Posts Tagged ‘Vienna’

Okra Deconstructed

Forget the slime and Southern stereotypes, there’s more to okra than Ghostbusters references and Paula Deen. —Stefanie Gans

Okra, the misunderstood delicacy.

Photo courtesy of JIANG HONGYAN/


Dr. Peter Venkman’s World
“When you hear okra, for me, you immediately think Southern,” says Brys Stephens. For others, though, they think slime. In his debut cookbook, The New Southern Table,” the Alabama native dedicates his first chapter to the slender green vegetable and shows off okra in worldly preparations: with tomatoes and feta (Greek), cumin and chickpeas (Indian) and shoyu and wasabi (Japanese).

“It’s quirky and misunderstood,” says Stephens, and “there’s the slime thing that people worry about.” To avoid okra’s goo, Stephens recommends buying small pods, using dry, hot cooking methods for a short time (like roasting or grilling), and soaking it in a salt-vinegar solution to maintain a firm texture.

Long and slow recipes, like gumbo, take advantage of okra’s inner mucilage. By adding thinly sliced okra at the beginning of the recipe and “cooking it ‘til it’s literally blasted apart,” says Stephens, the okra will help thicken the stew just as a roux would. Just don’t cook it slow and wet to a pale green, says Stephens: it’ll “taste like canned asparagus.”



Peppered-up classic
It takes seven different types of peppercorns to create the seasoning for Johnny Ray’s fried okra. At his almost year-old Herndon restaurant, Johnny Ray’s Sultry Soul Food, Ray grinds each type of peppercorn to a specific consistency, from extra fine to extra coarse. “I love everything that’s peppery,” says Ray, who bases his cornmeal-battered fried okra on his grandmother’s recipe. “I have to remind myself that not everyone loves pepper as much as I do.”



Like candy
Tim Ma’s Thai okra started on Maple Ave Restaurant’s menu when it opened four years ago. But okra wasn’t Ma’s first attempt at a fried snack. He tried shredded cabbage, but the strands kept slipping through the fry basket. It was, he says, “the biggest fail.” So Ma, and his wife and co-owner Joey Hernandez, brainstormed about what else would caramelize well. They experimented with okra because it turns very sweet—right before it reveals itself as very bitter—when fried. What makes this cult favorite dish something Ma says, “he can’t take off the menu,” is its sugary coating cut with limes, Thai chilies and fish sauce. The dressing is a riff on the sauce served with crispy spring rolls at Ma’s favorite (mostly because of proximity) Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Thang Long. The okra tastes candy-like and, says Ma, “it’s the most surprising dish” at his Vienna restaurant.

(July 2014)

Fourth of July Events in Northern Virginia

Posted by Editorial / Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

By Jessica Godart

Looking for the best time this Independence Day? This round-up of NoVA festivals and fireworks range from Circus shows to ’80′s themes and contests and more. Celebrate America’s big day the way you want with your pick of celebrations.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Payne.

Independence Day Celebration

Starting off with a morning parade at 10, Historic Downtown Leesburg will celebrate America’s birthday with American Originals Fife and Drum Corps and plenty of walking participants ranging from dancers to classic cars and a roller derby group.

Twisting it up this year, the town will also be spinning by to ’80’s with their themed banners, music, signs and bright atmosphere. Eighties tribute band, The Breakfast Club, will be performing Friday evening in Leesburg as part of the celebrations. The band is known for their embodiment of the MTV generation in the decade. Festival goers are encouraged to dress as retro as they can to participate in the theme.  

A food court of festival favorites such as ice cream, grilled food, sweets and funnel cakes will also be set up during the celebration. Music will begin at 6:30 p.m. followed by fireworks at 9:30 p.m.

Fourth of July Celebration
25 West Market Street
Leesburg, 20176


Fireworks and Romance

Set up for couples who would like to celebrate the anniversary with a little mood lighting, Mansion Lawn at Morven Park will be lit up for the fourth. Catering by Vintage will provide light snacks and refreshments for visitors as they set up blankets and chairs throughout the lawn.

Fireworks and Romance
Morven Park
17263 Southern Planter Ln.
Leesburg, 20176



Photo courtesy of Herndon Parks and Recreation Dept.

Herndon’s Fourth of July Celebration

Old Town Herndon is known for its big celebrations, and the Fourth of July is no exception. Starting at 6:30 p.m., kids, parents and friends will have the chance to take part in free face painting, bingo, crafts and more at Bready Park. The Plaids Band begins playing at 7 p.m. as festival food and drinks will be arranged for attendees.

The celebration is meant for all ages, and this year Herndon will not only be celebrating Independence Day but will also be hosting the grand opening of the new playground in Bready Park.

Fireworks will begin at dark and are uniquely choreographed to music.

Pyrotechnics company, Zambelli Fireworks, will be choreographing the firework show to music selected by staff at the Herndon Community Center. Rock music mixed with patriotic grooves will be in sync with the fireworks to the point where some of the shapes of the explosives go along with the lyrics to the songs.

Old Town Herndon Celebration
814 Ferndale Ave.
Herndon, 20170


Historic Manassas Celebrate America

Watermelon, apple pies and fireworks – oh my! Historic Manassas will host an evening of competitions and celebration as the sun goes down and attendees prepare for fireworks.

Located in the area surrounding the train depot, Harris Pavilion and Manassas Museum, the part starts at 4 p.m. and goes till 10 p.m. with an explosion of fireworks lighting the sky at 9:15 p.m.

If sitting around and waiting isn’t your style, register today for the apple pie-baking contest; the top three winners will receive a gift card from Historic Downtown Manassas (First place- $100, Second place – $75, Third place – $50). There will also be a watermelon eating contest at 5 p.m. in the pavilion where hungry celebrators will chow down till there’s only one winner left.

For kids less interested in the sweets or fruits, they can decorate their bikes in red, white and blue and prizes will be given out for best decorations.

With a great, open area historical Manassas will light up just right to show off its beauty as the nation celebrates the Fourth.

Old Town Manassas Fireworks
9431 West St.
Manassas, 20110



Vienna Fourth of July Celebration

Photo courtesy of Vienna Park and Recreation Department.


Vienna Festival and Fireworks

From pooches to antique car, the Vienna Community Center will be full of activities as they ring in the Fourth. Starting at 11 a.m., the festival will feature the Vienna Community Band, arts and crafts, chili cook-off, a car show, one-ring circus and not to mention the Pooches on Parade.  Pets will be dressed in costumes and paraded proudly through Caffi Infield. This will only be the second year the puppy parade has come to the festival, but the parade will offer a wading pool and sprinkler set up specifically for the pooches.

The Old Bay Circus Show will be performing for the first time at the festival. A great family-oriented show, the circus was brought to the festival with the children that attend in mind.

The fireworks scheduled to set off at 9:15 p.m. will be located at Southside Park, a short bike ride or drive from Vienna Community Center.

July 4th Festival and Fireworks Show
120 Cherry St SE
Vienna, 22180

4 Ways to keep your Kids educated and occupied this summer

By Jessica Godart

Avoid the brain drain with some educational but fun activities to take part in with your kids this summer.

Center for the Arts at the Candy Factory

Photo courtesy of Louise Noakes.

From acting to crafting to dancing and singing, the Center for the Arts features dozens of programs specified for kids this summer. Acting classes include a litany of options such as technical and sound design, auditioning, Broadway, stage lighting and more. For those more vocal with their talents, there are individual coaches available and voice-training seminars.

Perhaps art is more your style? Learn to draw everything from flowers to critters. Or maybe you prefer the digital age? Digital imaging, cartooning and media mash-ups classes are all on the list. Beginner drawing classes, storybook art, pastels, jewelry, even photography and Photoshop courses are offered.

For a more mature crowd still looking to avoid the brain drain, learn a new dance such as West Coast Swing dancing or ballroom style – if you’re prepping for a wedding perhaps the ballroom dancing prep session made especially for wedding season is more your style.

Something for everyone can be found at the art center and you can find a list of classes and their prices here.

 Center for the Arts at the Candy Factory
9419 Battle St.
Manassas, 20110


Reston Zoo

Located off of Hunter Mill Road in Vienna, the zoo offers wagon rides, a petting area, a reptile house and so much more. As kids interact with the animals, they are taught about each one and learn interesting facts with hands-on experience. During the wagon ride, kids and parents have the opportunity to experience a safari-type escapade while mingling with antelope, zebra, ostrich and camels. Throughout the tour, a guide narrates what the kids are seeing and provides tidbits about each animal.

Ticket prices and zoo hours can be found here.

Reston Zoo
1228 Hunter Mill Road
Vienna, 22182



Claude Moore Colonial Farm

Photo courtesy of

Get the full 18th century experience with your kids as they travel back in time to 1771, when life was just a little bit simpler. The Claude Moore Colonial Farm features several educational programs specifically designed to teach kids farm skills, how to live like a colonial settler. For children ages 10-17, there is a volunteer program where they will take on the role of a child in the 18th century, complete with period outfit and chores to provide upkeep of the farm.

On July 19 and 20, parents and kids also have the opportunity to join the farm for their Summer Colonial Market Fair. During the fair, there will be merchants selling period toys and clothes, fencing lessons, hands-on crafting and even the chance to make a candle with just a wick and wax. Period food and music are also available as families relax in an 18th century atmosphere.

Check out the calendar of events for details and links for prices.

Claude Moore Colonial Farm
6310 Georgetown Pike
McLean, 22101



Sully Plantation

The Sully Plantation Historic Site hosts living history events throughout the summer ranging from the Revolutionary War to World War II. With kid-friendly events such as a hand-sewing workshop and ice cream making, the plantation provides entertainment for the entire family.

On July 12 and 13, WWII camps will be set up throughout the site with portrayed soldiers and civilians performing different jobs during the war. With the price of admission, parents and kids will be able to experience life in the 1940s in a real WWII camp site and also take a tour of the Sully House at the plantation.

 Sully goes back even further in time on Aug. 16 and 17 with the Civil War Encampment Weekend. Watch federal and Confederate troops as they re-enact battles and meet them as they portray what camp life was like 150 years ago. Also including a house tour with price of admission, the site will host artifacts belonging actual residents of the plantation in the mid-19th century.

Click here for details and prices on workshops and living history days.

Sully Plantation
3650 Historic Sully Way
Chantilly, 20151


Hungry For Linkage: BLT & Fried Chicken Doughnut Sandwich + VA Chef David Guas Stars in Travel Channel’s ‘American Grilled’ + Beer Money

Posted by Editorial / Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Photo Courtesy of Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken

By Ariel Yong

The fried chicken BLT on a doughnut has arrived. Find it at Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken truck in Crystal City today. 

David Guas, owner and chef of Arlington‘s Bayou Bakery is the host of the new show American Grilled. The 13-episode season debuts tonight on the Travel Channel.

Alexandria’s Food Truck Registration Kick Off Event is tomorrow.

The future of barbecue lies in past traditions. [NPR]

Three new restaurants head to Falls Church. [FCNP]

Taylor Gourmet opened its Ballston location yesterday. It’s the chain’s ninth storefront. [Eater]

Looking for 4th of July plans for Friday? Celebrate with a chili cook-off and a circus show in Vienna. [Vienna Patch]

The average American spends $350 on beer a year. [Yahoo]

Six Summer Kids Events That Don’t Include the Pool

Posted by Editorial / Monday, June 30th, 2014

By Emily Rust

School’s out, the pool’s already getting old and the kids’ summer boredom has set in.  To change up the routine, hit these local events in between Fourth of July parades and festivals.


National Geographic Kids Club
July 1, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

Even indoors, insects rule this month’s kids club. For a shopping break, Bob the Bug Man will help children wrangle up bugs using a bug net and magnifying glass. Snacks, music, a bug themed story and games will help children learn more about creepy crawlies.  Insider tip: To hear about more kids events, register for free online. Show your membership card to the Concierge Desk to receive a free Tysons Corner Center Balloon. / Bloomingdale’s Court Level One, Tysons Corner Center; 1961 Chain Bridge Road, McLean; free


Taratibu Youth Association

Taratibu Youth Association. Photo courtesy of Wolf Trap.

Taratibu Youth Association
July 3, 10:30 a.m.

The Maryland-based youth dance company performs hip-hop, modern and traditional African dance, teaching children about African and African-American culture. Ranging in age from 11 to 18, dancers combine vocal performances with dance. Their Wolf Trap performance will include a new Taratibu piece that encourages audience participation. / Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods, Wolf Trap; 1551 Trap Road, Vienna; $8


Parent/Child Arts and Crafts Workshop
July 5, 10 a.m.-noon

If you’re already tired of the oppressive summer heat, remember the days of winter chill with “Winter in July” themed crafts.  Little ones will decorate paper plates with scenes of Santa’s summer vacation and artist Pat Mcintyre will help them turn their creations into snowglobes.  / Reston Art Gallery & Studios; 11400 Washington Plaza West, Reston; free


Patty Shukla

Patty Shukla. Photo courtesy of Jammin Java.

Patty Shukla Kids Music
July 5, 10:30 a.m.

With six music apps, 5 CDs and more than 77,000 YouTube subscribers, Patty Shukla is ready to keep children entertained. Her interactive performance and upbeat songs will keep your keeps awake on Saturday morning. / Jammin Java; 227 Maple Ave E, Vienna; $8


Kids Fishing Clinic
July 5, 11 a.m.

Bring a fishing pole and head out to the Occoquan Reservoir, to learn the basics of fishing. Children will learn about different types of fish and how to adjust their fishing rods accordingly. Later on, families can rent boats or hit the trail and bike beginner, intermediate and advance loops. / Fountainhead Regional Park; 10875 Hampton Road, Fairfax Station; free, reservations required


The Ice Queen
July 5, 1 p.m.

For fairytale lovers, this original play follows the story of the Ice Queen’s quest to find love including trouble with Jack Frost along the way. / Workhouse Arts Center; 9601 Ox Road, Lorton; $9-12

Look Before You Fetch: Dog Park Etiquette

By Elke Thoms

Dog Park etiquette

Photo courtesy of Stanimir G.Stoev/

It’s difficult enough to remember that you need exercise after sitting at a desk all day, and if you have a furry friend waiting for you at home, they need some calorie-burning, too.

Luckily, the weather is warm and there are plenty of dog parks around. Visit one, and your dog can get the workout they want, and you can tell yourself that standing outside and checking your phone while your pup plays counts as exercise. 

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Vienna’s Caboose Brewing Company Delayed Until Late Summer

Posted by Editorial / Friday, May 30th, 2014


Caboose Brewing Company.

Photo courtesy of Matt Greer.

By Ariel Yong

Bringing “good beer” to Vienna is going to have to wait.

Matt Greer was set to open his hybrid gastro-pub and brewery, Caboose Brewing Company, next month but due to permit issues, he is now looking at a late August or early September opening.

“It’s mostly just the approval process for building permits,” Greer says. “We got stuck in a queue with the town of Vienna. They just have a special way of doing things.” Greer chose Vienna to open his brewery because he didn’t want Whole Foods to be the only place to get a good beer with his friends.

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Venturing Strange Terrain

Seasoned journalist Tom Shroder waxes hip on provocative subjects.

By Helen Mondloch • Photography By Aaron Spicer

Tom Shroder

Photo by Aaron Spicer.

In his personal narratives, Tom Shroder sometimes comes across as an old worry wart—a self-proclaimed “geezer” who frets over mortal dangers and, sometimes, peculiar annoyances.

Yet, at the Amphora Restaurant in Vienna, where the writer is sipping a cup of hot tea to shake off the bitter cold of a winter afternoon, it’s possible to imagine him as his younger, lighter self, maybe because of his easy smile and small, slim build, or because he waxes hip on a wide range of provocative subjects.

A calm-spoken 59-year-old with a graying beard, Shroder is not the man you might have expected, especially if you’ve been reading his edgier ruminations—like the Washington Post travel piece in which he devotes the first eight paragraphs to the various perils he might encounter while kayaking in the Florida Everglades, everything from back spasms to homicidal mosquitos. Or the article about his family’s Christmas vacation in Spain, which begins with his recollections of a near-desperate desire to escape another holiday season filled with plastic reindeer and tortuous rituals, urgency suggestive of a minor mid-life crisis. (Among his treasured memories of the landscape in the Spanish town of Ronda: “Not a reindeer in sight.”) Then there are the angst-filled passages of “Old Souls,” his chronicle of children with past-life memories. The book follows Shroder’s extraordinary journey with Dr. Ian Stevenson, a University of Virginia psychiatry professor who studied the phenomenon for decades. Together they travel to the Third World in pursuit of subjects, encountering extreme road hazards and the threat of contagion. Contrasted by the aging scholar’s unflappability, Shroder’s suppressed anxieties become a humorous motif in an otherwise serious and compelling study of reincarnation.

After a nearly thirty-five year career as an author and journalist, including a decade at the Washington Post, Shroder clearly enjoys the chance to reflect on the writing life and the vital role of narrative nonfiction, a genre he has passionately embraced since his earliest days at the keyboard. He wanders comfortably between the far-flung topics he has probed in his books and articles, both those he has authored and those he has edited—among those topics, the oil industry, psychedelic drugs, even quantum physics.

Given what he calls the “visceral interest” he takes in such heady matters, it’s no wonder that Shroder recalls being a pint-size scientist starting in elementary school. His second grade teacher would cancel the weekly science pod—a hands-on lesson on some living organism like the spider or the cactus plant—on days when young Shroder was absent. As a little boy he agonized over what he’d be when he grew up. “I couldn’t decide between dinosaur scientist or space scientist,” he says with a breezy shrug.

That this budding savant of science ended up as a writer may likewise seem surprising, especially considering the rich, literary style of his prose. With a hard-hitting blend of voice, imagery and suspense, not to mention penetrating sidelights on the human condition, Shroder’s work often reads like fine fiction. And yet the science-loving brainiac is alive and well, evident in the methodical parsing and probing of some enigma—a search for truth clearly rooted in a bold rationalism.

His stories range from the comic to the tragic to the poignantly tragicomic. Some of the territory he ventures into is downright scary. Even the most lighthearted are somehow provocative. His work has the power to pierce sensibilities, maybe even reshape perspective on the universe.
Sea crashes and strange territory

Born in New York City in 1954, Shroder hails as a fourth-generation writer. His literary lineage includes his mother, who wrote a published novel. His grandfather, MacKinlay Kantor, authored a Civil War novel titled “Andersonville,” winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1956.

As an underclassman at the University of Florida, Shroder dreamed of becoming a novelist himself. “I wanted to be able to affect people the way the best novels I had read had affected me,” he recalled in an online interview with The Ink Reader Network. A creative writing class taught by a “quirky writer” further spurred his desire, but his dream changed course in a pragmatic moment while he was studying abroad in Spain. On a mountaintop overlooking the Mediterranean, he experienced an epiphany—the result, perhaps, of a collision between left- and right-brain proclivities: “As I watched the sea crash against the cliffs, I realized that I wanted to write but I didn’t seem to actually write anything unless I had a deadline. I decided to join the student newspaper.”

Back on campus, he enlisted at the Florida Independent Alligator, unleashing a newfound passion by writing news copy beneath the hood of an old oven in a former fast food joint, a place still slick with grease. He soon rose up the ranks to become editor. At a time when news media were enjoying something of a heyday—what with the glory that came with breaking the scandals surrounding Watergate and with the advent of a new journalism that invited writers to infuse their articles with the artful techniques of literature—Shroder reflects that “it was a great time to get into journalism.”

Nevertheless, Shroder majored in cultural anthropology—not journalism (to the lasting dismay of journalism faculty at the university). But the choice of majors was not so odd, he points out, considering that the whole point of cultural anthropology is to take a foreign culture and examine it from within. Providing inside-out perspectives has always informed his craft: “The goal is to go inside a strange bit of territory and make it not so strange,” he says.

Shroder landed his first paying job as a journalist at a bureau of the Fort Myers News Press where he covered the local utilities beat probing topics like heating bills and swale enlargement. He longed to write affecting features, the kind that had captured his fancy while writing for the Gators. But the bureau chief was an alcoholic who spent workday afternoons parked at the bar next door, and his only other colleague was “this ferocious bitch” who wrote the society column. Languishing, Shroder considered a legal career, earning high scores on a law school aptitude test. But after writing an edgy story about smalltime corruption in the local police department (and scoring a few threats from an indignant police chief), he suddenly netted the interest of his paper’s editors, who gave him a seat in the newsroom. Besides news articles, he started contributing features for the paper’s Style section, stories he wrote mostly on his own time. His big break came in the form of happenstance after one of his articles wound up on the back side of a piece that had been submitted as an entry to the Gannett national awards contest. By a sheer stroke of luck, one of the judges stumbled upon Shroder’s story (about becoming a first-time father, a topic he now concedes “sounds like a tremendous cliché”). The coincidence landed the 23-year-old a prestigious award and a permanent place in the field he had first glimpsed from a romantic height.


Tom Shroder

Tom Shroder at his home office. His newest book “Acid Test,” a look at the psychedelic drug ecstacy and how it has been used throughout history, is out this fall. Photo by Aaron Spicer.

Pulitzers and puzzles

In the decade that followed, Shroder’s reporting experience included stints at the Tallahassee Democrat and the Cincinnati Enquirer. In 1985 he joined the Miami Herald as associate editor of Tropic, the paper’s weekly magazine. Two years later he took the editor’s helm, embarking on what would become the best-loved episode of his career, one wistfully defined by lunches on South Beach, an office that boasted a ping-pong table as its centerpiece and the chance to rack up a couple of Pulitzer Prizes.

Three days before the Tropic stopped its presses in 1998—a casualty of the rapid decline in print media that was taking hold at the time—Shroder accepted the position of Sunday Style editor at the Washington Post that would move his young family to the Vienna home where he and his wife Lisa still reside. Within a few years he would become editor of the Post Magazine, working with accomplished writers like Dave Barry and Gene Weingarten, famed humorists he had first met down in Miami.

In the nation’s capital, the wonks would transplant their flair not just for storytelling but for inventing crowd-pleasing puzzles: the Post Hunt, DC’s version of the Herald Hunt, is an annual odyssey that sends throngs of area residents through downtown streets in pursuit of clues to mind-bending riddles. Still planned and executed by Shroder and friends, the event last year attracted some 10,000 participants, some of whom walked away with big prizes.


Penchant for the profound

By the time he reached the Post, Shroder had grown affirmed in his conviction that human beings are genetically wired to make sense of their world through story—the reason narrative will never die, he maintains, despite ominous cultural trends suggesting otherwise.

The seasoned journalist had also acquired a penchant for the kind of story-telling that forges inroads in a reader’s consciousness, rejecting the more vapid variety: “There are two schools of narrative journalism. On one hand, people read stories on topics they’re comfortable with, stories that follow a familiar pattern and reinforce their worldview. That type bores me to tears. The other is stories people read because they’re curious, because there’s something they don’t understand.” 

Ultimately, says the writer, “Good narrative helps the reader say, ‘Now I see. Now I get it.’” A powerful story also accomplishes something even more profound: “It helps people understand that as human beings, we are all connected, we’re all one consciousness.”

Humorous narrative, like the self-deprecating reminiscences that sometimes spring from Shroder’s keyboard, similarly facilitates a kind of transcendence. In a published interview with the Nieman Foundation, he notes that, “Humor comes out of our vulnerable and frightening position in a huge and uncaring universe. What humor does is turn the table on our fear.”

At the Post, Shroder helped produce provocative stories that would once again earn acclaim, including two that won a Pulitzer. One prize-winner was Weingarten‘s “Pearls Before Breakfast,” a rich, lighthearted piece that presents an experiment in human sensibility: What would happen if a world-renowned violinist (in this case, a virtuoso named Joshua Bell) set up shop as a street musician in a Washington metro station? Would the mellifluous sounds emanating from his instrument prompt the rushing masses to stop and listen? Would anyone toss spare change into his violin case?
Shroder also conceived and edited Weingarten’s award-winning “Fatal Distraction,” an altogether serious, heart-wrenching narrative that probes the rising national incidence of young children who die after being forgotten in parked cars by harried parents—and the controversy over whether that devastating error constitutes a crime.

Shroder authored his own pieces, too, including a hilarious personal narrative titled, “Murdering My Piano.” The story traces the writer’s tortured relationship with a baby grand, a fixture from his early childhood that he had reluctantly inherited as an adult. After decades of moving the tone-challenged behemoth from city to city, he resolves to get rid of it, only to discover that he can’t even give it away. The result is an obsessive fixation, suggestive again of mid-life challenges, culminating in a homicidal solution involving an ax.


Dog-walking and self-loathing

After accepting a buy-out from the Post in 2009 (another result of the budget ax still being wielded at print journalism), Shroder became a stay-at-home writer and the daytime custodian to a part-beagle, part-yellow lab named Sally, who sleeps at his feet while he soldiers through manuscripts. His home office was formerly the bedroom of daughter Emily, one of the Shroders’ three adult children. His wife Lisa works as editor of Bethesda Magazine, so there is plenty of editorial talk at the dinner table. Since he rises each morning at 6 a.m. and heads over to the Fairfax Racquet Club, Shroder can also boast of a not-so-geezerly tennis game.

On his website, where Shroder pitches his editorial services to fellow writers, he makes a confession: “I’m sure there are writers who don’t find writing to be a bone-crushing, nausea-inducing festival of self-loathing. I just don’t happen to be one of them …”

Editing is more tolerable than writing, he says. There’s nothing like a blank screen to torment and confound. Nonetheless, he just finished writing his fourth book, “Acid Test,” due out this fall.

Prior to his current project, he wrote “Fire on the Horizon,” a harrowing account of the 2010 Gulf oil disaster, co-authored by oil rig captain John Konrad. The book chronicles the events that led up to the deadly explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, exposing corporate corruption and what the front flap calls “engineering hubris at odds with the earth itself.” Despite positive reviews, book sales were modest, probably because interest in the tragic debacle waned once news cameras retreated from the contaminated coasts.

Shroder’s best known book—one that sold 125,000 copies and still draws interest fourteen years after its publication—is “Old Souls: Scientific Evidence for Past Lives.” Shroder begins his journey into this eerie field of paranormal psychology with skepticism but ends up, if not convinced of its legitimacy, entirely open to the possibility that souls can somehow transfer themselves from one human vessel to another after the body’s physical death. (The fact that no one can identify the mechanism of transfer is the theory’s Achilles’ heel, he notes.) Shroder’s transformation emerges as he travels through India, Lebanon and rural Virginia with Dr. Stevenson, who championed the theory of reincarnation for more than 40 years. Together the two investigate cases that are uncanny, even shocking—cases of children as young as three years old who spontaneously and persistently spout past life memories. In one typical case, a 4-year-old boy in Beirut recalls being a 25-year-old mechanic who died in a car crash several years before the boy was born. The boy cites details about the crash and startling facts about the mechanic’s personal life, all of which turned out to be accurate. In this and other cases, Shroder methodically tests the theory of reincarnation against alternative explanations—including fraud, cultural influence and the human need to believe in the soul’s survival. In nearly all cases, the alternatives come up strikingly short.

In the end Shroder comes to share in Stevenson’s longstanding lament—one that followed the doctor to his grave—that the study of reincarnation is unfairly scorned and dismissed by mainstream science. Despite strong Age of Reason sensibilities and an abiding reverence for empiricism, Shroder declares “really, science doesn’t know squat.” He expounds the limits of quantum physics, noting, “It’s the height of arrogance to think we as human beings have figured out what makes the universe tick.”

Even for readers with little interest in the soul’s capacity to reincarnate, “Old Souls” is richly rewarding for its portrait of strange terrain. Take, for instance, this snapshot of third world chaos in the Indian backcountry: “Everywhere, people, animals, cars, bicycles, and garbage coexisted in stunning profusion, as if generations of life were all trying to happen at once.” Or this: “At one point … a red hawk fell from the sky, plunging into the surging crowd to emerge with a rat, squealing, in its talons.”

Just as strange as recycled spirits is the terrain probed in Shroder’s upcoming title “Acid Test,” billed by Amazon as a “transformative look at the therapeutic powers of psychedelic drugs, particularly in the treatment of PTSD, and the past fifty years of scientific, political, and legal controversy they have ignited.”

The peculiar history of psychedelic medicine first captured Shroder’s interest more than twenty years ago, right after he stumbled upon a story in the Tampa Tribune about an activist named Rick Doblin, who was waging a vocal campaign for the use of MDMA (better known as ecstasy) as a psychotherapeutic tool. Shroder immediately recognized the name. Ten years earlier, while still a Gator, he had written a feature on Doblin, then an eccentric college dropout who was building “this fantastic house of cedar and stone” in the woods outside of Sarasota.

In 2007 Shroder wrote something of a precursor to his book, a cover story for the Post Magazine titled “Peace Drug.” The article provided startling and little-known perspectives on the use of psychedelics in the treatment of serious mental disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder. True to the writer’s devotion to narrative, the article wove vivid accounts of trauma patients—their agony and successful therapy experiences involving MDMA—with the story of a robust movement founded by Rick Doblin, then a Harvard Ph.D. in public policy, to promote such therapies. The story also probed the fierce debates that Doblin’s movement was unleashing.

“Acid Test” explores the subject of psychedelic drugs on an epic scale, unearthing annals stranger than fiction. Readers may be shocked to learn that when LSD was discovered in the 1940s it was hailed as a revolution in psychiatric medicine. For nearly two decades it was the most studied psychoactive drug in history, deemed useful for a wide range of psychological disorders. Then came the cultural upheaval of the ’60s. Suddenly emblematic of the nightmare scenarios in the book “Go Ask Alice”—and forces utterly antithetical to American values—LSD was quickly banished from clinical studies, its medical potential discarded. MDMA has an equally bizarre story. Shroder recounts the medical renaissance of these and other psychoactive substances through a convergence of stories, including Doblin’s and that of an Iraq war vet whose treatments with MDMA reportedly helped him confront and surmount the anguishes born of combat. Unlike many FDA-approved substances used to treat PTSD and other disorders, says Shroder, the drugs are effective after short-term use and are not addictive. The movement’s goal is to enable psychiatrists to alleviate suffering by administering the drugs in closely supervised medical settings. This is not a push, the author stresses, to legalize the substances for recreational use—a thorny matter given popular fears of the slippery slope.

Asked if he worries about potential backlash for this probe of a subject that strikes at the heart of the American conscience—“Acid Test” is clearly Shroder’s most provocative venture yet—the author shrugs. “One can only hope,” he says. Pretty bold for an old geezer.

(May 2014)

New Gelateria to Open in Pazzo Pomodoro; 3 More Pazzos Planned for the Region

Posted by Editorial / Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Construction of Gelateria Pazzo / Photo Courtesy of Nicky DeChiara

By Stefanie Gans

In Italy, says Nicky DeChiara, ”when you order gelato, you sit down and it becomes a form of entertaining.” In the states, says the 75-year-old, people order gelato and leave. To bring back a sense of hospitality to eating this Italian version of ice cream, DeChiara is building Gelateria Pazzo within Vienna’s Pazzo Pomodoro.

Pazzo Pomorodo’s team will use the Italian brand Carpigiani gelato makers and offer between 10 to 15 flavors, including strawberry and raspberry which will be made from fruits grown Pazzo Pomodoro’s owner Jimmy Audia‘s sister’s property, Windswept Farm in Waterford. Expected to open in July, the gelateria will occupy the space next door to the restaurant; they tore down the wall to make it one unit.

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April’s New and Almost Open restaurants in Northern Virginia

Posted by Editorial / Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

New and Almost Open restaurants in Northern Virginia

Photo courtesy of 360b/

Need a new spot to nosh? Here is a list of new restaurants now open and soon-to open.

Adventure Brewing Company, Fredericksburg, Beer, $; Expected May

Al-Huda Hookah and Smoothie Bar, Arlington, Hookah, $; Expected May

Anthony’s Restaurant, Falls Church, Italian, $; Expected May

Ben’s Chili Bowl, Arlington, Hot dogs, $; Now Open.
| MORE: Ben’s chili cheese fries.

Burapa Café, Haymarket, Thai, $; Opens Friday, April 25

Caboose Brewing Company, Vienna, Beer, $$; Expected June.
MORE: Caboose’s kid-friendly brewery plan.

Corcoran Brewing Company, Purcellville, Beer, $; Now Open.
| MORE: Corcoran reopens in booze-packed Purcellville.

Fiona’s Irish Pub, Alexandria, Irish, $$; Expected May

Four Sisters Grill, Arlington, Vietnamese, $; Now Open

Monument Coffee Roasters, Manassas, Coffee Tasting Room, $; Expected May.
| MORE: Monument’s pledge for single-origin roasted beans.

Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar, Tysons Corner, Latin American, $$; Expected May

Tres Hermanas, Alexandria, Mexican, $$; 703-370-3800; Expected May.
| MORE: Tres Hermanans takes over Mango Mike’s.

Republic at Arlington, Arlington, Southern Comfort, $$; Now Open.  
| MORE: Republic crowdsources favorite cocktails.

Urban Pantry, Arlington, Market & Sandwiches, $, 571-335-4983; Now Open.  
| MORE: Urban Pantry combines retail, sandwiches and gelato

(April 2014)

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