The magic of mushrooms: Wouldn’t eat that if I were you

Before you complain about this rainy streak ruining our leaf-peeping season, look down at the mind-blowing peep show on the ground. Such colors and variety of fungi have sprouted! Even The New York Times noted the new urbanscape diversity, in a Page One story today, here.

Grouchy Georgetown University doctors pooh-pooh my ‘shroom-hunting hobby since two local men became seriously ill going wild with salad and stir-fry. Sigh. I’ll settle for photographing the neighborhood crop; perhaps an expert out there can tell me whether they’re tasty or toxic. (You know what they say: All mushrooms are edible — once.) These were all found within a half-mile from home.


Fairfax’s fresh, hot watering hole: Hacienda El Paso

Michael spends time with his beloved menu, while I drink.

Still stinging from the loss of our favorite neighborhood hangout, Carlos O’Kelly’s, a chain that shuttered its Fairfax, Va., joint last March, my thirsty husband and I tested the spanking-new Hacienda El Paso Mexican Restaurant. One of five Northern Virginia locations (also in Springfield, Alexandria, Woodbridge and Fredericksburg), it has elbowed into Mama’s old spot on Fairfax Boulevard, or Route 50, next to the defunct Saturn dealer, now Farrish Subaru, just west of the Circle. My, times change.

I had spied a “yard sign” ad smothered by the political weeds at the intersection of Prosperity and Route 50 — the cantina’s staff seemed pleased that marketing effort paid off.

I was pleased to hear actual Spanish spoken at neighboring booths. Good sign. Roomier than most restaurants around town, it is a colorful hybrid of a Mexican diner and sports bar — with four distinct seating areas, including a back room that caters to families (animal chairs!) and a plasma-TV-equipped wing for large, unruly groups. The staff is friendly, authentically Hispanic, well-versed on the menu and super-attentive, communing in what looks like a central dance floor. As I said: roomy.

Next to the bar. this festive zone accommodates large groups, with jumbo-size booths and screens.

I ordered the Baja Fish Tacos, which were beer-battered cod on corn tortillas, dotted with Mexican cheese — surprisingly like feta, pico de gallo and served with a tangy homemade tartar sauce on the side. Overstuffed and hard to hold, but tasty. The black beans belied Southwestern grilled pork accents. Didn’t care much for the rice, which was like any packaged Mexican rice you find in the supermarket. Another couple, also COK refugees, said the queso was a disappointment — white, melted Mexican cheese with no salsa mixed in. “I miss the chunks of tomato and onion,” la dama said.

Here’s a detailed look at the menu. Dare I say it feels more healthful than Carlos’? A closer cousin to Chevy’s, our Merrifield oasis. The chips aren’t as good as either Carlos’ or Chevy’s — they’re that darker, drier, baked? kind — but the salsa comes in a cute carafe that patrons can pour into their bowls, thereby ensuring freshness and minimizing waste, I’m guessing. The salsa was a bit thin on texture and taste; I like mine spicier and more substantial.

The main event, though: lip-smacking, lovely ‘ritas. The “Cadillac” — with Cuervo 1800 and Grand Marnier — immediately says: “You’re not driving.” And the Big Blue leaves Carlos’ in the dust, apologies to Max the Bartender. Other specialties include a Sangrita, mixed with homemade sangria, and a Coronita that comes with an unplugged Corona dagger. Michael had the Presidente, spiked with Brandy. There’s also a frozen mango, but we don’t do frozen. The margaritas are the only pricey items on the menu, but seem worth it, as far as we could tell after two jumbos — each.

The sunken bathrooms, like entering a pool’s shallow end, seem not the wisest design for a cantina where folks gleefully imbibe. And downstairs, which used to be a Mama’s treasure for party rental (my eldest’s 18th was held there), suffered flood damage and is closed for business. But the overall decor is freaky fun, with tall, privacy-enhanced booths reminiscent of cars from a theme-park ride; easy-to-wipe Playskool-inspired furniture — in other words, tacky but not FEELING tacky from any spilled food; smart Spanish-tile floors and at least the appearance of hardwood. Nothing to Swiffer under our feet, thank goodness.

Looking forward to seeing more neighbors at the new margaritaville. There’s AMPLE parking in the back, and a pathway leading through the woods to Fairfax High School.

El Paso Mexican Restaurant
9715 Fairfax Blvd
Fairfax, Va. 22030
(703) 293-2990

Dig at Steve Jobs turns to tribute in ‘The Way’

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...

Boomer guru Steve Jobs, who died Oct. 5, 2011, is accidentally memorialized in "The Way." Is the one-bite-of-the-apple a religious symbol, after all? Image via CrunchBase

Emilio Estevez couldn’t have seen this coming.

In his new movie, “The Way,” about a father’s soul-searching pilgrimage — and starring his own dad, Martin Sheen — there’s a line delivered by an angry, chain-smoking Canadian meant to dress-down Baby Boomers for their gadget addictions.

Instead of feeling shame when Deborah Kara Unger’s character berates those who worship “anything Steve Jobs invented,” our packed Shirlington, Va., theater audience, smarting from the Apple co-founder’s death 10 days ago, let out a communal moan: “Awwwwwww.”

Curious to see how this plays out over the movie’s run. (P.S. In the son department, I’m thinking, Emilio is winning.)

‘Improper borrowing’? Call it what it is: Plagiarism

An illustrative example of plagiarism. Modifie...

Ol' Will could have used not only a copy editor but a fact-checker. How'd he ever amount to anything? Image via Wikipedia

Why are writers so protective of their ideas and the way they string words like beaded rocks of crack? Beats me, given the biblical observation:

      What has been will be again,
   what has been done will be done again;
   there is nothing new under the sun.

 (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

… an idea Shakespeare borrowed, without attribution, for his 59th sonnet, “Nothing New.” If it was true way back whenever, it must be glaringly true today. Yet those classic writers couldn’t foresee our modern, tangled Web.

When I ventured two months ago into e-writing, I worried a bit about people stealing my stuff: How does one copyright the Internet?

Not to worry. Thanks to powerful search engines, it’s easier than ever to discover people ripping you off. Take the latest story about Politico reporter Kendra Marr “improperly borrowing” material from The New York Times, the Associated Press and Yet another lazy, sloppy journalist making us all look bad. Excuse me, a “go-go” journalist, as The Washington Post’s media blogger Erik Wemple deftly defines the phenom.

Having worked among journalists all my adulthood, especially in the role of correcting others’ errors, I recognize the character trait of being unable to accept blame. Scoop-addicted Politico did a decent job owning up to it after the fact, in its verbose editor’s note, here. Still, why all the political correctness and warm-fuzzies over this ertswhile staffer, Politico? These are SEVEN examples of plagiarism. She doesn’t belong in the business, bah-bye. I’m thinking Politico‘s “journalistic standards” need to grow a pair.

And I credit Betty White for the observation: “Why do people say, ‘Grow some balls!’? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna really get tough, grow a vagina. Those things take a pounding!”

Something else I wish I’d written

Polka is not for weenies

SMALL WORLD AT BLOB'S: This gentleman looked official, as if he worked there or was with the band, but turns out this is just what someone from Ashburn, Va., wears on an evening out stag. He joined our table, and several celestine prophecies fulfilled later we learned we were both from Pennsylvania Dutch country, both journalists, working for the same company and had mutual friends going back decades.

Everyone knows (I didn’t) that traditional Oktoberfest starts in September. Coming fashionably late to the party, I guten-tag-hop-clopped myself last night to Blob’s Park in Jessup, Md., “Home of America’s First Oktoberfest” — and likely America’s last, because these sprightly, ageless Menschen won’t give it up. Blob’s stages a family-friendly Oktoberfest every weekend, with or without a harvest moon.

Perched on a hill just off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, the tavern/dance hall evokes a truck stop gift shop until you enter to discover it’s really more like a church bingo hall with a $12 cover. But don’t judge! The fun is unmasked once the beer menu and band arrive.

I met up with local Blob’s veteran and dear friend Treva Stose, who picked out a pub table with an enviable view of the dance floor, buffet and beer line, which later snaked ’round the hall populated with sour “Kraut” faces admiring our colorful brews. Treva explained how those of German/Bavarian lineage wear expressions that belie their joy inside. Ahhh!

So. Treva took charge ordering specialty beers with long names, but the first two were out of stock. Our “beer wench” went back and checked each time, which cost us serious drinking minutes, but it was her “second day” so we let it slide. More proof of a giant server conspiracy; When service lags, turns out it’s the server’s “second day.” They learn that on Day One. I’ve often been tempted to return to those places and see whether I get the same server on her “second day” (Groundhog Day), but I digress.

The horn section could BLOW. Members of the Polka Family Band — six of whom were seriously injured in a wreck on Interstate 80 last year. Glad they're back on the road and making music and merriment for the rest of us.

We settled on Franzikaner Hefe-Weisse, Spatan Oktoberfest and Warsteiner Dunkel in combo and eventually had all the beer, bratwurst, sauerkraut, stale bread, chicken cordon bleu (French?), red cabbage, and carrot and German chocolate cake (which also isn’t German, Treva reminds me) we could consume. Lovely vegetables, too – a potato-based salad of steamed-tender veggies.

When the Polka Family Band, hailing from Pennsylvania possibly by way of Mexico, began at 8 sharp, we felt like wedding crashers. Joy effused with each squeeze of the stomach Steinway. The place regularly comes alive with military types on R&R from nearby Fort Meade, rollicking oldsters, curious hipsters, tight-knit families loosening up and getting tighter, and lots and lots of legs and lederhosen.

I was thrilled the evening’s brand of polka was a smörgåsbord of styles — sprinkled with salsa, dirty rice, oompah-loompahs, even classic rock. Everybody dances, mixes and matches. Girls in chiffon, seasoned couples, the pros teach the novices. It feels like the village square, where the squares are cool, and you witness memories being made.

I couldn’t wait to get out on the dance floor, and my opportunity came when John C. Bretschneider, dressed to the heil hilt (above), sauntered over to our table. We discovered a string of life coincidences that beggars belief — suffice to say, he, fresh from Zumba class, was like a spinning cuckoo clock doll and I couldn’t keep up. People: Polka is a blend of dancing AND skipping, Cardio test for the ol’ ticker. I was upstaged by the geriatric crowd. To those who think polka is old fogey music, I say “bingo!” But I also say: YOU try. It just may keep you young, like these old guys’ knees. Mine have been creaking all day at the memory. (Of these Bavarian tribesman, below, Treva mused: “I wonder whether the size of the feather indicates …anything.”)

Blob’s is a blend of old and novelty — where old friends can catch up or open their eyes to the fact there are even older folks out looking for a good time. It’s like your high school prom, where the chaperones cross the line and let their hair down. You have to be there.

 And here, a short taste of something for the kids, in all of us. (As Treva said: “The kids are watching it like TV!”)

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