The High Cotton

infusing life with Southern food, hospitality, and fun

Category: Good Living

Checking Summer Boxes: Cantler’s

This weekend, we checked a “must do” off our summer activity list: eating crabs at Cantler’s.  Growing up in coastal South Carolina, I ate a lot of blue crab.  When we moved to Maryland, I was delighted to find that blue crab was popular here, too.  There was one key difference, though.  Marylanders pick their own crab.  Whoa.  I’d never done that before, and was pretty grossed out by it at first.  It also takes forever, so the investment/reward relationship seemed a bit off.  Eventually, though, I came around and embraced it as the social event that it is.

Yesterday’s Cantler’s outing was brought about by fate.  I was slightly…ahem…over-served on Saturday night.  We had a blast, but Sunday morning wasn’t my favorite.  I woke up craving something fried, and there’s nothing better than the fried clam strips at Cantler’s.  Almost as soon as I’d popped open the site on my iPad, our friends called and asked if we were available to go to Cantler’s for lunch.  Um, YES.  We ordered a bunch of stuff, including a dozen large crabs that everyone shared.  I also got my fried clam strips.

photo (96) photo (97)

Not exactly health food, but it did cure my hangover!

There are a bunch of crab houses/crab decks near Annapolis, but Cantler’s is my favorite.  It has a waterfront view (obviously), and a casual atmosphere that can’t be beat.  They also sell beer, but only by the can.  How fun is that?  We had another weekend of gorgeous weather, so we were expecting to wait forever for a table.  It turned out we were seated right on the deck within about 20 minutes.  It was the perfect Sunday afternoon.

photo (98)

Better late than never

We went to see The Lion King at the Kennedy Center last night.  It was so amazing.  I can’t believe I waited 17 years to see it.  The night before the show, Tom and I were chatting about it, and I found out for the first time that he’s never even seen the Disney movie.  WHAT?!  You think you know a guy….

Anyway, I totally understand why the show is still running, and won about a gazillion Tony awards.  The costumes and set design were beyond cool.  They were so creative and technically impressive.  We spent several minutes discussing how the articulated lion masks worked.  We weren’t allowed to take pictures during the show, but I grabbed some official photos from the internet to show you what I’m talking about.

When the actors bent down a little bit, the lion masks would be positioned in front of their faces.

But when they stood up straight, the masks would kind of float to rest on their foreheads.  The transition was barely perceptible, and once on the actors’ foreheads, the masks seemed very stable.  They didn’t flop around at all.

The movement of the masks, the use of people as grass, the lighting, really everything, was so so good.  I highly recommend this show if you have been living under a live theater rock like me, and haven’t seen it yet.

Besides the show, we enjoyed visiting the Kennedy Center.  It is so close to us, and we don’t go nearly enough.  It’s such a nice venue, and Tom remarked how the building has held up well.  It’s still really pretty and impressive.

photo (79) photo (80)

Vacation! (and a new workout plan)

Work has been B-A-N-A-N-A-S lately, so we were so glad to finally go on vacation last week.  We went to Carmel, CA (technically Carmel-by-the-Sea, which is apparently an actual thing).  There was a lot of this:

photo (72)

So. much. fog.

There was also a fair amount of this:

photo (73) photo (74)

Wine.  No further comment necessary.

The weather was pleasant, but much cooler than we were expecting.  We knew it would be in the 60s most of the time, which was fine, but we didn’t adequately plan for the chill caused by fog.  I told Tom I was prepared for California 60s, not Scotland 60s.  In the end, we packed enough sweaters to get by, and had a fabulous time.

photo (71)

Tom’s Filson duffel.  These things are THE BEST.  Get one.  Right now.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

Once we were back on a regular schedule again, I realized I needed to think about my workout strategy.  Since the half marathon I ran about six weeks ago, I haven’t been into running long distances.  Honestly, I haven’t been into working out at all.  I’m sure I will go back to distance running, but in the meantime, I need to mix it up.  I’ve also been on a long-standing weight loss plateau that needs to stop.  After considering many options, I’ve decided to up the intensity, but not necessarily the length, of my workouts for about three months and see how it goes.  Here’s my current plan, which is subject to modification as schedules (and sleeping in) dictate:

Monday – rest

Tuesday – run to gym (~1 mile) at a hard pace, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) leg workout, run home from gym at an easier pace

Wednesday – rest

Thursday – run to gym at hard pace, HIIT back and bicep workout, run home from gym at easy pace

Friday – run to gym at hard pace, HIIT chest-shoulder-tri workout, run home from gym at easy pace

Saturday – pilates or barre class

Sunday – some kind of “long” run or track workout

Tom designed the HIIT workouts I do, but you can find a bunch of them on the web.  The benefit of HIIT, they say, is that it is really efficient, meaning you burn more calories and fat in a shorter period of time.  You accomplish this by alternating between periods of intense activity and periods of lesser activity or rest.  I have been doing HIIT off and on for about a year, and I can attest to its transformational powers.  I certainly lost fat by running, but I’m convinced that most of the changes in how I actually looked were due to HIIT.  Each HIIT workout in my personal program takes about 30 minutes.  You can totally modify HIIT to suit what works best for you, which is another great thing about it.  The important thing is doing the intervals, not necessarily what the intervals are.  I worked in rest days on the day after my longer run, and the day after my leg workout.  That’s when I find I need the most recovery time, but again, rest days can be moved around.

A House Divided

The last four days were stressful at our house.  No, not because of work or anything like that.  Because the Braves were playing the Nationals in a four-game series.  As you can tell from the title of this post, Tom and I do not root for the same team.  I’m the Braves fan, obviously.  The issue is even more contentious because the Braves and the Nats are in the same division, and for the past couple of seasons, have been in tight competition with each other.  The struggle is real, y’all.  Anyway, on Friday night, we expressed our opposing team pride via beer koozies.

photo (70)

This photo is blurry, but not because of the beer drinking.

The beer is “Porch Rocker” from Sam Adams.  Apropos, we thought.  Rocking on the porch with a cold beer while listening to baseball through the open windows is about as summer as it gets.  In the end, the Braves and Nats split the series, so no harm, no foul.  Peace has been restored.

It’s Taper Time

Two more days until the half marathon, which means I’m a resident of Taper Town.  This is a new experience for me, and let me tell y’all, I could get used to it.  If I understand this whole process correctly, during the taper period you don’t run very much and you eat tons of carbs.  YAY.  I just finished my last run before the race (4 miles).  I went pretty fast, but my reward is a yogurt and some chocolate milk. I haven’t had chocolate milk in about 20 years.  It’s actually kind of gross, but to be fair, I’m a milk purist.  I mean, I drink whole milk on the regular.  Anyway, it’s important to eat right after a taper run because your muscles are primed to store a bunch of glycogen.  We are having panzanella for dinner, which is just a fancy name for bread salad.  More carbs!

Tonight I really tried to remember that running is supposed to be fun, and that I’m lucky to be healthy with working legs that allow me to run.  In that spirit, I took some photos of stuff I see on my usual route through the Naval Academy campus that I often take for granted.

photo-8

Wednesday night sailboat races

photo-9

Docked Navy boats

photo-10

Not for self, but for country

photo-11

The chapel

photo-12

Officer/faculty housing

Mushroom and Ricotta Bruschetta

I’ve had this post on my to-do list all week, but it’s been so busy at work that I’m just now sitting down to do it!  Tom and I are on “staycation” for the Memorial Day weekend starting today and I couldn’t be more excited.  It’s Commissioning Week for the Naval Academy, so we basically have to shelter in place due to all the graduation-related events, parking, and traffic.  Downtown Annapolis isn’t the worst place to be “confined” for a weekend, though!

The Academy really puts on a nice schedule for all the seniors and their families during Commissioning Week.  They’ve already had Ring Dance (kind of like prom), a fancy party at the Superintendent’s home (Vice Admiral Miller), and the Blue Angels did an air show over the Severn River yesterday.  I missed that because I was at work.  Womp womp.  But Tom went and said it was awesome.  Here’s a picture he took from the deck of the restaurant where he and our friends watched the show:

10274341_10152466478373035_4883299798210650487_n

Flying that close together seems ill-advised.

I plan to do a lot of cooking this weekend while I have the time.  I’m sure Tom will get in on the action, too, with some grilling and cocktail mixing.  Can’t wait.

Last weekend, we made the long journey over to Eastport (just across Spa Creek, ha!), for a lovely dinner at our friends’ house.  I was assigned the appetizer, which is my favorite, and brought a mushroom bruschetta that I’ve been making lately.  I had an inferior version of this at a restaurant in DC, and as soon as I tasted it, I knew I could make a better one.  So here it is for y’all to enjoy.

Mushroom Ricotta Bruschetta

1 baguette, sliced

1 container of ricotta (either skim or whole milk)

1-2 T heavy cream (optional)

1 lemon

20 oz mushrooms, sliced

1/4 c. balsamic vinegar

1 T chopped thyme

salt and pepper

Start by liberally brushing the baguette slices with olive oil.  Add salt and pepper to each slice, and broil for a few minutes until golden brown.  Flip each slice and repeat.  Meanwhile, begin sautéing the mushrooms in some olive oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and cook until a nice brown color.  They give off a lot of liquid at first, but then, like magic, they start to caramelize.

photo

 While the mushrooms are cooking, put the ricotta in a small mixing bowl, add salt and pepper to taste.

photo-2

Add the zest and juice of one lemon to the ricotta.  Mix well until smooth and creamy.  I use a fork to get an even smoother texture.  If your ricotta is on the stiff side, you can add a little bit of heavy cream here.  It won’t surprise anyone to learn that I always add the cream.  Set the mixture aside while you finish the mushrooms.

photo-3

Once the mushrooms are as brown as you’d like, add 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar to the pan.  Don’t use the good stuff here.  I use the plain old Trader Joe’s brand.

photo-4

The balsamic will reduce and make a delicious glaze for the mushrooms.  Don’t let it get too dry, though, because you’ll actually end up with candied mushrooms.  I mean, those are great, but not exactly what you want for this recipe.  The vinegar gets sweet, and doesn’t taste vinegar-y at all on the finished product.   It’s tangy, but not sharp.  When the balsamic has done it’s thing, add some fresh thyme to the mushroom mixture and taste for seasoning.

photo-5

You can stop here, refrigerate the components, and construct your bruschetta later.  If you want to fix them immediately, I recommend letting the baguette slices and the mushrooms cool a little bit so you don’t end up with runny/melty ricotta.

When you’re ready to go, spread some of the lemon ricotta mixture on each baguette slice, then top with the mushroom mixture.  I added a few snipped chives to this batch for garnish, but you can really add any herb you want, including leftover thyme.

All the herbs for this recipe came from our garden!  The slate platter I used to serve is from Crate and Barrel.  They have these in a bunch of sizes, and they are very reasonably priced.  I have to stop myself from getting too many!  The slate makes such a nice presentation for so many things because of the dramatic contrast.

photo-6

Close up!

photo-7

A case of the Mondays

We had another weekend of great weather, which meant lots of outdoor activities (mostly involving cocktails!).  The result is a serious case of the Mondays.  Going back to work after an awesome weekend is always super hard.

We bar-hopped to a couple of our favorite places in Annapolis on Friday night after work.  We started out on the rooftop deck at Metropolitan.  The food there is just okay, but the cocktails and scenery are great.  I think they have the best rooftop bar in Annapolis, by far.  After that, we went to Level, and then finished up with some neighbors on their porch.

On Saturday, we got up relatively early, jumped in the Jeep, and headed over the Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore.  We had the top off, of course, and soaked up tons of sunshine.  When we got back, I decided to go ahead and do my long run.  Normally I do those on Sunday.  I did 10 miles using the same run/walk strategy I’m going to use for the race.  For the first half, I ran 0.9 and walked 0.1 for each mile.  For the second half, I ran 0.8 and walked 0.2 for each mile.  It ended up being in the neighborhood of my desired race pace, so I felt pretty good about it.  After that, we had delicious New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp at a neighbor’s house while we all planned our upcoming trip to Carmel, CA in July.

Yesterday was a low-key day followed by dinner at our friends’ house.  I brought an appetizer that I will share in an upcoming post.  The host grilled fish, steak, and vegetables.  Everything was delicious and we really enjoyed sitting on the patio taking in the pretty landscaping.  It made me even more motivated to do something with our back patio area.  It’s not looking it’s best at the moment….

 

May Baskets!

Every year on May 1, the Annapolis Garden Club holds a May Basket competition in the historic district.  It’s pretty much the cutest thing.  Lots of people put out baskets, and little ladies come around during the morning hours and hand out ribbons.  Blue ribbon winners are invited to a Garden Club Tea that is held later in the month.  In addition to the normal residential category, there are also children and business categories.

Last year I put an inordinate amount of thought into mine.  I wanted to go to that doggone Tea (not sure why, probably because I like winning things).  I liked how it turned out, particularly since it was my first attempt at arranging flowers, but in the end, it looked more like a flower arrangement that happened to be in a basket.  I also deeply regret not putting a bow on it.

photo (34)

My first attempt.  The card next to it has my name so they know whose basket it is when they’re judging.

After failing to win a ribbon last year, I immediately started planning my basket for this year.  Alas, as with many things, my plans were overcome by events (mostly work-related).  That left me scrambling to come up with something last night!  I spent about 45 minutes in Michael’s getting the basket and ribbon, and in Whole Foods getting the flowers.  I could definitely tell I was behind the curve because the flowers at Whole Foods were totally picked over.  Luckily, they had several bunches of white snap dragons.  I knew I wanted white flowers, so it worked out.  The problem, though, was that there weren’t quite enough.  There was no suitable filler left at all, so I ended up in the produce department piling my cart full of watercress.  That is why the result looks like a big salad!

photo (35)

A few snap dragons with a lot of salad!

The best part, to me, is the bow.  I bought five colors of pastel ribbon, cut three long pieces of each color, and then tied them in a series of bows.  I had to wrap them around the basket handle to secure it, which I was worried about, but it ended up adding to the colorful aspect of the basket.  I won’t know if I won a ribbon until I get home later, but my hopes aren’t that high.  I debated not doing a basket at all, but then Tom said I should just do one for the fun of it.  That’s what I did, and I’m really glad.  I so enjoy everyone else’s baskets, and it adds such a festive spring touch to the neighborhood.

Here are some of the other entries I spotted this morning on my post-run cool down:

IMG_7137

My pal Stacey did this one.  The best part is, she has had a terrible cold and forgot all about the competition.  She didn’t bag it, though.  She went over to house next door, which is under renovation (and therefore vacant), clipped some flowers from the landscaping over there, and got her basket out just in time.  I LOVE that she did that!  The basket turned out so cute, too.

photo (36)

This person has a GORGEOUS house.  The interiors are so beautiful.  We don’t know the owner(s), but always sneak a peek in the windows when we walk by.  The basket itself is a repeat performer.  The flowers inside are such a great array of spring colors.  Something like this could look really busy, but this basket just nails it. 

photo (37)

A wee holdover from Easter, but still really cute.

photo (38)

This one is hung on the fence for a unique presentation.

photo (39)

This one belongs to someone kind of famous (in nerd world), so I didn’t want to be a creeper taking pictures of the front of the house (hence the weird side view).  The “basket” is a tin bucket with blue and white crabs on it.  Apropos!  

photo (40)

Love all the pink in this one!  I think not attaching it to the house is kind of cheating, though. 

photo (41)

This is a terrible picture, but I couldn’t get a better one without going all the way up on the porch.  This basket belongs to our neighbor, who, as I’ve previously explained, is hyper-vigilant about property lines.  Anyway, she wins a ribbon nearly every year.  It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the basket has blue/purple flowers and a pink ribbon.  Last year, she wasn’t going to to a basket at all, but decided to at the last minute.  She put some gorgeous pink peonies from her yard in the same basket and won a blue ribbon.  I almost barfed.  

Growing Our Own Food

Over the last couple of weekends, we have been installing a tiered vegetable garden in our back patio area.  It was more work than originally planned, but turned out really well.

We ordered a kit from Amazon that was super easy to put together.  That part took only a few minutes.  Once we had it constructed, we placed our plants where we thought they should go.

photo (29)

We chose plants and got a lot of guidance about which ones grow well together from this great book:

photo (30)

I’ve had the book for a few years, and have used it repeatedly for container gardening (back when we had a deck, but no yard).  I found it to be just as useful for this compartmentalized gardening approach.

After we laid out the plants, we started filling the compartments with Miracle Grow soil.  It took about 16 large bags in all.

photo (28)

This photo shows the whole garden before we got all the plants in.  We ordered two single-layer boxes and one tiered box.  When we hooked the three sections together, we had enough parts leftover to construct a third single-layer box.  Bonus!

We got all our plants in, stood back, and admired our work.  It was around that time that our neighbor stopped by to point out that the garden was actually on her property by about a foot.  Sigh.  This problem comes up with old neighborhoods like ours.  Original records showing property lines, if they existed at all, are long gone.  We all usually use our fence lines as property lines.  There is no fence between our house and our neighbor’s house in the area where we put the garden, unfortunately.  The houses are close together, and although we were not encroaching on anything usable for our neighbor, we decided to maintain relations by moving the garden to our back fence.  We will all be living near each other for a long time so keeping things friendly is of paramount importance.  And to be fair, our neighbor was really nice about it, and even called us later to say she felt bad for saying anything in the first place.

photo (33)

Here’s the garden in place along the back fence.  I took this picture before we filled in the dirt for the tiered section, but you get the idea.

photo (32)

 

So far, the plants are doing really well!  We’ve already cooked with some of the herbs, including basil and thyme.  I can’t wait until the other vegetables start coming in.  We have several varieties of tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, collards, lettuces, herbs, kale, and a bunch of other things.  We’re growing a salad bar back there!

Croquet!

It’s easy to forget, but Annapolis is really a college town.  We have two colleges here that could not be more different, but somehow exist together in harmony.  There’s the United States Naval Academy, of course.  And there’s also St. John’s College.  The culture at the Naval Academy is probably well-known to everyone.  St. John’s, however, is a horse of an entirely different color.  It is crunchy granola activist bookworm central.  Naturally, I mean all those things as a compliment.  Every spring, these two institutions of higher learning drop everything, pick up croquet mallets, and have at it.  It’s something we all look forward to.  The 32nd annual match took place this past Saturday during some of the best weather anyone can remember.  I had so much fun, in fact, that I forgot to take pictures of the actual croquet!  I did get at least one shot of the St. John’s library.

photo (21)

Our street usually has a reserved space on the St. John’s lawn, and we all bring a little snack to share.  It was busy at work last week so I called my mom in a mild panic on Wednesday to get ideas for what to bring.  As usual, she had the perfect answer: party roll-ups!  I’d never made these before, but they were so easy, and turned out so well, that I will definitely be adding them to my go-to list.  One of the best parts is that they can be made in advance.  I made two varieties – one with salmon and dill cream cheese, and one with prosciutto and basil cream cheese.  I just picked the ingredients I thought sounded good.  You could definitely mix these up, using whatever you have or whatever sounds good to you.  I took some photos of the process so you can see just how easy these are.  Recipes for both kinds are below.

photo (18)

Spread the herb cream cheese on a flour tortilla.

photo (17)

Add a layer of fish or meat (smoked salmon in this case).

photo (19)

Roll the tortilla up as tightly as you can, and then wrap in plastic.

photo (20)

After refrigerating overnight, slice each roll into 1-2 inch slices.

Here are the recipes:

Smoked Salmon Roll-Ups

2 blocks of cream cheese, softened

1/4 chopped fresh dill

2 T dried minced onion

1 large package of Scottish smoked salmon

1 package of flour tortillas (10″ size, I used the plain flavor)

Mix the softened cream cheese, dill, and minced onion until well blended.  Spread a few tablespoons of cream cheese mixture on a tortilla to get an even coating.  Place a few slices of smoked salmon on top of the cream cheese.  Roll tightly and wrap in plastic.  Repeat until you run out of ingredients.  Place the rolls in the refrigerator overnight.  When ready to serve, remove the plastic and slice the rolls into even pieces (discarding the ends).

Prosciutto and Pepper Roll-Ups

2 blocks cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

2 T dried minced onion

2 packs of sliced prosciutto

1 jar roasted red peppers, drained and sliced

1 package flour tortillas (10″ size, I used the sundried tomato basil flavor)

Mix the cream cheese, basil, and minced onion until well blended.  Spread a few tablespoons of cream cheese mixture on a tortilla to get an even coating.  Place a few slices of prosciutto on top of the cream cheese, followed by a sprinkling of sliced peppers.  Roll tightly and wrap in plastic.  Repeat until you run out of ingredients.  Place the rolls in the refrigerator overnight.  When ready to serve, remove the plastic and slice the rolls into even pieces (discarding the ends).