Kitty, who owned the bed and breakfast near Fallingwater, came from a military family. This may have led to assumptions about her, but mine were immediately tempered when she showed us a refrigerator for our use. It held two carafes of reverse osmosis water. I have no idea what reverse osmosis water is (the scientist spouse tells me it’s free of impurities), but it sounded rather New-Agey and not something I expected in a military household. A few minutes later she pointed out the smart television in a common area but confessed that she did know how to operate it. David, her husband, would demonstrate it for us when he got home. She continued that she only knew how to get NPR on her radio. NPR. This is a military family?
In a later conversation, she talked more about her kids. Both had been in the military. After her military stint, her daughter had been working for a federal agency. The Washington offices had been closed for Covid, and she had moved into a cottage in the back of the property. Kitty said that it had been her painting studio. I asked if the accomplished landscapes in the dining room were hers. “Yes,” she replied, “but they aren’t finished.” She looked at me quizzically when I chuckled, and I explained. “We visited an architect’s friend’s home that he had recently expanded. I asked if he was finished with the renovation, and he replied, ‘An architect never says that it is done because then it can be judged.’” Kitty smiled and said, “I like that.”
Kitty indicated that her daughter had joined the military primarily to get training for a career, but her son, she said with a tiny tinge of disgust, “He wanted to be a warrior.” He, too, had left the military, but he had left because of “TBIs.” I did not immediately know what Kitty meant by that, but later she said he got his second traumatic brain injury stateside. Kitty said that he now had “impulse control” issues and no longer felt that he could effectively lead soldiers. After leaving the Army, he had run a food truck successfully in North Carolina, but recently a developer had taken him under his wing and was training him in the developer’s business. As Kitty mused about the possibility of a good future for her son, I could almost feel her fingers crossing.
In another conversation, Kitty said that she and her husband had been in construction before they became innkeepers. Primarily they built for the military in southern California, but when a base shut down, they had to find other clients and did a lot of prison construction. Whatever conclusions I might have drawn about a prison contractor were tossed away when she said, “We forget that they are people, too.”
I can definitely say one thing about Kitty and David: they are great cooks–and not just breakfast cooks. The first night we had a chef’s-choice, prix fixe dinner prepared by them in their open kitchen and dining room. Salad and green beans just picked from their garden, parmesan potatoes, and David’s smoked chicken, followed by a chocolate lava cake. Excellent. I had smoked a chicken a month before, and it had been quite a hit, but David’s was better, and I asked him about it. He had brined it for twenty-four hours, and in good pit master style, told me most, but not all the ingredients for the brine, just as he held back some information about the dry rub applied after the brining. However, he revealed perhaps the most important part of his technique. He carefully monitored the temperature of the smoking chicken, and when it reached 150 to 155 degrees, he took it out of the smoker. Normal advice, given for health reasons, is to cook a chicken until the breast meat is ten degrees warmer. David said that when he removes the chicken, he wraps it in heavy aluminum foil, and the covered bird continues to steam with its own moisture. This made for as juicy and tasty a chicken as I have ever had.
The meal was so good that we immediately asked if we could eat there again the next night. Alas, Kitty and David require a 48-hour booking. The inn is in a sparsely populated area, and the occasional settlements—they could hardly be described as towns or villages—have few amenities. Any restaurant was hard to find, and many, perhaps because of Covid, were only open on weekends. Another guest said that the previous night they had managed to get sandwiches from a small grocery store miles away and had eaten them in their room. That did not seem appealing. A tavern or two with food were nearby, but Kitty recommended against them, although I am not entirely sure why since we had indicated that bar food was fine with us. Instead, she recommended a steak house that had a wide selection of food. A steak house in a rural area may be fine, but it did not seem especially appealing. After many internet searches, we found a restaurant a few minutes closer than the steak restaurant on the same road. It claimed, of course, wonderful food, but more important, its menu indicated that some of its choices might be slightly out of the ordinary.
It was a straightforward drive of twenty-five minutes to Moon Shadow near Deep Creek Lake in Maryland. It had a twenty-eight-foot bar at which locals sipped beers, and an outdoor area with a lot of room for kids, not then in attendance, to play. We ate inside a cavernous room with mismatched tables and chairs, only a few of which were occupied. The makeshift stage for a band was empty.
One goal on our road trips is to find a restaurant where, as we put it, someone is cooking, not just reading the microwave directions on institutionally prepared food. And someone at Moon Shadow was, indeed, trying. The spouse had a sous vide pork loin with rosemary (a bit too much rosemary, the spouse reported), not something on the menu of most bars. I had a beefalo meatloaf with a homemade barbecue sauce. Both were quite good. The spouse’s came with tasty baby carrots that were perfectly cooked; mine with garlic peas that were good, but had a bit too much garlic. The over seasoning indicated someone was trying to turn out good, distinctive food, but also revealed inexperience or food insecurity. As an amateur cook, I identified. When ginger or thyme is a highlight in a dish, I tend to add a little more of it than necessary to make it even more outstanding. Perhaps it is only the exceptional chef who has the confidence to season subtly. Nevertheless, when someone tries to present distinctive food–excellent or not–I appreciate the effort as I did at Moon Shadow.
We had come to the restaurant at twilight, but it was dark when we left. We had been using one of those GPS apps that directs you to your destination. I am somewhat nostalgic for the AAA triptiks that always produced a bit of excited anticipation when they arrived before a vacation, but if you don’t know what I am talking about, you’re probably too young to be reading this, and I am not going to explain. The modern technology is much better, and I now sometimes wonder how anyone made it efficiently to an unfamiliar destination in olden (fifteen years ago?) days. However, the Waze lady directing us back to our bed and breakfast decided to toy with us. The trip to the restaurant had been entirely straightforward: turn right at the major intersection and follow that major road for 17 minutes until the restaurant appeared on the right. For our return, however, Ms. Waze put us on unknown local roads—turn right, turn left, go straight, take the left fork—all of which might have made for a scenic drive in daylight, but was somewhat anxiety-producing at night. We were looking for a turn she promised was ahead when the road appeared to run out at some sort of machine shop operating at nine at night. A friendly-looking man came over and apologized for blocking the road. He was amused that the internet device had sent us his way. I then asked a question that I could never before have dreamt of asking: “Do you know where Pig’s Ear Road is?” He told us it was just on the other side of his machinery. We thanked him, swerved around his work, and turned left at the road that had not been visible before. In a few miles, we made it to familiar territory and were soon getting ready for bed. Somehow, it all felt like that impersonal voice had been playing a practical joke.