“Maca is coming”
Maca is a root, just like potato, that grows in the Andes of Peru.
It has protein, all the essential amino acids, but what makes it a super food is maca is known to be an adaptogen, which means that it puts everything back to equilibrium. Everyday stress, pollutants, toxic foods, sort of takes you off equilibrium.
What maca does—they don’t know the exact mechanism—it helps to bring everything back to normal levels. It increases your energy, strength, stamina, performance, clear thinking. And in lots of studies on maca it is increasing fertility and also increasing erectile function in men. And it also increases your hunger for sex. That is nature’s Viagra.”
Manuel Villacorta, MS, RD, the Peruvian-born, San Francisco-based, Pichuberry spokesperson and author of “Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes.”
Wining and dining is just fine at screwtop
By Warren Rojas / Photography by James Kim
Ladies, are we hungry or are we just boozing?” one plucky screwtop barkeep pressed a pair of wine-swirling sophisticates mid-flight.
It wasn’t long ago that screwtop founder Wendy Buckley was asking herself that exact same question. And she didn’t really like that there was nowhere that immediately leapt to mind when pondering her sipping and supping needs.
So the former AOL exec did her homework on boutique wine shops, huddled with revered cheese mongers and plumbed family recipes before launching her wine bar/retail concept in December 2009.
The space is compact—the restaurant claims less than a dozen tables, including the communal tables parked amid the wine rack-encased retail section, the serene but seasonal patio setup and the handful of tables opposite the front-and-center bar—but also perfectly welcoming. Although slightly off the main Clarendon drag, I think it’s safe to say screwtop has definitely developed a dedicated—and somewhat surprisingly diverse—following. On any given night you might find yourself: trading tasting notes with a Robert Parker-quoting oenophile, talking sports with chummy businessmen reliving glory days over frosty beers and bubbling-over-with-cheese nosh or joining the gaggles of living-in-the-moment young ladies who have evidently co-opted Laura Linney’s “desserts and liquor” diet from The Big C.
Arlington’s screwtop fields over a dozen rotating flights tagged with clever titles—Every Rose has its Thorn, Spanish Inquisition, Rhone Rangers, Sweet as Zin—as well as circa 30 hand-picked craft brews. Most of the small-batch wines on the master list are available by the glass (around $10 a pop) or are featured in the evolving tasting flights, while the majority of full bottles appear to reside in the $30-$45 neighborhood.
Buckley loves to showcase little-known producers, but refuses to compromise quality for mere quirk. Her catalog ranges from finesse pours like the 2007 Domaine Brusset Gigondas Le Grand Montmirail, a robust Rhone blend that bathes the palate in plum, cassis and blackberry, to locally sourced hard ciders that sweet talk you with green apple but seal the deal with dry (Foggy Ridge’s First Fruit).
Virginia wineries are always in the mix—during one visit we spotted a handful of regional sparklers (Thibaut-Janisson), spunky whites (Linden Vineyards Hardscrabble chardonnay) and fruit-forward reds (Chester Gap Cellars cabernet franc)—even if they, sadly, tend to collect dust.
“I’ve always got people coming in and asking for Virginia wine,” Buckley said of the lip-service paid to the Old Dominion. “It’s a lot of interest … [but] not a lot of purchasing.”
The modest but resourceful kitchen suffers no such indignities.
Buckley brought in an executive chef during her early days, but that toque took a spill just a few weeks into the job and vacated the post shortly thereafter. Rather than stress out over another hiring blitz, Buckley assumed control of the kitchen reins, filling in the blanks with family-style recipes and personal favorites she figured others might enjoy as well.
Stop-gap solutions have thus far included: charcuterie plates graced with locally sourced cheeses (pink peppercorn-studded Caromont Farm chevre and tangy Meadow Creek Farms Grayson come to mind), bison sliders abetted by aged dairy and fresh chutney, gourmet macaroni-and-cheese creations, a “low-country” lasagna and ooey-gooey desserts.
Buckley has since entrusted her culinary vision to chefs Hamid Khatibi, a Moroccan expat tasked with most of the day-to-day duties, and Jimmy Palermo, a Kora veteran who moonlights at screwtop on weekends.
Hand-crafted sandwiches take their cues from the cheese case rather than the slaughterhouse, with herb-laced chevre calling the shots in a roasted chicken and pesto (extra basil-y) collaboration, while red onion compote sounded a sassy refrain.
Tomato tapenade and shaved Parmesan save a potentially pig-heavy production—think: silky mortadella and spicy speck built—from porky overkill, mellowing out the meat carnival while toasted baguette adds serious crunch.
A grown-up soup-and-sandwich combo encapsulates indulgence in moderation. Lusty bacon and aged cheddars get busy beneath pressed panini, the ensuing sandwich retaining its inherent richness without bleeding excess fat.
The signature buffaloaf sandwich was originally modeled on Buckley’s mother-in-law’s meatloaf, but soon took on a life of its own (Buckley swapped ground bison for beef and added crumbled bacon and sun-dried tomatoes to the mix). The resulting slabs of seasoned buffalo arrive studded with onions, swabbed in zesty barbecue sauce, smothered in melted cheddar, blanketed by crispy bacon and pressed between crusty ciabatta.
An ersatz lasagna is actually more like a loosely bound casserole weaving together beer-braised beef, baked noodles, homemade tomato sauce (cubed carrots inject sweetness, simmered tomatoes fling pepper and acid) and jalapeno-pimento cheese.
“I always have jalapeno-pimento cheese handy for snacking,” Buckley said of the spicy staple, adding that she experimented with goat cheese and other dairy for the lasagna, but kept coming back to the zesty spark of her favorite ringer.
Baked French toast shrewdly hardwires cinnamon and nutmeg into the DNA of the underlying bread pudding before frying up the milk-moistened slices. Powdered sugar and maple syrup complete the spicy-sweet loop.
“Excuse me. What’s that?” one awestruck neighbor asks a passing server after she spots the pumpkin bread pudding placed before me.
Don’t get too excited, maam. Once the sprinkled cinnamon and nutmeg were gone, the seasonality abruptly subsided, leaving a pumpkin-less mess drowning in cloying maple syrup.
“Obviously, it’s one of those things that [is] just going to keep evolving,” Buckley said of her menu. “We’re slowly but surely stretching out.”
Hours: Open for lunch Tuesday through Friday, dinner Tuesday through Sunday, brunch Saturday and Sunday.
Prices: Average entree: under $12 ($).
It’s not easy finding the good in February, but we’ll break this cold snap yet.
By Susan Anspach
You can wrap it in a bow, tether it to a puppy or dress it up in an adorable tongue-in-cheek rap that pokes fun at our copious quantities of Starbucks storefronts.
There’s nothing cute about February in Northern Virginia.
But unless you’re one of the few fortunate souls who had enough insight (and squirreled away enough precious vacation days) to jet-set off to a land colonized with teensy drink umbrellas, we’re stuck with it—or rather, in it. Stuck in the vicious downward spiral of a post-manic holiday sugar high. Stuck in the gray swamp of half-melted, car-trundled highway-side snow. Stuck in that no man’s land wedged between bubbly tidings for the new year and an over-eager eruption of cherry blossoms that matches pretty well with our own fervor for spring. Face it, by the time March rolls around, we’re practically giddy with the anticipation of those extra fingers of evening light. That first late afternoon it’s not utterly pitch-black when we exit the office building, it’s all we can do not to windmill through the car lot a la an Alpian Julie Andrews. Or is that just me?
A coping mechanism may be in order.
February, for all its faults, actually does possess a few redeeming qualities. For starters, any day this month is a much better time for reflection than oh, say, Dec. 31. On the brink of a new year, you’re not inclined to give any serious consideration to anything remotely resembling a real resolution. You know those moments preceding a party countdown, watching half of New York squirm in the manner of upright sardines? Those moments are not designed for thoughts along the lines of, Where should my life take me these coming 12 months? and There’s a bigger plan out there for me, but what? Here, I’ll meditate. No. Those moments are for thoughts the likes of, I guess I could probably stand to lose 10 pounds, and, My, this champagne is divine, and, Ooh, a fresh platter of pigs-in-a-blanket!
I’ve long adhered to the conviction that Chinese New Year’s resolutions have a much higher chance of success than regular old Gregorian ones. And, heads up, rabbits: 2011 is your year. Seize the day, anyone born in ’51, ’63, ’75 or ’87. You, too, anyone born in ’99. Hey, if even a single 11-year-old reads this column, power to that 11-year-old. You show those simple equations what you’re made of.
Everyone else, take a cue from any 1990s movie reflections montage. Bundle up for a long (albeit brisk) walk along the Potomac—it’s especially ashen this time of year. Gaze out onto a gorgeous screensaver sunset. Feed, if not the ducks, your parking meter. February is a time to heal.
If none of that cures what ails you, I’ve got a backup plan. When I say February, you say holidays. February! Yeah, holidays. More of them. February’s got oodles. Frankly a ludicrous quantity, when you stop to think about it, and that’s not counting the ones made up solely for economic stimulus, like Bubblegum Day, Peppermint Patty Day and Create-A-Vacuum Day (Feb. 4, for all you doubters). Celebrate with purple beads, presidential top hats and committing the correct spelling of Punxsutawney to memory. (Keep away from those paddies, though. The road to Christmas sugar-high recovery is a long one, but nowhere in the 12-step program does it say anything about defeat.) It’s almost like they thought if they came up with enough shiny proper nouns we’d be distracted from the sheath of ice dropped down upon us nightly, freezing the outside world into a NoVA-shaped popsicle (I wonder what it would taste like? Chicken, maybe, braised with blind ambition). Then again, perhaps the guys upstairs weren’t that far off base. You show me a person who doesn’t admit to getting the tiniest kick out of a day devoted to a Wiccan land-beaver, and I’ll show you a bald-faced liar (who, I’ll wager, can’t spell Punxsutawney to save his life).
Naturally, we used to clump St. Valentine’s Day into February’s laundry list of celebrations—used to festoon our Feb. 14 calendar days with bare-bottomed armies of winged trigger-happy toddlers—but any longer it’s as if we’d just rather sidestep the whole thing. Valentine’s Day: What happened there? Something that started out as a sincere opportunity to communicate affection morphed into a hybrid holiday half-cousin of singles’ animosity guised as girl power. The vigor with which non-couples threw themselves into the backlash of “ironic” singles-awareness festivities was overwhelming and, if we’re being honest, a little off-putting. And now it’s like no one can figure out what to do with Valentine’s at all anymore.
I’ve got a friend whose birthday falls on Feb. 14 (bless her). One year for a gift, a likely well-meaning but woefully ill-executing boyfriend gifted her with a German dictionary. Unwrapped. With the receipt. She said it was a symptom of the relationship going down the tubes. My diagnosis? Holiday paralysis. February blows in, and we freeze under pressure. (Es ist kalt!) These days when it comes to Valentine’s, everything crystallizes into cliche the instant of its invention. Roses? Been there. Bouquet of heart-shaped balloons? Done that. Decapitated Cupid mock-mixer party streamers? That is so 2010. People, it’s time to wipe clean the slate. Follow my lead: cheek-kiss and a card. Cheek-kisses and cards all around.
All right, so it can be tough ice-picking past all of February’s rime. But who knows? Maybe I’ve got you all wrong. Maybe you actually relish the dead of winter and all the, err, opportunity it brings. You may be the type to perform clandestine dances in inverted pajamas each night before tucking a spoon under your pillow with the hope of summoning a torrent of the white stuff. Outside of teachers, though, there must be other folks out there who aren’t resistant to freezing winds, temperatures and precipitation, although I’m having a tough time conjuring up who they could be. Perhaps you’re a snowshoe hobbyist who gets his jollies setting off on a lonely tundra excursion. A marathon runner who sees a weather forecast for sleet and thinks, Hey, free ice bath. Or maybe a guy one Fahrenheit degree short of a de-thaw who relishes plunges of the polar bear variety.
For the rest of us, February can be a hard sell. Even bearing in mind the knowledge that spring really is right around the corner, sometimes it can be hard to spot the silver lining—for lots of reasons, not the least of which is all the other clouds getting in the way. (It’s shocking we don’t have a day devoted to the celebration of stratocumulus. At least it would make sense, which is a heck of a lot more than I can say for the other holidays.)
If all else fails, just remember it’s a short month—and it can’t be worse than last year. Meteorologists agree that can’t happen again for another 150 winters. (Meaning another 300.)
Would it be the worst thing if it did, though?
Avert your eyes, 11-year-old. We’ll wait.
Next time you’re out shopping in Tysons, dining in Reston or strolling about Alexandria, take a look around. Anything seem, if not out of place, a bit unusual? The shops and restaurants are more crowded than they once were, and the patronage is … on the young side. Specifically, those are 3-month-olds staring you back in the face.
Three-month-olds. You do the math.
Go ahead, it’ll be a fun project to kill off the rest of February.
Regulars, GAR owners still treasure Silverado
By Warren Rojas / Photography by James Kim
The neighborhood has undergone a major demographic shift since the original foundation was poured. And its parent company has mushroomed from tightly knit group to burgeoning dining empire.
Even in the shadow of relative obscurity, Silverado endures.
The Southwestern-style restaurant wasn’t Great American Restaurant’s first hospitality venture: that’d be the now-defunct pizza shop the aspiring restaurateurs opened in Fairfax in 1974. But its history makes it special to its operators all the same.
After cutting their teeth on the pizza joint, GAR CEO Randy Norton said he and his partners launched their first “big” restaurant, the family-friendly Fritzbee’s, in 1976. Fritzbee’s, in turn, became Silverado following a wholesale makeover completed in 1996.
“That place is obviously near and dear to our hearts, Norton says of the longstanding Annandale locale, noting that they literally gutted the place—“We tore the place apart. Built a whole new kitchen. Moved the dining rooms around,” he recalls—and started fresh with Silverado.
Or so they thought.
A prominent horseshoe-shaped bar does all it can to offer refuge for tired legs and parched gullets. But extended families appear unwilling to loosen their near stranglehold on every other available seat. And I don’t mean scattered tables hosting late 30-somethings with the single kid they had to placate anxious grandparents/solidify their urban hipster credentials. We’re talking about career breeders. More tables than not appeared to be occupied by families gunning for Brady Bunch-like status (three kids seemed to be the biological ante).
And these aren’t first timers who wandered in off the street. They’re lifers. One GAR hostess began preemptively apologizing to a large party as she ushered them into a booth within the kid-filled side room at the far left of the restaurant, only to be cut short by the family matriarch.
“Oh, we had a wedding shower in here once,” the woman sputtered, pausing for half a heartbeat to close her eyes and possibly relive that joyous occasion. “It was wonderful,” she said after her intrapersonal quantum leap.
Norton suggests that Silverado served as the beta test for Sweetwater Tavern, the similarly-themed, Southwestern-style brewery that would join the GAR family in late 1996. The cowboys-and-Indian décor certainly matches up. And the cooking clearly shares many familiar elements.
The most obvious parallel is Silverado’s once-signature fajitas, which never made the leap to any other GAR menus until they were exported to the Centreville and Merrifield Sweetwater cartes this past September.
Norton suggests that the fajitas didn’t immediately transfer to the original Sweetwater (Merrifield) because management didn’t really want to butt heads with brand new neighbor, Chevy’s. Logistical concerns—including the need for homemade tortillas and additional grill space—delayed the migration after that.
“They have been singular to Silverado for a long, long time. And that’s not like us,” Norton admits of the near decade-long, favored status enjoyed by the fajita originator.
Annandalians have evidently had it pretty good.
The steak fajitas do not disappoint, yielding mouthwatering strips of cooked-to-order beef, grilled onions and blistered jalapenos piled high atop a sizzling cast iron skillet. Warm flour tortillas serve as the canvas for any carnivorous construct of your choosing, while white rice, soupy pintos, raw onions, a shredded Monterey jack-cheddar blend, sour cream, homemade guacamole (very creamy) and zesty pico de gallo can be layered on at will.
The filled-to-the-brim tortilla party continues in soft-sided tacos stuffed with blackened catfish—the freshly-fired filets matted with scorched herbs and cayenne pepper—a chipotle-style aioli (had some kick to it), shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes. Add a squeeze of fresh lime for some bonus sting.
Once hooked by the catfish tacos, I had to know if the kitchen was as adept with other seafood offerings.
Are they ever.
Grilled grouper rides in on a wave of sweet corn- and red pepper-studded polenta, all encircled by a ring of basil oil (keen color, fresh taste) and pierced by a single squiggle of lip-smacking balsamic. Jumbo shrimp are split down the middle, stuffed with jalapeno strips (not explosive hot, but certainly expressive) and Monterey Jack, wrapped in bacon and slathered in sweet hickory barbecue before being paraded across the grill. Although the bacon was inescapably delicious, I really felt like the shrimp—big, fluffy and suffused with smoke—remained the stars of this particular flavor rodeo.
Fried bird gets the nod in a hearty serving of bubble and squeak.
A cakey, home-style buttermilk biscuit serves as the foundation for this breakfast stunner, with the chicken-fried chicken, poached egg and country gravy building excitement with every bite. The epicurean denouement comes once the pierced yolk and thick, lightly peppered gravy converge, dousing every aspect of the dish—the tender chicken breast, thirsty biscuit and seasoned potatoes—in rich, salty release.
The brunch fun doesn’t stop with food either.
The aptly named Texas Tornado very much leapt out of the glass, flooding my taste buds with tart pineapple and orange juices (first swig made me pucker), while a splash of Sprite merely adds fizz.
I wish I could say that the service was as the same “GAR-star” material I’ve experienced at Silverado’s sibling establishments, but things are awfully spotty almost every time I visit.
One server certainly looked the part (crisp shirt, winning smile), but failed to follow up at critical junctures (drink refill requests went unheeded; entrees arrived before the proper silverware had been replaced/delivered).
Another waiter tried TOO hard, overselling appetizers and daily specials (they can’t ALL be your favorite, bub), fawning over our every order (“excellent choice,” he blubbered as we ticked off our desired plates) and altogether coming off as just plain needy.
Should you experience a similar hiccup, make sure to take it up with Silverado managing partner Dustin Ranney—son of GAR partner Mike Ranney (aka the namesake of GAR’s Springfield stronghold, Mike’s American Grill).
Most folks, however, seem perfectly content with the way things have always been.
“It’s by far got the most eclectic crowds we’ve got anywhere,” Norton says of the Fritzbee’s carryovers and newcomers they see every day. “But they’re all comfortable there.”
7052 Columbia Pike, Annandale; 703-354-4560; www.greatamericanrestaurants.com
Hours: Open for lunch Monday through Saturday, dinner daily, late-night dining Friday and Saturday, brunch Sunday.
Prices: Average entree: $13 to $20 ($$).
Polo Grill Fields Old Favorites, Sports Little Ambition
By Warren Rojas / Photography by James Kim
Complacency, it would seem, is the last frayed thread keeping the aged Polo Grill from totally unraveling.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not so mind-blowlingly terrible as to warrant tacking an “abandon all hope, ye who enter here” placard outside the heavy wooden doors facing Route 1.
But both management and the overly forgiving regulars might want to warn newcomers that the restaurant is a mere shell of what it once was. And, let’s be totally honest, it wasn’t all that great to begin with.
Ralph Davis, owner of the local chainlet that controls RT’s, Warehouse Bar & Grill and The Wharf, had a hand in Polo Grill for nearly 20 years. He recalls adding Gunston’s—originally founded by the owner of neighboring American Bar-B-Que—to his budding restaurant portfolio in 1991, and says he quickly set about to rehabbing the interior and sprucing up the menu. The meant adding heartier fare and recycling some Southern-style favorites (she-crab soup, étouffée, jambalaya, pecan chicken) that flew out of the kitchens at his other properties.
Davis soon discovered that the locals weren’t too keen on modernization.
“When we opened, the menu was a little more ambitious. But we found that’s not what the folks down there wanted,” he says of the snapback experienced after that first, ill-fated renaissance. The kitchen eventually returned to more of a burgers- and bar snacks-mix, though a handful of Cajun dishes managed to survive the back-to-basics purge.
The business toddled along for another decade. But by the late 2000s, Davis was ready to refocus his efforts on his brightest stars.
And Polo Grill just wasn’t playing in the same ballpark.
“I didn’t want to put any more time or money into it,” Davis admits of his desire to pare down his hospitality holdings. The obvious need for another round of badly needed cosmetic surgery—“The décor was starting to look long in the tooth,” he suggests—and the arrival of some serious competition (Pane e Vino, Fireside Grill) convinced Davis it was time to divest.
That’s when serial restaurateur Mike Kiros came into the picture.
Kiros, who claims to have 40 years of restaurant experience under his belt, didn’t offer a cogent rationale for turning his back on his previous restaurant—he operated Primo Family Restaurant in Alexandria before moving onto Polo Grill in early 2008—just to seed parts of the same Mediterranean cuisine on another menu, other than muttering something to the effect that he was simply ready for “a new challenge.”
“We knew the restaurant before,” was all Kiros would say about the research and development he and partner Archie Zaro poured into the Polo Grill power grab.
The duo kept the same name and sprinkled some Greek/Italian mainstays in with the Cajun standards.
By all accounts, the place has been cruising on auto-pilot ever since.
Daily specials run the gamut, from spaghetti with meatballs to crab-stuffed flounder over rice to pecan-crusted chicken tucked into a bed of mashed potatoes and blanketed with Creole mustard. Meanwhile, no one cooking technique proves foolproof as evidenced by the disparate results among fried (seafood – good; steak – middling) and grilled (pork – decent; chicken – dull) fare.
The signature spanakopita is one of the few dishes that rises to the occasion every time. I came to depend on those twin wedges of nutrient-rich, sautéed spinach—threaded with egg and cheese, poured into flaky, buttery pastry dough and baked till to its fluffy finest—as comfort food. Particularly after I’d been burned by a seemingly never-ending succession of underwhelming dishes.
Take the chicken souvlaki (please). Whereas its porcine counterpart seems to adequately survive the grilling process—the skewered swine arrives at the table naked save from some striking grill marks (no discernible seasoning), its meat heated till pearl white but still relatively juicy—the cubed bird begs for liquid. Each bite of chicken proves arduous, the flame-licked flesh devoid of any moisture, and even worse, any real flavor.
The culinary neglect extends to the pasta dishes as well.
A sad tangle of noodles advertised as fettuccine alfredo is tragically under-sauced and bizarrely cheese-less (the one place that desperately needs the cover of excess butter and Parmesan chooses to show restraint in both categories). House lasagna is casually slopped onto a plate, effectively destabilizing an already tenuous arrangement so that the wiggly noodles, tomato-based ragout and melted mozzarella progressively slide away from one another as the meal progresses.
An Athenian omelet has no fight left in it. The eggs are greasy and limp. Overcooking robs the shaved gyro meat of any personality, leaving nothing but mournful strips of unforgivably tough and totally wan meat. And don’t even get me started on the deplorable home fries (soggy, bland blobs).
Jambalaya pasta, on the other hand, displays real spirit.
Each bowlful of penne is packed with plentiful rounds of savory smoked sausage, diced chicken breast and puffy little shrimp, all swimming in a vibrant broth (I was at least glad to see that the kitchen’s anti-dairy cheat stance extended to not going the lazy route and merely dousing the jambalaya in zesty cream sauce) predicated upon a reduction powered by chopped celery, onion and green pepper (the so-called Cajun trinity).
Frying up catfish is, apparently, as close as the kitchen comes to perfection. The fish-fry staple gets rolled in cornmeal before hitting the pan, a flavor-enhancing treatment that bestows a golden glow and pleasing crunch to each generously proportioned and flaky filet. Early birds get an extra crack at the feisty fish, as the same crunchy specimens serve as the base for eggs St. Charles. Instead of your basic Benedict platter, the kitchen tops the lightly breaded fish with poached eggs and citrusy Hollandaise. Granted, a few liberal splashes of traditional Tabasco made the dinner-for-breakfast creation that much better, but I’d order the unadulterated version again without reservation.
As he rose to leave, a fellow Polo Grill patron looked at his wife, shrugged and said, “This wasn’t bad.”
Sounds to me like you’ve broken another one’s spirits, Polo Grill.
7784 Gunston Plaza, Lorton; 703-550-0002
Hours: Open for breakfast Sunday, lunch and dinner daily, late-night dining Friday and Saturday.
Prices: Average entree: $13 to $20 ($$).
By Aaron King
Sculptor Alison Sigethy prefers using recycled glass for her pieces—tempered or plate. She says she likes its soft colors. In her exhibition “Understory,” showing this month at the Torpedo Factory’s Art League, Sigethy has transformed materials like solar-panel glass and water-soaked wood into the undergrowth of a forest. In this detail from her piece ‘”Walnut Tree,” pastel fungi pop out as if they were bioluminescent. If exhibitions have morals, “Understory’s” include appreciating overlooked details, Sigethy says.
105 N. Union St., Alexandria; www.torpedofactory.org
Local author turns others’ aspirations into bestselling publications.
By Colleen Sheehy Orme
Have you drafted a manuscript that swept rave reviews from your friends—but now sits coffee-stained and crumpled in a desk drawer? Do you have a really great book idea—but you just haven’t put the pen to paper yet?
David Hazard has spent years coaching writers and helping them transform these rough nuggets into publishable gems. His boutique business, Ascent [www.itsyourlifebethere.com], may well be one of Northern Virginia’s best-kept secrets.
As a publishing consultant and writing coach with 32 years in the business, Hazard has launched the careers of over 200 authors. He has coached everyone from Nobel-nominated peacemakers, to Hollywood celebrities, to political figures, to the undiscovered everyday writer—including the mega-million-selling author Stormie Omartian and the cohost of A & E Channel’s “Intervention,” Jeff VanVonderen.
With exclusive publishing industry ties, Hazard often found himself besieged at cocktail parties, and on soccer field sidelines. (He has three children, all graduates of Loudoun County schools.) Every week, someone would corner him with a familiar request. “I have a great book idea. Do you have a minute?” “My wife wrote a book. Is there a chance you could take a look at it?” “My neighbor has written the next bestseller. Do you think you can get her published?”
Then the proverbial light bulb blinked on. Hazard decided to create what he calls a prep school for writers. “I saw the gap between the writer and the publishing companies getting larger. Writers need to have everything working for them, to be able to break in today,” says Hazard.
“While there are many writing courses available, even the best ones only teach technique. What I do is worlds different. I teach people how to be writers. The difference between teaching and coaching someone how to find their voice, or how to open the creative mind, is what makes the difference between writing that’s good and writing that’s potent—publishable because it has power.”
Hazard entered the field of publishing at 19. “I learned very early on that you should know your industry inside and out or you should get out of it,” he says. He consumed every element of the publishing industry—editorial, marketing, publicity, reading profit and loss statements, dealing with distributors and salespeople, and developing book lines.
When asked what paved his professional path early on, he says, “My first struggle was to unlearn much of what I’d been taught in high school and journalism school. They taught me how to write out of my head. Very dull. It was all about structure and correctness, and not about voice and passion and engulfing your subject until you know, know, know it—the way you digest a new language until you make it yours.”
There is ‘gold out there,’” Hazard says, indicating he means Northern Virginia and the Metro-D.C. area, “but because no one else is finding and cultivating writers who have voice and power it’s just being missed. You can have an idea that’s ‘gold’ but if you don’t know how to work with it—where to get good coaching—it will just get washed down the stream. I help the writer find that gold nugget—the central, potent idea—and then help them shape and deliver it on the page.”
Starting the Ascent writing program was not a big stretch for Hazard, who has spent years developing bestselling lines of books for publishing companies. Publishers would enlist his help to create lines of books and find the author pool to deliver the books, many of which went on to sell a quarter-million or more copies.
They would also enlist his help to salvage a manuscript in need of serious surgery. Hazard was used to either giving birth to a manuscript or performing a major operation on one—earning him an unofficial title often given to writer-editors who perform manuscript heroics to save a company’s investment in a manuscript that doesn’t deliver: a “manuscript doctor.”
“I no longer do manuscript doctoring because of my love for individual coaching. I love seeing writers grow and develop in their craft. I love watching them leap to new skill levels. And I thought, ‘Since the companies no longer budget for editorial time to develop writers, and agents don’t know how to do it—why not create a prep school for them myself?’” he says.
“There are many voices deserving to be heard,” Hazard continues. “The Ascent program takes people who have raw talent and a strong idea and grooms them for the publishing world. If you want to go to Harvard, then you go to Phillips Exeter Academy first. If you are an accomplished regional writer and want to go to the national level, then you’ve got to be schooled for that. I find the person who is the complete unknown and groom them.”
Hazard is easygoing with a lighthearted and happy demeanor, so it’s easy to forget this is a man with a considerable resume. The author of over 30 books published nationally and internationally, his 1984 book, “Blood Brothers,” led to a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for its subject, Dr. Elias Chacour. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who wrote the foreword to “Blood Brothers,” has said, “David Hazard has done us all a great service by bringing the story of Elias Chacour to our attention.”
Hazard brings to his work a rare combination of literary prowess and marketing genius: He is part teacher, part editor, part life coach and part personal motivator. He is, in fact, an industry phenomenon, possessing a rare ability to “see inside” the writer, recognize their gift, and then understand how that gift connects universally with the outside world.
Any given day’s coaching schedule may include: meditation techniques that open up the creative mind; finer techniques of great narrative writing; offering the next suggestions on developing stronger essay skills; and coaching another on how to protect their creative writing time by transferring chores to an unwilling partner or their kids.
“What I do is a combination of developing the person and the idea that’s driving them. It’s all in the interest of mining those potent ideas many of us have, but need help delivering. Sometimes writers don’t even see, themselves, how powerful and important their idea is. That’s where I come in.”
A compelling example is Stormie Omartian’s bestselling book, “The Power of a Praying Woman.” It was Hazard who took Omartian from the exercise guru books she wrote in the 1980s, and discovered her true voice.
In transition and growing bored with writing one more exercise book, Omartian sought Hazard’s help and expressed her desire to move forward in a new literary direction. Hazard “saw in her a deeply spiritual woman whose gift was caring for, and praying for others. She never lets go until her prayers are answered. She’s amazing.”
“As I took time to listen to her, ask her deeper questions, I heard her true passion—which is caring and praying for other people. She won’t stop. But even Christian publishers had dismissed this, believe it or not. I connected this with all the women out there who love and pray for their families, their community, the country. And the title, ‘The Power of a Praying Woman’ jumped into my head.”
“I said, ‘Stormie, this is your next book.’ And in 10 minutes, we had an outline scribbled on a napkin.”
Over 11 million copies later, Stormie’s success boldly demonstrates Hazard’s ability to find the writer’s true voice and help them create their work in the strongest way possible.
“David has rare insight, and he could see that prayer was, and is, the great passion of my life. That first huge bestseller launched the whole series that came after,” says Omartian.
“I’m fortunate in that I have a native sense of what connects and what the common human denominator is,” says Hazard. I dig to a certain level. Then I know I have struck pay dirt, and I have found the idea that will connect with a given writer’s audience.”
Jeff VanVonderen, author and co-host of “Intervention” is another of Hazard’s clients.
“Jeff was doing some counseling books that sold very well,” says Hazard. “But when I was able to sit down with Jeff—really listen ‘into’ him, as I put it, I found he has an uncanny ability to see the core issue of someone’s problem—especially when they’re dealing with an addiction. Jeff could zero in and put his finger on the root cause of their problem.”
“I said to Jeff, ‘If I needed an intervention I wouldn’t want you there because you would go right to the problem and know how to help the person solve it. This is really the core of who you are. It’s what you do best.’”
“David Hazard was the editor on my first three books, and his work went much deeper than the normal editing process,” says VanVonderen.
He understood me, and helped to develop each manuscript from its core concept. This made my writing, and each book, much stronger. Undoubtedly, this helped open doors to my career in television.”
With his obvious ability to take a raw idea and make it more valuable, coupled with an ability to take something unpublishable and turn it into something great, Hazard can help change the course of a writer’s career path.
Ascent has become known for its unique and comprehensive approach to cultivating the writer as a whole person. Ascent’s intent is to “Help you live your life—your one amazing life—better.” Its tag line conveys a sense of importance Hazard feels about helping writers find and live out of their core vision: “It’s your life. Be there.”
So, who finds their way into Hazard’s workshops and mentorship program?
“I am looking for the person who really wants to roll up their sleeves and learn the craft. The person I work best with is the person who comes in and has a concept and possibly some rough writing, and what they really need first is for someone to help them identify its core idea—its potency.”
“Sometimes people contact me and say, ‘I know how to write, and I have a finished manuscript. I just want someone to edit for me.’ There are editorial services everywhere to help with that. Too often, unfortunately, those writers are not open to the real fundamental help they need. It’s the writer who’s not afraid of the learning curve that becomes successful. And the person who is ready for that kind of coaching is the person I work best with.”
In his Ascent program, Hazard has developed a creative path for the writer.
“First, I work to find the core idea, then voice, then technique. That’s the way to develop power, and powerful writing is what connects with publishers and the reading audience. So I start by exploring the question, ‘Who is this person?’ That’s the basis of great coaching and talent development in any field.”
Hazard’s own mentors were multi-million selling authors. They challenged him, he says, “because they cared less about sales than about developing the life of the writer—the habits of being that form the writer. Immersion in the craft. Immersion in the area of interest. Immersion in voice. When I began in publishing, editorial ruled the companies. From the mid-1980s on, marketing has ruled. And more’s the pity.”
Dan Sheehan of Great Falls is a Marine who flew Cobra helicopters in Iraq. “I went to combat, did two tours and moved past everything. I did not think I was carrying anything with me. Then I was surprised by something that happened in my life and realized I needed to gain perspective.”
With this impetus for his book, Sheehan began working with Hazard. “I knew more about what I didn’t want my book to be than what I wanted it to be. It’s been amazing to go through this process. The difference between what I had written is night and day. What I wrote before had importance to me, but it didn’t have the importance to others. David understands the nuances of what I am trying to do and is very good at giving me help when I need it.”
Hazard finds his greatest satisfaction discovering and launching the everyday person “who just has a solid idea and needs help delivering it on paper, so they’re ready for the challenge of breaking into publishing. My main love is coaching. I love the craft of writing, and I love to transfer the two skill-sets writers need: the writer’s life; the writer’s techniques.”
In the exclusive and elusive publishing industry, Hazard is offering the golden ring to aspiring writers who are willing to work hard at their craft and learn from a literary prophet.
Hazard’s fees vary depending upon the project—from one-time consultations to contract reading, intensive workshops or 10 months of coaching.
By Aaron King
The history of bunions is one of shame and incapacitation. But this embarrassing problem is bringing one local doctor a lot of notoriety.
A new bunion surgery is being practiced in Northern Virginia to notable success. The surgery’s inventor, Steven Neufeld of The Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Center in Falls Church, has labeled it “revolutionary” since it slashes recovery time by weeks and has patients on their feet in days. The surgery owes its success to the Ludloff Plate, a metal transplant designed by Neufeld to straighten out key bones of the foot.
A bunion is the bump that grows on a big toe when it points inward toward the other toes for an extended period. Bunions are often genetic, but are especially common in women who wear high heels on a regular basis. Some bunions can grow painfully large, cause embarrassment, and even impede mobility. Bunionoscopies have advanced little since their inception and are decidedly inefficient. According to Neufeld, “Many bunion patients have avoided surgery for years because the traditional procedure requires the patient to stay off the foot for six weeks with very limited use of crutches; patient morale is often low. The casts cause surrounding muscles to atrophy. Before the development of the Ludloff Plate, if a patient walked on their foot before six weeks, it was extremely painful, and their surgical results could be lost.”
Neufeld, originally an engineer before becoming an orthopedist, designed the implant by studying which metals interacted best with human tissue.
Young scholar shines and gives comics fans hope for the future.
By Buzz McClain
The funnies just aren’t funny. Not anymore. And they haven’t been funny in years.
Take a look at today’s comics pages in whatever newspaper is nearby. In the Washington Post you might get a silent brain-chuckle or two out of its two pages of comic strips, but with 40 of them, counting two that run elsewhere in the paper, that’s not a big laugh-to-comic ratio.
“Garfield”? The lazy lasagna-eating cat sold out to Hollywood. “Frank & Ernest”? Frankly, unfunny. “Hagar the Horrible”? Well, at least they got the adjective right.
“Blondie” is reliably flat despite her 80-year-old hourglass figure, “Beetle Bailey” gets lamer by the day, much less the decade. “Baldo,” “Curtis” and “Baby Blues” haven’t been cute in months.
And then there’s “Family Circus,” so bad it’s immortalized in the movies, from the 1999 indie film “Go!”: “And it’s always there, in the lower righthand corner, just waiting to suck.”
And it never lets you down.
Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes” and Gary Larson’s “The Far Side” still selling briskly as desk calendars and, in Calvin’s case, a truck decal depicting him urinating on a rival truck’s logo, but those two standard-bearers left the fairway wide open, and no one can hit it. “Doonesbury” is the only viable holdover that still works.
“Are they getting lamer or is it [that] you’re getting accustomed to it?” asks Josh Fruhlinger. “But people read them. There’s an audience that thinks comics are for kids, but the vast majority who read them are adults who have been reading them for years out of habit or nostalgia, and a very small portion of them are obsessed, and that makes up most of the readership of my site.”
Fruhlinger blogs at “The Comics Curmudgeon,” a whimsical website with the tagline: “Making the funnies funnier since 2004.” That’s the year his quips to his wife about “Mary Worth” in the Baltimore Sun over breakfast turned into a daily moment of online mirth for a loyal cadre of like-mined comic mockers. He also blogs about comics for Wonkette. (He reads “Crock” so you don’t have to, he says.)
One problem, he thinks, is the longevity of the strips. And not just longevity, but these things continue to appear well after the creator is actually dead. Johnny Hart and Brant Parker died in 2007 but “The Wizard of ID” magically carries on. Hart’s “B.C.” continues as well. “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz died in 2000, and the strip has been in reruns ever since.
In some cases, genetically-inferior offspring and long-suffering assistants take over and bring down the quality.
“It’s weird,” Fruhlinger muses. “A strip can be handed down to children and grandchildren like a medieval duchy. I can’t think of another industry [in which] you can do that.”
“The theory is it’s older readers who stick with print newspapers and younger readers, you hear it louder and louder, they’re not even bothering picking up a newspaper,” says Michael Cavna, an editor and comics blogger at The Washington Post. “So the conventional wisdom is, well we better keep the same old comics because that keeps our older readers happy. Younger readers will find us digitally or not at all.”
And he’s got a point. Whenever a newspaper drops a comic strip—or even moves it to another page—editors hear from loyal long-time subscribers who are used to finding their favorite panel in the same place each morning. Mess with it at your own peril. “Over the years,” says Cavna, who had his own syndicated strip for eight years (“Warped”), “I’ve learned there’s something that appeals to someone.”
There are bright spots: Dilbert’s insightful “The Office”-like commentary, “Mutts’” old-fashioned animal gags, “Lio’s” post-modern pantomine, “Candorville’s” brave forays into cultural criticism. But after 116 years of published comics, this is the best you can do?
Comics punchlines don’t work well without the art, but here goes anyway:
“Lesser-known works of Frank Lloyd Wright” depict various “falling” structures; Icarus flies into the top line of the cartoon panel; a female Cubist painting comments on another, “Oh, she’s definitely had work done”; “CSI: Ancient Rome”; “And that was the moment I knew I just wasn’t cut out to be a vampire”; “Do you have difficulty reading small print in comics? Try Laseye. We don’t bribe cartoonists.”
Meet “Imogen Quest,” a strip named for an obscure Evelyn Waugh character, and a guaranteed daily brain-chuckle. The gags belong to Olivia Walch, a sweet, cherub-cheeked smart aleck who draws her panels in a distinctive, non-traditional, post-modern style. What’s it called?
“You could call it Walch-esque, or Walchistic,” says Walch, following her joke with a quick giggle. She effortlessly whips a pen around her Bamboo Fun drawing pad to render a few lines that eventually take the shape on her computer screen of a human face. Sort of. Cavna calls it “metahumor,” in which the gag is part of the gag.
“It’s meta-something,” Walch agrees. “It is pretty metaphysical considering there’s an eyeball floating about two inches from her head; that shouldn’t occur according to physics. Something’s wrong there.” Giggle.
When she’s on break from the College of William and Mary where she is a senior Murray Scholar (tres impressive), Walch, 21, lives with her parents in Fairfax Station. Her father, Mark, is a former architect who now has a company creating software to help computers read print and handwriting. Her mother Sharon teaches technology to elementary school students in Prince William County. Her 16-year-old brother Henry is a sophomore at Lake Braddock Secondary School.
Walch was the youngest contestant and the only female finalist in the Post’s “America’s Next Great Cartoonist Contest” last year. Some 500 would-be great cartoonists sent in comics. She entered the competition from Oxford University in England, where she was on a 10-week exchange, and, according to Cavna, was informed that she’d won in New York “while taking a summer biology course at a molecular lab.” Of course.
Her prize, besides the acclaim, was a thousand smackeroos and a juicy placement of her “Imogen Quest” strip next to Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” and Richard Thompson’s superb “Cul de Sac” (both artists were judges) on the second page of Style for the month of September.
While it’s presumed the other 499 entrants in the contest were looking for a break into the big time to launch full-time cartooning careers, Walch was not. Well, not exactly.
Her real loves are her double majors. Math and Biophysics. She enjoys multiplying massive matrices to see if she can get them to be symmetrical and commutable. It’s like Sudoku for brainiacs.
She gave up rowing with the crew team, leading the campus recycling program and appearing in a campus TV comedy show so she could focus on raising her 3.8 to something more like the 4.0-plus (yes, plus) she received at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, where she played euphonium, trombone and tuba in the marching band. “I’ve gotten A-minuses and a B-plus. I shed many a tear,” she says of her first non-A or A-pluses. “Electronics is hard.”
But, as she shops for graduate schools, this year for fun she’s started a ukulele club (a new instrument for her) with 30 members and she has not given up her editorial cartoon in the school’s The Flat Hat newspaper, which she began as a freshman on a whim. (As for a boyfriend, she giggles, “Oh, left and right. Had three last week. It’s what I do.” She’s being sarcastic, or covering her tracks—we can’t be sure—but she’s probably being sarcastic.)
Her success in cartooning has given the stellar scholar a problem as perhaps as challenging as solving Riemann’s Hypothesis or finding the n’th prime number: What if there’s a future in cartooning? What if a national syndicate makes her an offer? Can that compare to a career as a math research scientist?
“I came to college knowing I wanted to do science of some kind,” she says, finishing up a doodle at her parent’s dining room table. “I was invited to do research in mathematics, and I found that I really, really, really loved it. Partially because you can do research in mathematics wherever you are. For instance, I can do mathematics research in my bed, with some music playing, with ‘The West Wing’ on my TV, whereas with biology you have to be in the lab.” (She says “lab” in a monotone.) “Mathematics research is very flexible and very creative. All science is pretty good, but with math you definitely have more flexibility.
“So I was like, ‘All right, I want to be a mathematician,’ and that’s been my plan ever since.”
But cartooning . . . can that even be a career these days? And can you do that and something else? Cavna, for one, has managed dual duties in the past.
“I rode the twin horses of journalism and cartooning, one leg on each horse, and as long as they didn’t ride too far apart, I’d be fine,” he says. “To her, cartooning seems to be a joy, and I don’t see any reason, given how naturally this humor comes to her, that if she were to do it, she wouldn’t necessarily have to give up something else.”
Industry critic Fruhlinger offers this: “If I was trying to start a comic today I’d start with a Web comic; I would not bother with the syndicates. There’s a whole wave of people doing Web comics who are artist-entrepreneurs and there are lots who live off of Web comics.”
“Olivia doesn’t have to decide now,” Cavna says. “She’s just 21, she’s got energy, she’s got ideas.”
“I have no idea how syndicators think,” Olivia offers. “I don’t have great expectations, and I don’t think many grad schools are going to say, ‘So you’re going to draw cartoons while trying to make a Ph.D.? That’s not happening.’”
But . . .
“But I think a lot of my future will depend on how the cartoons are received, and [we’ll] see how graduate school applications go.”
“Illigitimus non carborundum”
By Abigail Fazio
Local stores in Northern Virginia and neighboring states house JJ Singh’s unique jewelry collection. Her collection of jewelry is ornate and beautiful, but each stone also carries its own personal story.
Singh reveals that she draws inspiration from many sources; however, her father is the driving force behind her “Latin Lover” collection. When Singh was frustrated as a little girl, her father would often answer with a Latin phrase, “Illigitimus non carborundu.” When she asked what it meant, he would always answer, “Look it up.” An adolescent at the time, of course she had better things to do.
Now in adulthood, her father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and she has become reflective of their memories together. After 30 years, Singh looked it up.”Illigitimus non carborundum “is a Latin phrase that means “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” She felt that this quote could not be more fitting for the frustration her family felt with the disease, and also her love for grinding and creating jewelry.
“Jewelry is what I love to do, and my work is symbolic of my life,” says Singh. Her collection started as a personal endeavor, “a way for me to carry my story,” adds Singh. Other people started asking questions about her jewelry, and her collection started to develop from there. People would ask her, “Can you do this phrase? Can you create this story?” Her business grew on its own, because it became personal for other people as well.
People often want a necklace or bracelet to represent their journey. Perhaps people wear it for the memory, for love or hope—one way or another, reminding them of what is really important in their lives.
JJ Singh’s jewelry can be found in stores in the District, Maryland and Virginia such as Mystique in Old Town Alexandria. (211 The Strand, Old Town Alexandria). Although she receives business through her stores, most clients contact her directly. She also participates in festivals, like the McLean art festival that occurs every October.
Singh’s passion for creating jewelry now goes hand-in-hand with teaching jewelry making. “I really, really enjoy teaching,” says Singh. She has taught classes at the Great Falls School of Art with classes such as Made in Metal I and II.
Redesign is an in-person process. Singh works directly with people who bring her their old jewelry, to have it redesigned into something modern and trendy. Often, a stone or necklace will be brought in that is emotionally significant to that person. “This is an emotional connection [to] the past. So our goal is to maintain the jewelry, just enhance its beauty,” says Singh.
Jewelry has been something that Singh has wanted to do ever since she was young. She enjoys how creating jewelry requires both your left and right brain. “It combines science and art, and I love the process the stones go through to get to the end result,” says Singh.