Friday, July 22, 2011

Commemorating the Civil War After 150 Years in 100+ Degrees

This weekend marks the 150th anniversary of the first major battle of the Civil War, the Battle of First Bull Run or to Confederate sympathizers, the Battle of First Manassas. Union and Confederate reenactors, Civil War enthusiasts, historians and the curious from around the country are braving the record-breaking heatwave to commemorate the occasion.

Since my brother and cousin happen to be in town, we couldn't resist braving the heat and checking it out, either. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's surreal to be in such close proximity to the actual locations we've read about in our history classes, let alone to witness the time period, itself, in such a three-dimensional way.

To say it was "hot" is an understatement. At 9:15am, the temperatures were already at 87 degrees Fahrenheit. Thankfully, there were air-conditioned shuttles to take us around the sites. Sharon, a very kind volunteer, gave us a wonderful orientation of the area as we rode to downtown to watch the beginning of the parade. Her family had lived in the area for five generations and her perspective on the "War of the Northern Aggression" was pretty eye-opening to those us who've grown up with a more Yankee education. One of the docents on board, emphasized the importance of the "truth" in our education system, and had we had more time and known a bit more Civil War facts, we might have pressed on his definition of the truth.  

Union Soldiers battling the heat for the Reenactors Parade
(Photo credit: Ben Domingo)
About 1200 marchers (soldiers and civilians) were expected in the parade, but we saw maybe 120 from our perspective in downtown Manassas. I suspect many just had to avoid the heat, and given the oppressive uniforms and costumes, I don't blame them. My family and I were barely coping in our own light clothing, umbrellas and free-flowing bottles of water.

Interviewing a Civil War private about
how he got involved in reenacting
(Photo credit: Ben Domingo)

We also walked around Camp Manassas where vendors and reenactors set up authentic-looking tents to sell their wares or expound their knowledge. One camp acted -- er, served as the Undertaker and educated anyone who would listen about the history of embalming and burials of soldiers back in the day.

Wish I could say, "been there, done that," but I'm really curious about the reenactment of the actual battle taking place at 9:30am this Saturday and Sunday. If there's one thing inspiring about these soldiers, if they can battle the heat now and 150 years ago, so can I.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Mobile Deals That You Don't Have to Pre-Pay with ScoutMob

ScoutMob, the newest iteration in the Online Coupon craze,  launches in DC today and where better to try it than an old DC stand-by like Georgia Brown's downtown, just a couple of blocks from the White House. This place was a treat to me when I first came to DC, and I cannot rave enough about their biscuit-battered French toast during their weekend jazz brunch.

The cool thing about it is you don't have to pre-purchase the deal. You just show up and show the coupon from your mobile phone either with their iPhone or Droid app, or your email.

Later this week, they'll be featuring Ben's Chili Bowl. Explore DC's tasty history like a tourist, but pay like a local.

Don't live in DC? ScoutMob is also in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, and other major cities across the country, so you can even use it while you travel.

And it's more than just savings. Each day of the week, they'll feature stories about things to do wherever you are. Worth checking out.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Does bacon really make everything better? My not-so-fashionably late entrance to Gluten-Free Girl's Pie Party

Those who know me shouldn't be surprised about my tardiness. Try as I might, "prompt" is not a characteristic I'm often called. So, is it any shock that I show up late to a party, even if it's a virtual one?

Virtual party? Yes. Shauna Ahern, notably known as the Gluten-Free Girl "hosted" a virtual Pie Party so she and some of her friends could share tales of their pie-making adventures and invited everyone and anyone. I'd been looking for an excuse to practice making this special pie and this seemed to be as good as any. Unfortunately it required a particular ingredient that I didn't get until last week when Josh and Greg from my favorite Seattle food truck, Skillet Street Food, came to DC to showcase their yummy Bacon Jam -- er, Bacon Spread (thanks USDA) for the Fancy Food Show. Timing couldn't be more perfect (well, unless it were BEFORE the pie party), but at least the bake sale to benefit the DC State Fair was coming shortly.

I first came up with this recipe a couple of years ago in Seattle when my friend, Jenise, who was the Chef Event Manager for the Queen Anne Farmers Market asked me to enter their inaugural Blue Ribbon Pie Contest. The rules were simple, it had to be a fruit pie and it had to be entirely from scratch, including the crust. Eeek!

I'd never participated in such a competition before. I'd never even baked a pie. Hell, I don't even like fruit pies! Yet, I felt compelled to challenge myself -- that, and Jenise is a very persuasive friend, so I decided to make mine with bacon out of spite.

After several trials and errors, and very patient colleagues and neighbors who tasted and offered input, this is a rough guide (not a recipe) to my current iteration. If you're interested in tasting future attempts, please let me know.

Falling for Food Trucks - El Floridiano

El Floridiano - Delicious pressed sandwiches based on Cuban tradition, although sandwiches go beyond the Cuban and Leche con Pan, but a couple of Asian inspired sandwiches that I look forward to trying in the future. Quality ingredients, especially the pork loin which is marvelously marinated, but the bread is toasted at such a low temperature that it dries out the bread more than it toasts it, causing a huge crumby mess all over your clothes and in your wake as you bite. Best if you're eating outside and don't have to vacuum, and the birds appreciate it, too. Prices are $7 for sandwiches, which I think is fair for that pork loin marinade alone, despite the extra cleaning you or your office janitor have to do. 

TIP: Don't eat at your desk or you'll be vacuuming crumbs from your keyboard for days.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Comfort & Convenience at Local Sheratons

Thanks to Travel Onion, a site that features some of the "world's best travel blogs," I was invited to tour a couple of the Sheraton Hotels in Tyson's Corner and the Dulles Airport area. As much as I love to travel and as much as I consider the DC Metropolitan area, I was grateful for the opportunity to get to know these properties as they wouldn't have been on my list otherwise. I'm a fan of staycations, and in fact that same evening I was checking into a hotel in Dupont Circle.

Previewing the Sheraton Premiere as Tysons Corner Transforms

The first and last time I was at Tysons Corner, Virginia was about four years ago when I first started coming to DC for work. I had no orientation of my way around the city, let alone any of the suburbs, but I scored a ticket to the YouthAIDS Gala which happened to be in Tysons Corner. As we drove through the town's shopping center, I noticed that there wasn't just one but TWO Macy's, and not far apart from each other. I mean, I guess I understand about Starbucks having locations, some on the same block (to alleviate lengthy lines, they say), but what would justify two Macy's in the same mall? My friends informed me one was newer and catered to a more upper-scale crowd.

The indoor and seasonal outdoor pool help make the
Sheraton Premiere a great staycation location
Perhaps this is a similar goal for the city as a whole and the Sheraton Premiere. Tysons Corner will soon have not just one, but four stops along Metro's upcoming "Silver Line," which is no wonder since it is already home to the largest shopping center in the state of Virginia and the DC Metropolitan area. Pooped out super-shoppers can find a comfortable base that features not only deluxe rooms with gorgeous views, but two pools (indoor and outdoor), a racquetball court, whirlpool and sauna. And, while the Metro won't be stopping there for a couple more years, there is free parking and shuttle service ready to take you anywhere within the surrounding area.

Sherton staffmember welcomes guests
into the Club Level Lounge
The restaurant offers decent appetizers and a special concoction called the "Sheratini." The hotel also offers a Club Level with a gorgeous lounge serving breakfast or hors d'oeurves, beverages, newspapers and what seems to be very attentive service.

The $20 million renovations will begin in November and are projected to end February 2012. A few of the updates will include a more open check-in area, a larger Link@Sheraton (internet/business center) space, a swankier lobby bar/reception space and most exciting, a state-of-the-art gym and spa available for hotel guests. Unfortunately, there aren't plans to open the gym and spa to the public since there will be a 24-Hour Fitness opening nearby.

Quaint Convenience at the Sheraton Herndon Dulles Airport Hotel

Travelers to Dulles Airport generally have to add an extra 30+ minutes to their commute time in order to accommodate the long distance from DC, the expansive walking, extra-long security lines and those dreaded people-movers to get to the gates, which is even more extraordinarily painful for those crack-of-dawn flights. Luckily there's the Sheraton Herndon Dulles Airport Hotel with its convenient location and very special Park & Stay Hotel Package where guests can sleep in a bit longer in one of the comfy Sweet Sleeper Beds, hitch a ride on a complimentary shuttle and leave your car safely parked at the hotel for up to 14 days. Weekend rates begin at a mere $79 per night, which is a steal considering a taxi from DC runs about $75 each way and airport parking would cost about $20/day, it pays for itself in 4 days, let alone having the convenient location and luxurious night's sleep. When making your reservation, use Rate Plan code LPARK. Even if you don't have such an early morning flight, Starwood Preferred Guest members can enjoy a late checkout of 4pm, so you can begin your vacation before leaving for your vacation.

Sheraton's comfy Sweet Sleeper Bed
Both hotels offer the well-known Sheraton comfort, from the beds to linens to service. They're conveniently located for Tysons Corner shopping, long days or nights at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Virginia wine country touring, or early morning flights out of Dulles Airport.