fig. a: Biggs Family Farm, Camp Springs, MD
You never know. You may find yourself in another part of the world. You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile with a few blessed hours to yourself to do a little exploring. And you may find just yourself completely overwhelmed by the possibilities.
Afterwards, you may find that your day made little sense, taking you from the southern comfort of the George Washington Parkway between Alexandria and Mount Vernon, to the secondary roads of Prince George's County, MD, from Arlington's Spout Run and Lee Hwy., to Washington's C & O Canal and MacArthur Blvd. And you may remember that on more than one occasion you asked yourself, "How did I get here?"
Back in the day, my friend C. and I were devotees of a Village Thrift on Kenilworth Ave. For a while, we used to scour the racks there for clothes, records, and other discarded booty on an almost weekly basis, before continuing on along a constellation of other thrift stores scattered between Riverdale and Laurel, MD. We had no idea there was another Village Thrift in nearby Temple Hills. Too bad. [Of course, it's also too bad that Michelle and I didn't go to try and find that Kenilworth Avenue Village Thrift, because according to the Washington Post, that exact area is now home to "the highest concentration of Mexican restaurants, markets and bakeries in the Washington area." Damn.] We took a cursory look at the clothes, but both of us went pretty much straight for the books and there we found some good cookbooks along with a copy of Ex Libris, an official, licensed, 1991 version of "The Favourite Game" put out by The British Library and The Bodleian Libary (!). The best of the cookbooks that we found was a handsome edition that looked something like this:
fig. b: Culinary Skills & Tips of St. Luke's Catholic Church, Mercersburg, Pa.
We'd always wondered what culinary skills & tips Mercersburg, PA might have to offer. We found out that a lot of them were Czech and Slovak in origin, which was an added bonus for us, given our roots. Michelle was particularly attracted to the homestyle sweets section, of course, where she found recipes like the following (one of which she's already tried--guess which one):
fig. c: excerpt, Culinary Skills & Tips of St. Luke's Catholic Church, Mercersburg, Pa.
Biggs Family Farm
Not far from Village Thrift we had the good fortune to run across the Biggs Family Farm. It looked so promising we just had to turn around and take a closer look. The impressive selection of watermelons in their barn was the first thing to grab our eye (you can see them in the photograph up top), but in their small shop we found some gorgeous yellow corn, tomatoes, beautiful okra, homemade preserves, and a selection of hardwoods that had us wishing we had a barbecue rig in tow:
fig. d: hardwood, Biggs Family Farm
The woman working the counter was pretty reserved and maybe just the slightest bit suspicious of our enthusiasm for the Biggs Family Farm, but she opened up a little when we asked her about their cherry tomatoes. "They're sweet," she said. "I eat 'em just like grapes." That was good enough for us. We bought a pint of cherry tomatoes, eight ears of corn, some pickled beets (Amish-style), a big, round watermelon, and started to make our way back towards Northern Virginia.
The Italian Store
Maybe 40 minutes later, we were in the process of heading up from the G.W. Parkway along Spout Run in order to make a loop back towards Washington, D.C. We had plans to stop off in Georgetown and pick up a picnic before heading out along Canal Rd. to the C & O Canal, but suddenly I realized that continuing another 1/4 mile along Spout Run would get us the Lyon Village Center strip mall, and there we'd be able to pick up a truly extraordinary lunch at The Italian Store. I'd been an Italian Store regular back in the 1990s, and Michelle had heard all the tantalizing details. She knew the sandwiches were legendary. She knew they made an awfully respectable thin-crust pizza, too. It didn't take much to convince her.
The Italian Store is nothing if not a very popular and very busy neighborhood deli, so we had to be patient to get our order, but 15 minutes later we had one of their classic Philadelphia-style subs and one New Orleans-via-Philly-style muffuletta (both custom-made), a slice of pizza, and a couple of drinks, and we were ready to go. Destination: Fletcher's Cove.
fig. e: boats, Fletcher's Cove
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, which stretches from Georgetown about 185 miles west to Cumberland, West Virginia, is one of the D.C. area's greatest treasures. I'd taken Michelle for two walks along two different stretches of the canal last fall, and when it came time to deciding how to spend our afternoon, we considered trying to take advantage of some of D.C.'s vast cultural resources, but all we really wanted was a picnic and a nice, long walk. If we could be next to the Potomac, under the shade of some big trees, and amid the droning of the cicadas, all the better. Fletcher's Cove had everything we were looking for: boat rentals (in case we up and decided we needed a rowboat), picnic tables, and easy access to the canal and its towpath.
We found a spot next to a massive pile of driftwood,
fig. f: driftwood, Fletcher's Cove
and unpacked our picnic.
fig. g: picnic, Fletcher's Cove
The drinks were thirst-quenching, the pizza was the best slice of pepperoni I'd had in a while, the cherry tomatoes were sweet and refreshing and almost grape-like, but the real pièces de résistance were those two sandwiches. I'm not sure if you can properly get the scale from this photograph,
fig. h: muffuletta sandwich from The Italian Store
but that muffuletta was enormous, and completely overstuffed with The Italian Store's excellent green olive relish and about a pound of cold cuts. Both of us couldn't have been happier, and both of us somehow managed to put those sandwiches away.
Then we relaxed by the river and wished we could trade places with the couple who were sunbathing in a rowboat on the Potomac (you can see them there, in the middle of the photograph, if you look real hard):
fig. i: rowboat, Potomac, Fletcher's Cove
We stretched out under a big, ole tree tree for a while to listen to the cicadas some more,
fig. j: trees, cicadas, Fletcher's Cove
and then we went for our walk.
Village Thrift, 6307 Allentown Rd., Temple Hills, MD
Biggs Family Farm, corner of Brinkley Rd. and Allentown Rd., Camp Springs, MD
The Italian Store, 3123 Lee Hwy., Arlington, VA (in the Lyon Village Shopping Center), (703) 528-6266
Saturday, September 01, 2007
fig. a: Biggs Family Farm, Camp Springs, MD