Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Recreating the Star Spangled Banner, my moment in history

Hello Friends,

My most recent local travel took me to the Maryland Historical Society and what a fun day it was!

I got lucky to be there during one of the two days the public could participate in the Stitching History Project. The Stitching History Project being run by the Maryland Historical Society is recreating the Star Spangled Banner flag flown at Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore also known locally and celebrated as Defender's day. The public is being allowed to help in the making of the flag by participating in the stitching of the flag.

What is so important about the flag flown over Fort McHenry is the fact that it was the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key in 1814 to write the Star Spangled Banner poem which in 1931 became the National Anthem.

The Star Spangled Banner flag being recreated will be of the same size as the original, 30 feet wide by 42 feet long, using authentic materials and sewn using the same stitching techniques as the original 200 years ago. The flag will be made in 6 weeks, the same amount of time it took Mary Pickersgill and her 4 helpers in the summer of 1813.

Once the flag is finished, it will be flown at Fort McHenry in September 2013 during the Defender's day celebration and in 2014 it will be part of the Bicentennial year festivities of the writing of the national anthem poem it inspired. Eventually this recreated flag will become part of the Smithsonian lying next to the original flag at the American History Museum. I also heard that it might be part of the Macy's Thanksgiving parade?

When I arrived at the Maryland Historical Society, it was a very festive and patriotic day. I got to see these guys dressed in revolutionary uniforms playing military tunes of the time.

picture of men dressed in revolutionary military uniforms

Once I signed in, I entered a waiting area where a lady dressed in colonial attire talked about how the original flag was made. Here are some of the facts I learned from her:
  • The original flag was 30 feet tall, 42 feet wide.
  • Each stripe was 2 feet in height.
  • There are 15 stripes, 8 red, 7 white.
  • Each star (15 at the time) is in a 2 foot square, point-to-point.
  • The original material was wool.
  • The original flag is located at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington D.C.
Before we went into the stitching room where we would do our own stitching on the flag, we were given anti-bacterial wipes to thoroughly clean our hands. Then we signed the guest book and given a pin to place on a map indicating where we were from. Once in the stitching room, we waited to be placed with a professional sewer who would instruct us how to stitch in the Mary Pickersgill style.

picture showing my 2 stitches on the flag done as Mary Pickersgill did 200 years ago.
My two stitches

Vilma sawing stitches on the recreated Star Spangled flag
Vilma sewing her stitches on the recreated Star Spangled flag part of the Stitching History Project.

picture of Elaine, a professional sewer and Vilma while participating in the Stitching History Project
Vilma and Elaine while at the Stitching History Project.

Once I completed my historical stitches, I was able to tour the museum for free. The best part was being able to see the original manuscript of the writing of the Start Spangled Banner poem by Francis Scott Key which is encased and can only be seen when the underlying protective casing opens showing the original, this happens hourly. A copy of the original can be viewed at all times.

So while I am glad I did not live in the 1800's, I am glad that I was able to be part of this historical event and the next time I visit the American History Museum at the Smithsonian and see the recreated new Star Spangled Banner flag, I can tell my kids and grand kids I put 2 stitches in that flag, at the bottom, about 13 feet from the right.

Wow, I am still amazed at my luck.

 picture showing the sawing room with volunteers for the Stitching History Project.
The sawing room with volunteers for the Stitching History Project.

Wishing you all..........Happy Travels.

Discovering and Enjoying my neighborhood one event and one place at a time.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Blueberries, blueberries Oh My!

I think I have discovered blueberries. Some of you are wondering, what do you mean by that? I mean, I think blueberries are my new favorite fruit. They are great to snack on, have with ice cream, make pies with......you name it, and I have just realized that seriously!

Let me explain, I am Latin and as such, blueberries did not exist in my life until about 7 years ago. I never ate them as a child, I don't recall seeing them anywhere in the house, and basically they were not part of my Spanish upbringing even when it was mostly here in the United States. I am the tropical fruit type of person, I love (!!!) mangoes, pineapples, papayas, passion fruit, bananas........I tell you my mouth is watering as I write this, but of course these are hard to find.

My husband on the other hand loves blueberries among other fruits and as soon as we moved back to the east coast, he started to buy them and eat them with cereal which I thought was pretty weird and not appetizing to me but then again, I don't eat cereal. Anyhow, about eight years ago he suggested we go to a nearby farm where you can pick your own, whatever is in season and this is how I got introduced to blueberries. I have to say that I was not too enthusiastic about going to a farm but went because our kids had not been to a vegetable-fruit farm before. I actually had no idea how blueberries grew, a tree? A bush?

blueberries attached to the bush

Anyway, I tried them right off the bush and while it was not love at first taste, I am fully on board now. I love them! When we went with the kids, my daughter and I would have a contest as to who would find the biggest blueberries. And so, she and I always had bags with bigger blueberries than my husband and son.

bunch of picked blueberries

I must say now that the kids are grown and gone, I still look forward to when blueberries are in season and our trip to the farm. I think blueberries freshly picked are the best!! For that matter any fruit or vegetable freshly picked and eaten right away tastes the best. This is true for mangoes, pineapples, papayas, apples, peaches, you name it. Oh yeah, the best part of blueberry picking is that there are no thorns to deal with.

This year, once again when we went to the farm and while eating my share of them, I remembered kidding with my kids that blueberry picking was actually about me getting my yearly dose of whatever vitamins blueberries had.

That got me thinking, what are those blueberry vitamins? What is it about blueberries? This is what I found.
  • Blueberries are the second most consumed fruit in the United States, only after strawberries.
  • Blueberries are a native fruit of North America.
  • Blueberries are high in antioxidants ranking higher than many fruits and vegetables.
  • Blueberries are a good source of vitamin C, K, Manganese and some fiber.
  • Raw blueberries have the highest nutritional benefits.
  • Organically grown blueberries have the highest antioxidants.
  • Blueberries can be frozen without losing taste or antioxidant content. 
  • Blueberries can help reduce the total cholesterol, raising HDL and lowering triglycerides but you must consume 1-2 cups per day!
  • Blueberries can help you regulate your blood sugar especially if you are already a diabetic; otherwise it helps you achieve a healthy level of blood sugar.
  • In older adults, it has been shown to have cognitive benefits.
  • Blueberries can improve your memory.
  • Preliminary studies have indicated blueberries can help protect the retina of the eye from sunlight.
  • Blueberries are under study for anti-cancer potential benefits. Cancers include; breast cancer, colon cancer, esophageal cancer, and small intestine cancers.
I don't know about you but if you ask me, it seems to me blueberries are the perfect fruit except that now I got to eat 1-2 cups daily?! Hmmmm sounds like a challenge. Got to do the math to figure out what the yearly cost would be but then again, if this keeps the doctor away and keeps my memory healthy.......then what am I waiting for?

Hail to the perfect fruit


Here are some fun facts.
  • About 550 million pounds are grown worldwide; 275 million pounds are grown in the United States.
  • The next largest producer is Canada, producing roughly 30%
  • Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, and North Carolina are the main growers.
  • In 2007 the typical North American consumed on average 22 ounces of blueberries, in 1997 this was 13 ounces.

So if you live near a farm, go and visit them, support your local farmer by picking whatever is in season. It is healthy and the atmosphere is peaceful, beautiful to look at, fragrant and quite tasty. Being a farmer is not an easy life but I am sure thankful they do it.

Here are some pictures of the farm I like to go to, Larriland Farm.

photo of Larriland farm

another photo of Larriland farm

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A carnivore's delight.....still digesting

Everybody in my family knows I love steak and meat in general especially when is well prepared. I also enjoy going out to a nice restaurant that has white tablecloths and a pretty table setting.

Picture inside Fogo de Chao restaurant

I was delighted to find both in Fogo de Chao restaurant. Just by chance and because I am on the lookout for fun things to do in my neighborhood, I found out Baltimore Restaurant Week was about to start. The idea is the participating restaurants to offer a fixed price meal (or lunch) to lure visitors and locals to experience a new restaurant and perhaps a new cuisine that otherwise they may not.

So as soon as I found out, I checked the list of participating restaurants and with so many choices (about 100 of them) it was hard to pick one. Without much research, I selected Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse because I love meat and I was intrigued when they said the steaks were prepared the "gaucho" way. And what a pleasant surprise! Oh my, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

Before I go on, I want to tell you that Fogo de Chao is Portuguese for 'ground fire' in essence it means pit fire. Gaucho is Portuguese for cowboy. Brazil, the largest country in Latin American speaks Portuguese, not Spanish which to me it is pretty weird but they do. 

Anyway, dinner started with a trip to the salad bar and what a salad bar! My goodness, I had not seen so many choices that were not only beautiful to look at but also looked delicious even when sometimes I had not clue what I was looking at. All the vegetables looked fresh, the meats looked appetizing and there was the biggest Parmesan cheese bowl I had ever seen. I selected a few things and made it back to the table, and all tasted as good as it looked.

a plate of salad from Fogo de Chao restaurant
My salad plate

After the salad our waiter gave us clean plates; it was time for the entree. At this point he explains the meaning of the round paper coasters on our table. If on the green side, the gaucho chef would stop at our table and serve us what he is offering. If on the red side it would mean you do not want to be served and so the fun began.

I have to tell you that the selection of meats was fabulous, a true carnivore's delight! There were 3 different types of steaks plus lamb, pork, chicken wrapped in bacon, and pork sausage. All of them had a wonderful flavor but my favorite was the signature Fogo de Chao steak. It was moist, juicy and tender and covered with Brazilian spices that made it very flavorful. I would certainly go back just for that steak, it was amazing. It was yummy!! In tradition with most Latin American dishes, nothing was spicy, as in hot spicy, just very flavorful.

Gaucho serving a slice of steak at Fogo de Chao restaurant in Baltimore
Picture of a gaucho chef serving a slice of steak.

Oh yeah, the side dishes were corn, mash potatoes and my favorite, grilled bananas. Have you ever tried them? Do, the next time you see them in the menu. These were done very well, nice, moist, sweet just delicious.

Fried bananas and other side dishes from the Fogo de Chao restaurant in Baltimore
Fried bananas are at the top......yummmm!

Oh yeah, did I tell you the fixed price dinner also came with desert? We chose strawberry cheesecake and key lime pie but by that point, there was hardly any room for it and I don't regret it at all.

All in all it was a delightful dinner. I would absolutely go back. I am so glad I got a chance to try a new place. But first I need to digest this one.

Here is a picture of me after dinner walking the Baltimore harbor helping the digestion take place. It was a beautiful and lovely day for a walk.

Fogo de Chao is a restaurant chain, have you gone to any of the others? How was your experience?