A carpenter uses his hands. A philosopher earns a living with her brain. I make a living with my mouth.
In a rare moment of insight, I figured out that a large part of my job is to tell people good things to put in their mouths. I base such recommendations on my experience, namely whatever pleasing things I have chomped down on lately. With that in mind, here is a collection of edible items I have recently given my professional treatment. In other words, here's some good stuff.
One of the best bites I took recently was into a piece of Virginia trout that had been smoked over apple wood. It was boned and ready to serve and came from the Farm at Mount Walden, a fish-smoking operation in the Plains, Va., not far from Warrenton.
It was farm-raised fish. Ordinarily I find fish that have been raised on a farm to be as bland as a Republican tea party.
But this rainbow trout was different. The apple wood gave the fish a distinct flavor. It was as smoky as the sex lives of some Democratic presidential candidates.
Refrigerated and right out of the bag, this smoked trout made a very good appetizer. I put it on crackers with a dab of horseradish-mayo and was happy as a trout fisherman in a fly store.
Instructions on the trout's package also suggested slathering the fish in olive oil or butter and heating it under a broiler. A whole fish, weighing about half a pound, costs close to $6.
The food distributor who handles the product, Gourmeco foods in Northern Virginia, gave the following list of spots in the Baltimore area where the trout is sold:
The Fells Point Coffee and Cheese Co. in the Broadway Market; Cross Street Cheese in the Cross Street Market; both the shop and restaurant side of Harvey's Gourmet Kitchen, 2360 West Joppa Road; and Graul's Market, 7713 Bellona Ave.
The trout, I am told, also shows up from time to time mixed with orzo, the rice-shaped pasta, as a salad at the Milton Inn. But that is not what I put in my mouth the last time I was there. Instead I put some sauteed scallops with saffron cream and wild mushrooms in my mouth and some grilled sweetbreads with sauteed apples.
Later Milton Inn chef Mark Henry filled me in on the lineage of my dinner. The scallops, he said, grew up in Cape Cod, where they were raised in special lantern-shaped nets that keep predators out. Occasionally, demand for the scallops outpaces the supply, so the scallops are not always on the menu, Henry said. But the veal sweetbreads are always with us. They come from the chests of local cattle and are poached before they are grilled.
Another dish that made a happy landing in my mouth was some clams in a marinara sauce. The clams came from New Zealand but found their way to Tio Pepe's restaurant, where these clams, about the size of quarters, received a royal, garlicky treatment.
I also put some corn soup in my mouth. This was not just soup made from corn that grew around the corner. It was historic maize chowder with pueblo sun corn kernels whipped up by Michael Rork and his staff at Harbor Court Hotel. The corn for the soup was shipped in from the Southwest.
The occasion was the annual dinner dance of the Central Maryland Chefs and Cooks Association. It was a feed for chefs on their night off. As I spooned down the soup, I watched the chefs Guy Reinbold of Stouffer's, Tim Barger of the Omni, Linda Anselmi of King's Contrivance restaurant, Audi Rehm, the association's chef of the year, and Vito Piazza, both of Rehm's Caterers, to see what the eating pros did on their night off. They danced and they laughed. And they tasted dishes that symbolized the travels of one of the first guys to go to great lengths to find someplace new to eat, Christopher Columbus.
The chefs ate well. They feasted on artichoke hearts with Spanish ham, pheasant with herbed olive oil from Italy, a sorbet made of tawny port from Portugal, and Idaho stuffed trout with herbs and scallops from America.
The corn soup, or maize chowder, represented the culinary contribution of the Indians, or Native Americans.
These people were here before us. And judging by that maize chowder, some of us are continuing to practice one of the best habits of Native Americans.
We are hunting good things to eat, and putting them in our mouths.