Saturday, April 30, 2011

We've Moved!

The Frederick Files is now Feature Frederick.  All future posts will be to  But don't worry, nothing else has really changed!  This is still the place to go for fresh local content about every three days!

South Mountain Creamery

     Imagine if the majority of the food you eat at home grew up out of the ground of your very county!  Well, this weekend, the Spring Festival at South Mountain Creamery in Middletown, MD is the perfect chance to explore that possibility.  Today and tomorrow from 10am-5pm they are open for fun!
     I have heard for a couple of years about the delicious milk produced at this local dairy farm, but could never seem to find the time to drive over there and check it out for myself.  So when I heard that they were gearing up for a major festival, I took a trip over there a few days in advance to get a preview of what to expect this weekend.  I knew that they produced fresh, great tasting milk, but on this visit I found that they do so much more.
     If you haven’t heard of the creamery, the first thing you should know is that their milk is totally different from what you would normally get in grocery stores.  According to general manager of the farm, J.R. Byrd, who left a career with a big dairy producer because he didn’t like their practices, most store-bought milk is “ultra-pasteurized” and contains additives to extend the shelf-life of the products.  He said that because SMC can do home-deliveries of their milk to the customer within 24 to 48 hours of bottling, their milk can get away with a 15-day expiration code, while grocery stores need about 30 days.  This enables SMC to use only the most mild pasteurization technique so as not to damage the milk.
     “With ultra-pasteurizing, basically you’re killing the same bacteria that we kill at just high-temperature pasteurizing,” he said.  “The problem with that is they’re actually bringing the milk to where you’re losing a lot of the good enzymes and things in the milk that you want to have in your body.   We don’t add anything to the milk except what the state mandated with vitamins.  So it’s as all natural and as straight from the cow as it basically possibly can be without being raw milk.”
     J.R. is also proud that all of the cows are only fed by what they grow on their own 1,400 acres of farmland.

     But health isn’t the only difference.  I can vouch for the taste myself.  It is so much hardier, smoother and creamier than anything I’ve tasted in the grocery store.  I also like that all of their milk comes in glass bottles.  In the past I’ve noticed an almost stale taste that comes along with milk from a plastic or paper carton, whereas the only thing I taste with a glass bottle is the milk itself.  And because SMC recollects the glass bottles for recycling, I can feel good about not adding to a landfill.
     The really cool thing, though, is that milk is far from the only product they offer.  They also use their own milk to make several different types of butter, heavy whipping cream, cheese, and ice cream.  J.R. said that recently they are trying to branch into more traditional ice-cream parlor offerings, like banana splits and ice-cream sundaes.  I had the honor of trying the first banana split that one of their employees ever made at their onsite store.  Like the milk itself, the ice-cream is an altogether different creature from its grocery counterparts.  Ambrosia is really the only word that comes to mind with any sense of justice.

     But they offer even more than dairy.  In fact, according to J.R., you could theoretically replace most of the food that you would buy at the grocery store with their home-deliveries.  In addition to dairy, they offer all of their own beef, pork and poultry products, and they team up with other local producers and like-minded farmers to provide everything from jam to coffee.  Imagine waking up every morning to a fresh delivery of milk, bread, meat, eggs, cheese, jam, coffee, juice and even hummus right on your doorstep!  All of that and more is available from their easy-to-use web site within 48 hours of placing the order.
     As for the Spring Fest, J.R. said it will be a two full days of food and fun.  He wants everyone to see the inner workings of their production process to show that they have nothing to hide.  The products won’t be running through the lines that day, but guests can see all of the equipment turned on and working so as to get an up-close view of where their food comes from. Throughout the day there will be special events, like a massive pork and beef BBQ, and a chance for guests to feed the calves.

     But the great thing about SMC is that they encourage guests to come any day of the week to look around and learn about how they operate.  I was worried that I was going to get in the way of the farmhands as they went about their work, but they were all extremely friendly to me and let me walk through the calf-barn and get up-close pictures of some of the bigger cows.  I was also excited to see a huge collection of antique tractors sitting out in the open right in front of their store.
     Even if you think you already know SMC, it’s important to always check out for new products and interesting innovations.  J.R. said that within the next 5 years, they aim to an entirely self-sustained operation, drawing no electricity from the grid through a combination of wind turbines, solar panels and a methane-digester.
     “Even though it’s a lot of money coming out, what you’re getting in return and what you’re doing to help the earth is a huge bonus,” he said of adding the upgrades.
     That is actually a good philosophy to remember when considering making SMC a regular part of your weekly groceries.  Yes, their products run a little more expensive than the big corporate stores, but it’s affordable and you definitely get back that little bit of extra expense in the pure quality of the products.  Not to mention that you are keeping your money in Frederick County, which contributes to the overall economic health of our community.
     So go check out South Mountain Creamery and become a believer in local farming!

South Mountain Creamery
8305 Bolivar Road
Middletown, MD 21769

1(877)COW-2-YOU (269-2968) 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Taste of Broadway in Frederick

 Photos provided by Hood College Student Musical Theatre.

     The Hood College Student Musical Theatre group will present Broadway 101, a spring cabaret featuring student performances, tomorrow at 8pm and on Friday, 7 and 10pm in Hodson Auditorium in Rosenstock Hall.  The show will include some of the most popular acts from the most popular Broadway musical productions to ever hit that that famous NYC street.  Because this show brings together three of my favorite things (musicals, student productions, and local theatre) I recently sat down with three of the production staff members to get the scoop on what it's all about.
     Co-director Ashley Birdsell said that the show will include singing and dancing from Chicago, Rent, Les Miserables, The Producers, Phantom of the Opera, Avenue Q and more.
     “The reason we pick the songs is because we really want to appeal to the audience and what they want to see, and provide them with a basic understanding of Broadway and provide them with the best of each (musical),” she said.
     Assistant director Zachery Roberson told me that this particular theatre group is an entirely student-run organization and decided to put on productions as a response to a lack of a formal musical theatre program at the college, but that they do have the full support of both the theatre and music departments, as well as the student life office. 
     "We’re hoping that by the start of this we can show interest in the program and in the future it will lead to bigger productions or larger involvement,” he said.

     Ashley said that their first performance as a group last semester sold out their small 70-seat venue, and that she is really excited to have an auditorium with 400-plus seats this time.
     Billy Lewis, co-director, said “The exact words that I want out of every audience member are ‘Wow, that show is amazing, I want to go see a full-scale musical by these same people.’”
     Ashley said she believes that musical theatre is an important form of artistic expression because it represents the culture in which it was created and every element is chosen for a precise reason.
     “I think it’s a cultural phenomenon that says a lot about a culture itself and musical theatre has really evolved over the eras and really shown the progress of politics and worldviews and really everything else that’s going on in the world,” she said.  “Obviously it’s a form of entertainment, but it’s a form of commentary and it’s even an educational tool.”
     Zach says that the really important reason for doing these shows is the way in which they can bring people together.
     “If you take the musical theatre factor out of our group, we are really quite an eclectic group of people, ranging in different things that we’re involved in, and so musical theatre definitely is important because it’s one way to bring people together and find that commonality element and really use it to our advantage,” he said.
     Billy said, “It’s the expressing yourself that I personally love about musical theatre.  I love the way they express themselves through song.”

     Zach said that he hopes to dispel certain popular myths about male involvement in musical theatre.  “You do have a fun time up there and you aren’t performing these flamboyant dance numbers that you might see from the 1930s and the 1940s, but we’re doing more modern things as well as acknowledging the oldies as well.  We have a wide array,” he said.
     When I asked Ashley how she hopes the audience will respond to her show, she said, “I hope first and foremost they’re going to appreciate live theatre and everything that goes into it, and you know the mishaps that happen on stage and all the magical moments that happen on stage.  I really hope they take away a good, solid down and dirty run-through of musical theatre and all the different varieties and things it has to offer and realize it isn’t all sparkly dances.  It’s humour and it’s sadness and it’s really deep things and it’s really moving things.  I just hope they have a good time.  I hope they are really entertained.”
     These students really interest me because they remind me of my days doing youth Shakespeare.  I see that same spark in their eyes for wanting to test the limits of their abilities as young adults with minimal resources while trying to leave a lasting impression on their world.  I didn't have a chance to watch their rehearsal, but if their talent is anything like their passion, I can't imagine that a professional Broadway troupe could put on a better show than what will take place in our own community in the next two nights.

For more information about the group or the show, visit the group's web site at


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Edgeworks: The Frederick Knife Store

     Everyone remembers when they earned their first real money and what they did with it.  I don't mean those little parental incentives to scrub the toilets or clean out the attic, but that first time you were paid in real money by a non-family member for hard work.  Mine was dearly earned in the hot sun, but gratefully spent at Edgeworks Knife & Supply Co. in downtown Frederick.
     When I was 14, a local diner owner paid my younger brother and me to pass out his coupons at the Frederick Festival of the Arts.  We spent several days before the festival cutting out thousands of "Diner Dollars" and stuffing them into little menus that we also had to cut out and fold.  By the time we actually got to the festival we were already sleep deprived and then spent hours walking around in the hot sun yelling out cliché slogans at the top of our lungs, occasionally taking breaks for all the free soda we could drink.
     Sunburned and badly dehydrated, we spent the next few days with fevers and belly aches.  But it was all worth it when I got all $40 (I know, right?) of that money in my hands and set my eyes straight at Edgeworks.  I had grown up in community theatre where it seemed that everyone carried handy little multi-tools about their person so they could instantly tighten a screw, cut a tie line, or open packaging at a moment's notice, and I was tired of being left out.  I looked all about the store for something with lots of tools on it, but that I could afford, and finally honed in on a basic Victorinox Swiss Army knife.  It had two blades, two bottle openers, a can opener, scissors, screwdrivers, quirk screw, magnifying glass, tweezers and a toothpick.  It took every penny that I had, plus a little from mom and dad to cover the tax, but it was all mine.
     Sean Norris, the owner of Edgeworks for the past three years, said that out of the dozens and dozens of manufacturers that he carries, the Victorinox knives are his hottest selling items.
     “Everybody pretty much knows them,” he said.  “Nobody’s ever threatened by them so everybody feels comfortable carrying one and they have a lot of great multiple uses to them and they’re not that expensive, but they are very well-made.”
     In addition to pocketknives, the store also carries several lines of kitchen cutlery, hunting knives, fishing knives, and several other small practical blades that fit on a keychain or in a wallet.  Most of these brands can be bought online, but the real advantage of going to Edgeworks is that they are all in one place and you can put your hands on them for side-by-side comparisons.

     I’m impressed by the level of personal service by the knowledgeable staff.  Sean knows every detail of every piece in the store, from how it’s made, to what it’s best used for, to how to use it and keep it in good shape.  And he’s not just trying to push his merchandise.  He won’t steer you toward a more expensive knife than you need.  And before selling a knife to a customer, he takes it out of its packaging to make sure it’s in perfect condition.

     So what does the man who knows everything about his products choose as his favorite?  He is a big fan of the William Henry collection of display knives because of their artistic craftsmanship and rare materials.
     “They’re all very limited and they use very exotic materials like fossilized brain coral, dinosaur bone, mammoth teeth, and some of the best construction in the world,” he said.
     I like them because I appreciate any type of art that requires both naturally skilled hands and a very patient, well-disciplined mind that can put painstaking time into intricate details.  I can think of no other way finely forged steel could be bonded so seamlessly to natural treasures such as mammoth teeth and dinosaur bone. 

     The shop also carries a wide variety of decorative swords.  As a medievalist, I was drawn to the big broadswords that looked like they were pulled right off the pages of The Beowulf.  Some of them are fantasy creations, but some of them are historically accurate reproductions.  They also have collections from all over the world.  It’s one of the few places I’ve ever seen a full set of Japanese Samurai swords.
     But knives and swords aren’t all that Sean carries.  He also has some general sporting goods equipment, throwing darts, and a very vast array of puzzles for children and adults.  When I asked Sean what makes his store unique in the local area, he said that he is one of the few dedicated knife stores left in Maryland and “from knives to puzzles, we’ve got something for everybody, so everybody can find something.”
     I asked him what he would like everyone to know about his business that he doesn’t think they do, and he said, “Just that we’re here.  I constantly get people that say ‘Oh, I’ve lived in Frederick for twenty-some years.  I had no idea you guys were down here.  I guess I need to come downtown more.’”
     Well Sean, I know you're here, and I will always have my trusty red pocketknife to remind me.

Edgeworks Knife and Supply Co.
200 N. Market St.
Frederick, MD 21703
(301) 620-0477

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Frederick's Little Pottery Shop

     Too often we draw a separation between what is practical and what is artistic or aesthetically pleasing when it comes to how we spend our money and furnish our homes, largely because we are afraid of damaging really nice things.  My mother would kill me if we ever used her fine Dresden Rose china outside of special occasions because it's so fragile that it can't be put in the dishwasher after use.  For about 363 days of the year, its sole job is to look expensive and pretty in the china closet.
     So when I stumbled into The Little Pottery Shop in downtown Frederick about two years ago, I was really excited to see many fantastic pieces of art, both fine and quirky, that can be used as much as they are admired. Although not true of every piece in the shop, very many of them, such as the stoneware collection, are extremely sturdy and glazed such that they can survive the dishwasher and microwave alike.  I actually bought one of their mugs when I first entered the shop and it’s sitting on my desk right now.  I love it because it has something of an unrefined, medieval or organic look about it that fits well with my aesthetic interest in by-gone literary eras.  But the cool thing about the shop is that it surely has something for you, no matter where your tastes lie. 
      "I think (pottery is) one of the more creative mediums where you can make a lot of different things.  Clay is a very versatile and really interesting material to work with," said Tameria Martinez, the shop's experienced owner.
     Just glancing around I could tell what she means.  I saw everything from pots and mugs with little faces carved into them, to plates and pitchers with South Western deserts glazed onto them.  I was drawn to a set of vases that Tammy said were made from a porous clay called raccoo, which are capable of capturing images of the flames from the kiln as they are fired.  You can actually see the shape of the flames and the different colors they left on the vase at different temperatures.

(Click to see a picture slide show of the shop)

     Tammy boasts that her shop not only has a strong collection from local potters, but from all over the United States, and one from Canada, totaling 120 artists in all.  She listed many of the different clay types, building and glazing decorating techniques that her shop carries, concluding with "just about everything in a pottery shop you can imagine.”
Recently the shop has expanded its studio space, allowing room for teaching pottery classes, and a new round of them are about to begin this May.  They offer both hand-building and wheel classes to children aged 9-13 and another set of classes from 14 to adult.

  (Click to hear Tammy explain the difference between hand-built and wheel-thrown pottery)

     Tammy says she hopes to teach people what really goes into making fine pottery. 
“I think a lot of people don’t realize what it’s like to throw pottery on the wheel.  And once they get into it, they understand what kind of techniques and what kind of skill it takes to actually throw pots on the potter’s wheel," she said.  "Also, I think a lot of people are not aware of the length of the process from the time that you begin a piece on the wheel until you actually finish it and get it out of the last firing." 
But at the same time, she wants people to know that it is a fun process and she provides a relaxing atmosphere for learning.
“We try to have a very relaxed atmosphere here.  We try to make (the classes) really fun and enjoyable, not a lot of pressure," she said.  "The pressure that happens is mostly students putting pressure on themselves, especially throwing, that’s a little bit of a challenging exercise for most people.  But we have some really great students, very fun, some great beginners who are quickly moving on to intermediate classes."

Pottery class studio
      I really like the idea of these classes because I think it would be neat to regularly use something made by my own hands.  As a writer, the products of my labor are intellectual, not tangible, and sometimes I wish I had more solid reminders of my mind’s output.  I once tried a pottery class at my college, but as I was working on my thesis I missed several of the classes and only ended up with a few glazed pinch pots.  Although they didn’t amount to much compared to the work on display in Tammy’s shop, I’ll always be proud of them because they came from my own efforts.
 The Little Pottery Shop
 Shab Row
 117 North East St.
 Frederick, MD 21701
 (301) 620-7501

Monday, April 18, 2011

Nido's: Downtown Italian Dining

     Like most Americans, I have been to very many Italian restaurants over the course of my life.  Sadly, none of them have actually been in Italy, but I'm familiar enough with the genre to know what I like and what to expect from the ones that really have their act together.  Nido's Little Italy Ristorante on Patrick St. definitely hits the mark.  In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to call it my favorite.
     When searching for ethnic food options, I am particularly drawn to those establishments that have taken thematic ownership of the entire space, inside and out, which isn't always an easy thing to do in an historic district. This is far from a bad thing, but most of the buildings on East Patrick St. are of the uniform nineteenth-century red-brick townhouse style that defines downtown Frederick so well, but Nido's, which I'm sure used to look the same as the rest, immediately stands out to the casual passerby.  With sheer white brick, red and green trim, an enormous picture window and awnings that jet out over the sidewalk, one might wonder if the fabric of time and space are not quite in working order, as there seems to be a window to Italy sitting right in the middle of Frederick.
     The inside is no less impressive.  Maybe this is strange, but I think the first thing I noticed was the rough brick floor.  It reminded me of the old streets of Annapolis that have been trodden down by bustling activity for centuries.  It were as if they hadn't just laid a brick floor, but rather built the restaurant around an old city street.  It makes me feel like I'm literally setting foot into another world.
     Whatever the interior structure of this building used to be, it's now impossible to tell, as Roman arch-ways are punched into the walls.  Some of them form little windows, like one with a miniature Venus de Milo sitting in it.  A network of trellises covered in hanging grape-vines adorn the ceilings while black and white photos and drawings of Rome dot the walls.  If you are really lucky, you will be seated in the room with the large pictures window so you can gaze out at the city buzz.  Throw in the Italian music always playing in the background, and I am fully into this dining experience way before the food even arrives.
     Absolutely everything on the menu looks good, and if it weren't for my friend Sasha highly recommending the spaghetti in marinara sauce, I would have been forever in placing my order.  Fortunately, the waiting staff there is so gracious and friendly that I'm sure I could have taken as long as I wanted.
     The meal, of course, was amazing.  The marinara sauce is so much more tangy and savory than ordinary tomato sauce to the point that I prefer it even to spaghetti with meatballs.  I was eating it so quickly that I managed to accidentally flick some sauce onto my shirt.  It left me so good and full after my weekend of hard labor that I only had room for a cup of tea for dessert.  There is always room for tea.
     I can't wait until the period of my vegan diet ends so I can return and try a lot more of the menu, especially the lasagna and the cannoli.  I have never actually tried a cannoli before, but everything about Nido's is so well put together that I trust them to make the best example of this treat to be found anywhere.
     So now I suppose the conclusion is obvious and hardly need be said, but if you are in the area and crave a perfect dining experience, by all means please stop in Nido's.  You can't miss it!

111 East Patrick Street
Frederick, MD 21701-5677
(301) 624-1052

Friday, April 15, 2011

Thai fun!

    When I heard that a new Thai food place was coming to Frederick, I knew that I would just have to try it because I'm a huge fan of Asian food generally and I never turn down an opportunity to make a fool of myself trying to use chop sticks.  But at the same time, I kept putting off the visit because for me to really enjoy this particular restaurant, I knew that it would have to overcome a totally unfair prejudice on my part.  Namely, Sumittra Thai Cuisine now occupies the space of the former Proof Café, which I still mourn every time I walk past their Patrick St. building.  I knew that this restaurant would have to really knock it out of the park to distract me from visions of sipping hot cocoa in that same space not so long ago, and I am happy to report that Sumittra more than lived up to my unreasonable and ridiculous expectations.
     The first thing I noticed was that they really made the space their own, which actually lessened my mind's desire to wander back to memories of the former occupant.  A graphic paint scheme of strong yellow, sheer white and pitch black blended really well with the unchanged ancient brick and wood of this former 18th-century hardware store.  Having removed the old Proof counter, there was much more space in there than I had realized - enough that they were able to add an architecturally interesting dividing wall to the middle of the room while still providing ample table space.
     Just looking at the menu was actually an enormous treat for me.  I've been on a self-imposed vegan kick for about a month now, and restaurant dinning almost always means resorting to pasta or salad with explicit instructions to the waiter to refrain from adding any dairy products.  I was so happy (you have no idea...) to find an entire two pages of almost entirely vegan options that I just kind of sat and stared longingly at them for a while.  With the exception of an occasional egg thrown into the mix, all of the spicy sauces that really define Thai dinning are plant-based.  Normally the sauce is mixed in with veggies and poured over rice and a meat option, but Sumittra offers tofu as a substitute to any of the meats, meaning that I had access to nearly their entire regular menu!
     I started off with an appetizer of crispy tofu, which is a plate of really big squares of fried tofu that are almost like little biscuits or cakes served with an interesting nut-flavored dipping sauce.  I really liked the squares because not only were they delicious, their size was conducive toward easy chop-stick manipulation, and I can always use as much practice as possible before getting to the rice.
     For my entrée, I ordered the tofu ka-prow, which primarily consists of tofu and rice covered in a sauce made from basil and chili powder.  I was impressed by how they were able to use tofu in such diverse ways that I couldn't even recognize it from one dish to the next.  When my ka-prow was brought to me, the tofu looked so much like chicken that I was worried they had mixed up my order with another customer's.  The tofu absorbed the surrounding flavors so well that I might even occasionally order this dish after the period of my vegan diet ends.  I should probably warn you, though, that I have been told my tolerance of spicy foods exceeds that of normal people, and this item was listed in the hottest category on the menu.  I also really appreciated that the meal was served in a long rectangular dish because it allowed me to get a little strafing run when I went to scoop up the rice with my chop sticks, like a pelican diving for a fish.
     My friend, Sasha, ordered chicken cashew nut, which she says is a really good neutral dish for a standard American pallet: absent the spice, but full of flavor diversity.
     I was really full from the richness of the meal, so I skipped dessert, but Sasha ordered a tall cup of raspberry ice cream and ate it right in front of me.  Based on her facial expressions as she taunted me, I surmised that she found the dish more than acceptable.
     I will always miss Proof, but if something else had to occupy that space, I'm really glad that it's Sumittra.  Frederick was in need of another Thai restaurant to fill the void left when the amazing Captain Kyoto's was replaced by the equally amazing Quynn's Attic a few years ago.  It should be noted that Quynn's Attic occupies the top floors of the building that Sumittra is now in, so it seems fitting that a wonderful Thai restaurant should replace a wonderful American café in that particular location.

Sasha's Corner
Hear my friend Sasha give her take on the Thai experience.

Sumittra Thai Cuisine
12 East Patrick St.
Frederick, MD 21701
(301) 668-2303