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Everything I know about breakfast I learned from my father. It was he who fed me those early school mornings, at least when he was in town. I took care of myself when he was not because my mother was not exactly a morning person. The fare was simple: Either scrambled eggs liberally dosed with sauteed jalapeños or fried eggs, sunny-side up on toast. But the best was sunday brunch: omelets, pancakes or my all time favorite: corned-beef hash.

This is not as bad as it looks
This is not as bad as it looks

Yes, that's right! I'm talking about breakfast in a can. I still enjoy it to this day. Open up the can and plop it right into the frying pan. Sure, it looks like dog food (may even taste like it, for all I know), but when it's done right — the perfect balance between the crispy outside and warm, soft inside — it starts my day off very well, thank you. I'm not claiming this is better than home-made, which it's not. Just that the ratio of work to joy is quite favorable.

A very tasty breakfast made quickly
A very tasty breakfast made quickly

Doing It Yourself

If you have the time, though, and the circumstances are right, I recommend making your own. It's simple to do:

  1. You need some left over meat.

    Leftover prime rib from Christmas dinner
    Leftover prime rib from Christmas dinner

    I only make hash when I have some leftovers. The meat needs to be cooked before you start, so it doesn't make sense, to me at least, to set out to make this from scratch.

    Any meat will do. For me, it's usually a left over roast beef of some sort, which is ironic since I don't like the canned roast beef hash, but have never made my own corned beef hash. I've used turkey after Thanksgiving and with ham after Easter, both worthwhile.

  2. Chop the meat up fine.

    It's like watching laws being made, not for the squeamish
    It's like watching laws being made, not for the squeamish

    I run it through my meat grinder once with the large die. You could just use a knife. I wouldn't recommend the food processor because it will turn the meat into a paste that isn't very tasty.

  3. Dice up a potato.

    You need the starch in there. Well I do, anyways. It ain't breakfast without it. Don't limit yourself to the potato, though. If you have any other leftovers in the fridge that look like they might work, chop them up and toss them in there, too. You can't go wrong with onion, peppers of any sort, garlic. Just make sure you dice them up small.

  4. Toss all of the into a frying pan at medium heat with some butter or oil.

  5. Add a liquid.

    You might – might – be able to skip this step if your meat is particularly fatty, but even then, I wouldn't recommend it. Last thing you want is a dry, crumbly hash. You don't need much, a quarter cup or so should be enough. I've used my pig shots (2 ounces of pork broth), milk (yes!) or even gravy for my post Thanksgiving hash.

  6. Keep cooking until you get a crust, but not so long that it dries out.

  7. Throw a fried egg or two on top.

It's more work than canned, but certainly worth it
It's more work than canned, but certainly worth it

Is It Worth Ordering when Eating Out?

This is tough to answer for someone else because it depends on your willingness to suspend your disbelief. I know that the hash I order is coming out of a can most times I order it. Usually it works out just fine. The Yorkshire Diner in Manassas does it well. I enjoy it with a short stack of pancakes in addition to the usual sunny-side up eggs.

This isn't always the case, though. I've had hash served without any crispiness, could still see the shape of the can. In other cases, I've been served a uniformly consistent paste. Where they try to make their own? Doesn't matter, it was a disaster either way. And this really pisses me off. This isn't hard to do.

I'll Never Give It Up

Despite the less than pleasant experiences, hash will always be on my menu. The warm fuzzy feelings it conjures, memories of my father, make it a tasty meal, even if it is from a can.

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The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

by Michael Pollan

A while back I was having dinner at a new place with colleagues after a particularly grueling week of work. Exhaustion and wine had combined to make me lose my focus in the conversation and I only came to attention when I heard someone say, "They have really good food here, I wonder how you can scale an operation like this to make some serious money." I smacked my hand down on the table and shouted, "You can't scale good food."

Awkward silence, everyone in the restaurant looking at me. My friend asks, "Why not?" If I had read this book, I would have had a good answer, but I would have tempered my opinions somewhat. How food is created in America is a complicated story. There are clearly some bad guys who do not care for good food or the health of those who eat it, but it's not obvious who wears the white hats.

First of all, this book is a great read and in a format I greatly enjoy: one part a deep dive into an interesting subject and another part travelogue. He breaks it down into four stores: Industrial production with a tour of the Midwest, Industrial Organic on the west coast, a process he calls beyond organic in the Shenandoah Valley and finally an attempt at living the Hunter-Gatherer existence in California. Each one of these stories could stand on its own, but the combination truly brings America's perplexing relationship with food to light. I took these lessons from the book:

Do Not Look to Corporation for Dietary Advice

Given that eating is something everyone does, the food market can only grow as fast as the population does. This means the only way for a corporation to profit at a Wall Street acceptable rate is some combination of lower cost of production and convincing consumers to spend more for the same thing or to eat more of it. The former means ruthlessly standardizing the production of food. Mr. Pollan ably demonstrates why this is destroying the environment and making us less healthy. As for convincing us to spend or eat more, that's not hard. We seem to be prey to all kinds of marketing gimmicks and health concerns which Corporate America has no problem stoking as they have just the antidote to sell us.

Organic Processes Are not a Panacea

The only way large organic concerns such as Whole Foods can work is to scale things up. This, ultimately, requires a standardized (there's that word again!) distribution network. Small farmers cannot reliably meet their demand, so only the large concerns succeed. Yes, it is true that this is healthier than regular industrial food production, but it is not environmentally sustainable and, arguably, uses more energy than non-organice food production.

Doing the Right Thing is Hard

Part of the reason many farmers have gone industrial despite it being a losing business is that it is extremely easy. You only have to work for a small fraction of the year and you don't have to think much, industry tells you what to do and when. Sustainable farming that produces healthy food requires a lot effort and thinking in order to balance the diversity of plants and animals that a sustainable concern needs to manage. Those willing to do this deserve our support. I shall seek them out and give them my business. And why not? Sure, it will cost more money, but the food will taste so much better.

A Well Thought Out Animal Rights Philosophy

I love meat. I always will, but that doesn't mean I condone maltreatment of animals. I have had difficulty arguing against folks such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. They seem to provide a good moral argument that's difficult to contradict. Mr. Pollan, though, does this well. I agree with his statement on page 328 of the paperback version of the book: "What's wrong with eating animals is the practice, not the principle." We can humanely raise and slaughter animals. Moreover, a healthy environment demands that animals are eaten. It's part of the cycle that we break at our own risk.

A Losing Battle?

The weak arguments that I did make to my workmates as to why good food shouldn't and can't be scaled were met with a shrug of their shoulders. "Why bother, then?"

A good meal should be more than just a business proposition, more than just the sum of the ingredients that went into it. It's the appreciation of the effort, wonder at a magical combination of flavors and the joy of the people you share it with. I hope this wins out.

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(aka Cichorium intybus, Succory, Blue Sailors, Blue Daisy, Coffee Weed, Bunk)

Chicory Flower
Chicory Flower

This pretty blue flower carpets much of the untended areas in Centreville. It caught my eye when I noticed that the flowers were open in the morning, but closed upon my return home from work.

Chicory in the Morning and Evening
Chicory in the Morning and Evening

Chicory is native to Europe, but was introduced to the United States. Cultivated varieties include Radicchio and Belgian Endive. In its wild form, the roots can be roasted, ground and as used as an additive to or substitute for coffee. This is particularly popular in the south, where I have had it in my morning cup of joe. It appears, according to the Wikipedia article on Chicory, that the plant is useful in combating intestinal parasites. Still, I think I'll visit my doctor first.

Bobby Rightmyer of the Lexington Gardening Examiner writes:

To make a caffeine-free coffee-like beverage from the roots - scrub, chop, and toast them in a 350ºF oven 1 hour, or until dark brown, brittle, and fragrant, stirring occasionally. Grind to the size of coffee in a spice grinder or blender, and use like regular coffee—1½ tsp per cup of water.

She recommends harvesting the roots in the fall, so I will give it a shot, then.

Chicory Queen Anne's Lace and Chicory
Chicory Queen Anne's Lace and Chicory

Other references:

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Dave's Seafood and Subs
Dave's Seafood and Subs

While running errands in the Chantilly area, I was overwhelmed with hunger. Lunch time! I happened to be driving by Dave's Seafood and Subs. Normally, I would not have chosen this place. It's a generic store front in a generic strip mall with nothing beyond the word "seafood" to grab my attention. However, a workmate of my wife's recommended it.

My first impression was, "Yup, inside looks just like what you'd expect from the outside. I was a little worried that I was the only one there, despite it being a little after noon (there was a steady stream of patrons after my arrival, though). This was assuaged by the aroma of freshly fried fish. MUST EAT NOW!

The Fish Combo
The Fish Combo

I focused solely on the seafood, ignoring the subs options. I order the fish sampler which included 3 pieces of fried fish (catfish, tilapia and, I believe, haddock) and 2 sides (I selected onion rings and potato salad). The wait was long enough to tell me that my order was made fresh. I was not disappointed.

Three large pieces of fish come out piping hot with a cornmeal coating strong enough that I could eat this by hand (calluses come in handy to insulate you from the heat). Delicious! It did not even need the tarter sauce it came with, though it was equally good with that and the ketchup / hot-sauce combo I usually mix up when anything fried is on the plate. The potato salad is as I like it: no big chucks, almost puréed with a mustardy dressing. The onion rings were nothing to write home about, just your generic Sysco supplied side dish.

My only complaint is that this is too much of a good thing. I could only eat half, and I was stuffing myself. This combo could easily be split between 2 people, maybe even 3. I say this is a problem because you need to eat fried fish (well any fried foods) quickly as the quality decline accelerates with time. My last few bites were still OK, but it was clear that this wouldn't make for good leftovers.

I will make a return visit with the family.

Revisiting Dave's Seafood & Subs

I find that with many new places we go to, the second visit is never as good as the first. Sometimes after raving about a place, my return trip leads me to wonder what in the heck I was thinking. (See my piece on the Curse of the Second Visit.) Not so with Dave's. This time I went with the whole family.

We ordered the 3 fish sampler again. The catfish was everyone's favorite, followed by the trout. The whiting was OK. The fried oysters, at first, had me worried. They looked over done, but were actually well cooked, meaty and just a degree below scalding. Perfect. The buffalo wings, too, had heft and a good combination of crispy outside and juicy meat.

Where this place excels is with their side dishes. For most places, these are just after thoughts probably bought frozen from a vendor. Dave's, however, makes their own and does it well. I will take this time to apologize for my comment in my initial review about the onion rings. I claimed they looked like typical food service fare, but, no, they are clearly home made and taste that way. I'm not sure why I thought otherwise last time. The potato salad, though, was as good this time as last. The only comment from the family was surprise at the the lack of chunks, being mostly puréed. The hush puppies were the best I've had this far north.

If you're in Chantilly and you're hungry, you could do a lot worse.

Dave's Seafood and Subs
4008 Walney Rd
Chantilly, VA 20151-2986

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