have a White Christmas

A forecast of snow - feet of snow no less - has never before upset me. In the cold winter months when I was in school, I'd go to sleep not only with my pajamas backwards, but also inside out, for that extra effort. Sleepovers meant elaborate snow dances followed by a rush to the window the next morning. We usually discovered nothing but the bare, frozen ground. But our hope never diminished.

the official measuring stick measured 24 inches Sunday morning

When we finally did wake up to a white storm, whether an inch or a foot, my brother and I would race into our layers of snow gear - at least five layers under bib snow pants, turtle necks, long johns, and a head piece with small holes for our eyes. We'd waddle out the door before breakfast, tirelessly sledding down our steep street, the bulkhead to stop us from flying straight into the creek at the bottom.  Depending on the snow's depth and consistency, the neighborhood kids would join forces to build a snow fort.  We'd take hot chocolate breaks every couple hours, an excuse to heal the painful burning from a cold snowball thrown squarely in the face. 

By afternoon, we were ready for more serious slopes.  The hill at St. John's College, a monster of a hill, was wide and steep - and completely worth dragging our sleds across town for.  After hurtling ourselves down the drop countless times, we'd head home and play board games while our toes thawed.  The next day, we'd wake up and do it all over again.  This cycle continued until the bottom of the news screen no longer posted Anne Arundel County in its list of cancellations and we wearily trudged back to school, the sidewalks flanked by mounds of dirty snow.  Even as I passed the age of sledding all day, snow days were wonderful for their novelty.  There was always some change of plans, and usually this meant no classes or work. 

But last Saturday morning, as the snow fell in thick flakes and the Weather Channel predicted over two feet, I sat on my couch wishing for the opposite, whatever that might be.  Anything that wouldn't hinder people from coming to my family's annual Christmas party.  The party is a tradition that started in 1992, and has continued with only one hiatus last year.  I can proudly say that although the blizzard of 2009 shut down the state of Maryland - and probably the entire Mid-Atlantic region - for the weekend, the Dodd family did not reschedule.  Instead, we went ahead with our party.  Maybe there were only 12 guests (slightly fewer than the usual 90 or so) who made it, and perhaps the carols were sung in a cappella style instead of with a piano accompaniment, but there was still singing, cookies, good company, and Mrs. Dodd's meatballs.  And what else matters in the end?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mushy Peas are the Caviar of the UK

December in London is a beautiful time of year. The cold hazy days are cozy, whereas by February they'll feel more bleak and depressing. Green garlands of decorations adorn every possible surface and post, and Christmas trees line the streets, begging to be carried home. In the midst of all this holiday spirit, I find myself sitting in my old flat, on the new, marvelously comfortable couch, waiting for.... the dishwasher repairman. Not a very romantic picture of my 2-week visit to London, but I must say I actually appreciate the excuse to sit on said couch, doing literally nothing but watching Sky TV, for once the sole decision-maker of which of hundreds of channels to watch.

view from the living room window

It is in this 5-hour window of waiting time that I have discovered my new favourite British cook, Nigella Lawson, whose Christmas Kitchen show makes me want to get up this very second and start carving those frustratingly tiny pastry molds for mince pies. There is one thing, however, which confuses me about this traditional fare: the mincemeat. Does not contain any meat. The pies consist of a gooey combination of apples, cranberries, and other dried fruits, steeped in a mix with spices. So why is it called mincemeat? Listing the ingredients, and even watching the pies' creation under Nigella's watchful eye make them seem so irresistable; and yet, I never have actually enjoyed the taste of these holiday treats. What can you expect from a country where mushy peas are a staple food?

Another British treat (not particular for any specific time of year) is the Maryland cookie. Supposedly the recipe for these "biscuits" was brought to the UK from the US over half a century ago, and has been pretty successful because whenever I tell anyone here I'm from Maryland, they say "Ooooh! Like the cookie!" That and "Do you live near Baltimore? Only 40 minutes away?! Within spitting distance of 'The Wire'! WHAT??! YOU'VE NEVER SEEN IT??!" And so it goes, continuing with my explanation that I really don't watch much TV at all, and yes, I know I need to watch it because I'm from Maryland, and ending with a promise that they will lend me their copy. Which hasn't happened yet. And so I still haven't seen it. Maybe in my time waiting for the dishwasher repairman I'll be able to .... and there's the doorbell now.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Oh, Christmas Tree

The Annapolis City Dock Christmas tree, in all it's splendor, all but a stripe of unlit lights circling the top.  This year the city chose to decorate the tree with musical instruments and ribbons; saxaphones and trumpets are scattered amidst it's branches, adorned with small red bows and scrolls of notes.  A few years ago I remember the theme was gardening tools, the tree littered with rakes and shovels.  That was quite a tree.  It's always a surprise what will show up on the City Dock tree - I wonder who's job it is to decide this?  I can imagine a man behind his desk in City Hall call out to his secretary "What should the theme of the tree be this year?" and she yells back "hmmmm... my daughter just started violin lessons - let's make it music!"  And so it is.  This year the tree is certainly a sight to see, whether or not it's fully lit.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Beckoning Pecan Pie

A pecan pie is sitting on my kitchen counter as I write this, calling to me to come have just a little taste, it's only a taste.  Two days ago, a sliver was gone.  Yesterday, there was half.  And tonight, I have managed to widdle the remaining slice to less than a quarter of its original circular shape.  I made this pecan pie myself.  In fact, I made two pecan pies, which together made up my first attempt at one of my favorite Thanksgiving treats.  My Aunt also made a pecan pie (she didn't know I would be making two) and an apple pie, my other aunt bought two pumpkin pies, and my mom bought pumkin and lemon meringue pies. 

Eight pies for 18 over-stuffed people after our Thanksgiving dinner last Thursday.  We touched only three of the eight; hence, there are several still left, and naturally these leftovers have remained at my house, enticing me to finish them before they go bad.  There is nothing that bothers me more than wasted food.  And so, every time I think of it (which turns out to be at least once every 60 minutes), I head to the kitchen, grab a clean fork, and nibble on my pick of the hour, right out of the pie dish (no sense in using another plate for only a couple bites), just enough so that the edge I'm re-sizing is straight when I'm done.  I put my used utensil in the dishwasher every time, thinking it will lessen the chances of me repeating my habitual snacking, but this technique has only led to a shortage of forks by dinner.  But really, what is Thanksgiving if not for eating large quantities of food with people you love, and then eating that same food for days after?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Art (or Lack) of Smoking a Cigar

Step 1: get cigar. In other words, call whoever's cigar box you're rummaging through, ask which is the cheapest, least-valued cigar, and apologize in advance for the likely waste of said cigar.

Step 2: bite off round end of cigar. Bite?!? OK, I tried this and it really didn't work. Not at all. Instead of a clean chop through the thing, I got pieces of brown paper all over my mouth.... not so pleasant. I tried this technique twice more, to no avail. What was I doing wrong??

Step 3:  while picking bits of cigar paper out off your tongue, find scissors and cut the by now gooey cigar end.  Why am I doing this again?

Step 4:  light cigar.  aka go through 9 matches before bringing out the torch-sized lighter, which does a pretty sufficient job. 

Step 5:  enjoy cigar, while remembering not to (cough cough. ooops) inhale.

As you can probably guess, this was my first time at preparing a cigar to smoke, and it obviously didn't go so smoothly.  I'll have to seek instruction from someone who, say, has worked in a cigar shop before attempting this again.  Or maybe I should just steer clear of cigars instead.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Only in Annapolis

There are quite a few Irish pubs in downtown Annapolis, each one claiming to be 'authentic,' hanging their white, orange and green flags on their walls and serving pints of thick Guiness to prove it.  My parents have always joked they're going to open another one.  I doubt they ever will, but if they did, I always wondered what it's chances would be, especially up against Galway Bay on Maryland Avenue.  I would say of all downtown's Irish-themed places, Galway is the best: the most authentic, serving the most delicious food in a cozy, yet lively atmosphere. 

Last night I sat perched on a stool at Galway Bay's bar for a couple hours, nursing two glasses of house Cabernet, snacking on corned beef poppers from my friend's plate.  It was a typical quiet November mid-week night, and the bar was half-full until around 9pm.  All of a sudden, a surge of midshipmen arrived, as boisterous as forty 22-year olds are when they've just received their assignments for the next 4 years of their lives.  But they didn't act like the stereotypical crazy college seniors on a wild night out.  They were excited, but polite, and listened with respect as the leader (commander? captain?) gave a toast to their futures.  We spoke with a few of the mids, who shared their assigned positions with us.  Each was so enthusiastic, not only to have a guaranteed job for the next four years, but to be helping our country in a time of need.  Talking to them gave me a sense of pride... I'm not really sure why- I hadn't done anything.  I guess I was just proud of these people, all strangers to me, on the brink of their futures, getting ready to go out into the world.  It's similar to the position I'm in myself.  I only hope we will all find our ways and accomplish great things, wherever our paths may lead us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Walk/Drive on the Wild Side of NC

Another weekend = another opportunity to take a road trip, this time to visit my friend Jennie, who lives somewhere in the midst of the triangle cities of North Carolina.  In preparation for the 5+ hour drive, I brought lots of snacks so I wouldn't have to stop and eat, and checked out a few books on CD to keep myself entertained.  Unfortunately, about a 1/2 mile from my house, the CD player in my car suddenly stopped working.  And then my radio stopped working too (I had to start singing to myself at one point; fortunately, there was no one else in the car to hear me).  It was about halfway through the drive that the ache in my right leg prompted me to look for the cruise control function, at which point I realized it does not exist in my car (I am a new owner of this 2000 Toyota Corolla).  And once I got close to my destination, my mapquest directions led me astray, landing me in what I later learned was a not-so-safe area of Durham.  Oh the joys of road trips. 

Jennie's place, which I finally reached slightly later than planned, is south of Durham, in an apartment complex complete with an outdoor pool, open year-around, a gym, and a coded gate to get inside.  It could have been a dilapidated trailer park for all I cared - I was just happy to finally be out of my car.

Saturday was a gorgeous fall day, the kind where you can't help but do something outdoors, no matter how badly you may be feeling from the previous night's festivities.  We forced ourselves up and out of bed, grabbed a greasy breakfast at McAlisters where we shared a supreme 'spud' i.e. open-faced baked potato topped with turkey, bacon, ham, olives, cheese, chives, and sour cream with some of the most amazing potato soup I've ever tasted, then headed to the William B. Ulmstead State Park

The park is tucked between Raleigh and Durham, and has over 20 miles of winding trails to hike.  We chose a 7.2 mile route to casually walk/jog (mostly walk), and were off.  The trail winds along Crabtree Creek, gently rolling up and down with the hills.  Trees surrounded us, completely covering the landscape, their leaves a full range of shades, from glowing red to shriveling yellow.  We saw a huge birdhouse, squirrels, mushrooms, and a few deep holes in the ground, surely inhabited by creatures I'd rather not come face to face with.  At one point along the creek, we came upon what looked like a beaver's den - with a buck lying on top, crushed by a tree that fell on him.  That poor deer really was in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

We finished in about 90 minutes, feeling refreshed and energized.  I'd say this beats a treadmill any day.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Birthdays and Cake Conundrums

I think birthdays, whatever age they happen to usher in, warrant a celebration of some sort.  Whether you're turning 11 or 81, the day deserves recognition, a distinction to divide one year from the next, even if you feel no different waking up that morning.  There will always be those people who ask "how do you feel now that you're 13?" or 21? or 25?  Those are all milestone years in growing up, marking additional privileges (that is, if, at 25, you consider being able to rent a car a privilege).  I never felt any particular change with each passing year, even the big ones- at least not like I'd imagined I would feel when I was, say, 8 years old.

I bring up the topic of birthdays not because mine is coming up, but because we just celebrated my mom's big day.  We had a small get-together for her, somewhat belated but still a surprise.  I love surprising people, and also love being on the other side, having something planned without my knowing about it.  Anyway, I made her a little cake- chocolate with chocolate frosting and bananas and raspberries on top.

There are some factors to consider in making a cake (or anything, really) for a group of people: a) making something you think the majority of those attending will like and b) making something you think the majority of those attending can eat.  The cake I made happened to be a gluten-free chocolate cake from a mix I found on the pantry shelf.  (Is it wrong to use a batter my mom bought to make her birthday cake?  To my defense, it had been sitting there for at least a few months, if not longer.)  So there was no wheat.  But then it called for gluten-free vanilla, which I didn't have.  So the cake had some small percentage of gluten contained in its 1 teaspoon worth of vanilla.  The frosting was another issue, as Whole Foods had only one choice (why is that when it is supposedly the third largest on the entire East coast?), and contained all-natural ingredients, but was not gluten-free.

So do I label the part-gluten-free cake as such?  Or just leave it, and assume people with concerns will ask?  I went with the latter, and no one asked.  It tasted great, and the night was a success.  My mom was thrilled, and I'd say she brought in her next year in a style of someone at least 20 years younger.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

To the Big Island

Last weekend, I ventured beyond the city limits of Annapolis on the Greyhound bus to New York City for a long-overdue college roommate reunion. I got a glimpse of NYC life, from the fast pace and constant stream of people everywhere to the lovely apartments that I invaded with my overstuffed luggage. I entrusted my friends to arrange the itinerary, and went along for the ride.

One of the weekend's highlights was a trip to Manhattan's West Side Saturday afternoon.  A level above the streets of the Meatpacking District, lays a long line of railroad track which dates back to the 1930s: the High Line. Originally built to transport goods into and out of the city's industrial neighborhoods without disrupting traffic, it has been abandoned since 1980, left for the weeds to grow between its wooden slats. As it turns out, those weeds were the basis of a vision that started the non-profit Friends of the High Line's project a few years ago to reinvent this unused space.

Today, the High Line has been transformed into a public park, 30 feet above the city's bustling sidewalks.  A winding path flanked by slatted stone benches divides the beds of vegetation- tall grasses, black-eyed susans, wildflowers- growing amid the old tracks.  The park starts on Gansevoort Street and goes to 20th Street, but is due to open through to 30th street next year.  Walking through the park on a weekend afternoon was crowded, but we could still appreciate the creative design of such a unique space. 

After our stroll along the tracks, we explored Chelsea Market, nestled beneath the High Line at 15th and 16th streets.  We entered a tunnel of small food shops and restaurants lining a cavernous hallway, full of lots of delicious fare from bakeries, chocolates, meat stands.  We explored every option before making our selections (these choices are very important), and sat down with cannolis and coffees.  The afternoon faced into evening as we people watched and caught up on the last year we'd been apart.  I have to say the catching up was far better than all the Italian pastries in the world.  Thank you for a wonderful weekend!

A few things I learned on my trip:
-the tiny mice scampering through London's tube are nothing compared to the rats of NYC's subway
-there may be plenty of cabs in NYC, but they're all full exactly when you need them
-the definition of hipster, if there is such a thing, in action
-expect angry looks and words when navigating your way through rush-hour foot traffic towing a rolling suitcase behind you

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Morning After

The tricking and treating is over, the witches are in from their flights.  The candy wrappers have been strewn about, littering the floor beneath every kid's bed as they sneak pieces from their stash.  And the extra hour has been graciously welcomed as we reach the darker days of autumn.  It will be another 364 days until it's socially acceptable to dress up however you choose, no exceptions.  Or to knock on strangers' doors in expectation of some delicious sweet.

The Eve of All Hallows is one of my favorite holidays: the excitement of wearing a costume, the lighting of the pumpkins, the spooky decorations made to scare even the most collected passer-by.  And of course, the crowning moment, after lugging home that pillow case full to the brim, of counting the bounty.  I like to think my number was often somewhere in the 300 or 400's, but that could be my mind only imagining that much. 

This year I was a Greek goddess, digging a white sheet out of an old pile in the garage to make a toga.  There hasn't been a Halloween when I didn't dress up, even if it was only the desperate, last-minute head through a hole in a trash bag (pretty lame, I know).  I'll admit I trick-or-treated a few years more than most do (there are some perks to being not-so-tall and having a juvenile-sounding voice behind that mask)... but I'd do it again if I had a chance. 

And then there's the next morning.  It's funny what (and who) you find wandering the streets through the rain, searching for remnants of the previous night's festivities.  Wine glasses half-finished, the bottles collected on the doorsteps.  Smashed pumpkins, burned out or moldy from a slightly-too-premature carving.  The token partier, still dressed as a cow, just not ready to be done with the night.  Don't worry, it'll be back next year.  And as always, I'm sure I won't be planning my costume until probably around 5 o'clock on the day.  Wouldn't want to ruin that element of surprise.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Zumba Zumba

What could be better than starting the weekend bright and early with a Saturday morning zumba dance class? For me, the thought is a bit intimidating given my lack of co-ordination and rhythm (hence my frequent running). Maybe I'm being harsh on myself, but if you know me, you probably understand the extent to which I've never been good at dancing, no matter what type. Still, I am always up for experiencing new things, so I decided to test myself with the zumba challenge.

On Pointe dance studio, in the heart of downtown Annapolis on the corner of Maryland Avenue, opened its doors last March. It's run by a young, lively woman, who seems to be one of those people always laughing or smiling about something. She makes anyone who walks through the door of her cozy studio feel truly welcome.

My friend Jennie and I arrived early for the 9:30am class, and took our places in front of the wall-sized mirrors. As more dancers lined up, we were somehow scooted to the first row, not by choice, I can assure you. And being next to Jennie, who's practically a professional, didn't make me look any better.

The music started, immediately igniting the room with a contagious energy. The steps were fast, and I struggled to follow the teacher's lead. Feet, hips, arms in sychronized motion. I just didn't have it. Zumba is described as a dance "set to Latin rhythms" and incorporates the salsa and chacha. There's a lot of hip swaying and intricate foot tapping, nothing like the three years of plies and pirouettes I did so long ago in ballet class (I can still recall the day I quit ballet because I was too hot to put on the tights). As soon as I got the hang of a certain zumba step, we'd be moving on to the next, and so it went for an hour.

Despite my ungainly lumbering, which likely threw off the people behind me, I actually enjoyed myself. And was really sweating by the end. Maybe next time I'll actually be able to follow the steps. Or at least do a better job of making it look like I know what I'm doing.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


The restaurant chain Brio recently opened here in Annapolis, and I guess the hype over it hasn't died down yet.  Or perhaps the long list of happy hour 'Tuscan Tasters' for $2.95 has something to do with it.  Last night I met two of my favorite people there, and arrived to find every seat in the bar and patio taken.  While weaving between tables in hopes something would open up, a man in a smart red sweater approached us.

"What the hell is going on here?" he joked of our hunt before rushing off to find us somewhere to sit.  It turns out he - I'm pretty sure his name is Dave - works there and for some reason, sympathized with our wait.  Next thing you know, we were perched on three enormous leather armchairs in Brio's lobby area with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and appetizers galore.  It was a wonderful evening, complete with savory Italian food (the spicy shrimp and eggplant was amaaaaazing - who would have thought?) and true VIP treatment.  Thank you Dave in the red sweater!

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I love to run.  I love the fact that I can run anywhere at anytime.  I love that I only need a pair of running shoes and I'm set to go.  No equipment, no field, no one else required.  When I run and how is completely up to me. 

I started running before my first year of high school when I tried out for the cross country team.  I had just been cut from volleyball, and figured I would experiment with another sport before surrendering myself to dull afternoons of homework.  I could barely finish a mile at try outs, but somehow I made the team, and haven't stopped since. 

When I come home to Annapolis, one of my favorite runs is along the perimeter of the Naval Academy.  My team used to run this route on Thursdays, our LSD - long, slow distance - day of cross country, encircling the Yard, then crossing over and back on the Severn River Bridge and ending up at the St. John's hill - 11 miles in all.  It was tough, but so beautiful that no one complained. 

The Naval Academy sits right on the river, and running around it puts you along the water's edge the whole way.  I pass the sea wall, a row of huge rocks on the river's banks next to Farragut Field.  There's usually a game or practice on the field, whether football, lacrosse or soccer.  And the row of pull-up bars on the sidelines always presents a daunting challenge.  I struggle to finish even one real pull-up.

Then I run by the navy blue sailboats, perfectly aligned in a long row, their masts reaching high into the blue abyss of sky.  Pass the track, cross the narrow, wooden foot bridge that arches over Dorsey Creek, and then around Hospital Point.  Back over on Hill Bridge, go around Worden Field, the parade grounds, where at certain times of year the berries fallen from the trees smell just like puke - why is that?  And out of Gate 3 to Maryland Avenue.  Walking along the right side of the brick-layered street there, I always find myself re-enacting the scene from Patriot Games where Harrison Ford is nearly gunned down while getting into his car in that exact spot.  Patriot Games is probably one of my top 20, maybe top 15 movies of all time.   

In the past, I've made it my mission not to let any of the midshipmen - or anyone else for that matter - pass me on my runs.  These days, though, I run for myself.  On good days, I'll hold my gaze on whoever is ahead of me, and eventually catch up to them.  Other times, I just go at my own pace, and let that blur of pink or blue or whatever it may be go ahead.  Tomorrow I'll reach them, I'll be the blur.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Home Again

Being back in the US after over a year abroad has brought forth a wide range of emotions for me.  For the last 12 months, I've essentially been living in a dorm, London style.  The dorm, i.e. tall, narrow row house in a posh neighborhood a few blocks from Abbey Road, was packed with American interns, two in every room, basement to 4th floor.  Ants invaded, our heating broke, the boiler shrieked, the stove fell apart (on Thanksgiving, of course) - I'll admit the situation had its ups and downs for sure.  But overall, I had a great time, met some amazing people, and saw things I'd never otherwise know even existed.

Which brings me to the present moment: living at home with my parents.  The contrasts are stark.  I get my own bathroom.  My own bedroom.  My own bed that is not the size of a 10-year old's.  And the joy of re-discovering all those things I forgot I'd left behind.  I also don't fall asleep laughing over a ridiculous story my roommate just told.  Or come home to 15 people hanging out on the back patio.  Or stroll a block down the road to The Prince Alfred pub for a pint on Tuesday Quiz Night. 

Being back reminds me that what I once took for granted is not necessarily the norm outside of the US.  Those enormous tubs of butter-like spreads now seem big enough for a city, not a family.  A Sunday night at the grocery store is possible.  And when I cross the street these days, I have to conciously think to myself "look left!" so as not to get run over.  It will take me some time to get a handle on that one...

Being home is wonderful- reuniting with friends and family, going to my old favorite places.  And the foods I craved - Chick-fil-A, P.F.Changs, soft shell crabs- are no longer an ocean away.  So now I just have to figure out what's next.  More easily said than done.