Assiduous Life

Longer hours of daylight somehow equate to longer hours of work for me. In some respects I feel like I lose March & April more every year. But I take the work when I can get it and just don’t know how to turn extra money down even if it means I’m not going to have a day off for over 30 days. Shopping and my retirement are important things to think about and if eating and writing take a back burner to making money for some time, so be it.

It isn’t all grueling work. In fact none of it is –my feet and back might disagree with my brain sometimes, but ultimately I’m lucky to a) have more than one job and b) mostly enjoy all of them.

In the last month+, there has been some great fun, culture & good eating too. Here’s a taste of the fun parts of March.

A random Thursday night turned me into a little girl again as 3 friends and I sat in prime seats for the opening performance of the Pennsylvania Ballet’s A Mid Summer’s Night Dream. Colorful and dignified, the Pennsylvania Ballet moved me with their rendition of this classic.

Front row balcony seats to Fela! The Musical with Randi confirmed my love of music with rhythm. It is the (unknown to me) story of Fela Kuti – the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician who introduced Afro-beat music to the world and in turn suffered such hardship & devastation throughout his life. A true education with exposure to a style of music and people I hadn’t been aware of prior to this night.

Fela!

Fela!

I finally went to Monsu with a group of new friends and consumed a very good eight-course tasting menu.

Monsu1

Monsu2

Monsu3

Monsu4

Monsu5

Monsu6

Monsu7

Monsu8

A last minute trip to the suburbs of Boston introduced Baker and me to interesting and passionate people. We experienced some culture and of course the best part was just spending time with Baker and her daughter. I’m also lucky to have a big handful of people I enjoy taking a road trip with and Baker is definitely on that list.

Cambridge1

Cambridge2

Cambridge3

Cambridge4

Cambridge5

Cambridge6

Cambridge7

Cambridge8

A post about April will come. At some point. Maybe in July…

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Essence of Virtue

Did you/do you sit down to eat dinner with your family every night?

My fondest memories of childhood are the meals. I feel really fortunate that my family ate together almost every night of the week in the house where I grew up. This is probably shocking to my parents because I, quite literally, ate nothing but Cheerios, ham & cheese sandwiches, cheesy scrambled eggs and hot dogs until I was five. I’m really not exaggerating, ask my parents. And from 5 to 15 I remember when my brother or I would ask what was for dinner, something along the lines of “EWWWWW” came out of our mouths regularly. I would imagine that it is because of this that my mom still hates to cook. But she was great at it. As I grew into an adult, my cravings were inspired by those meals my mom made for us and I still use her recipes for macaroni and cheese and red sauce because they are just that good. To me, dinner is not just about the food. It is the time spent, the stories shared and the realness that make it special. The conversations and laughter at our dinner table in Virginia without the blaring television in the background are affectionately etched in my memory. These days, I am certain that if you are eating with me and you look up to see my face looking like this:

CB you know you've seen this face...

CB you know you’ve seen this face…

it is because you are not engaging in my eating tradition. You are tweeting or facebooking or instgraming when I consider it to be inappropriate. There is a time and a place and in my opinion, the dinner table is neither of them.

Quite possibly the best Italian food I’ve eaten in Philadelphia is the creation of Joe Cicala and owners, Francis Cratil Cretarola and Catherine Lee at Le Virtu on East Passyunk Avenue. Remember a time in history when each family of a community worked at a certain trade because they were the best and the entire community as a whole prospered because of this?  I don’t actually remember this and I’m sure you don’t either but I’ve read about it. I think one of the few industries where this still exists is in the culinary world. And a sign of true passion and awareness of trade is being greeted at the door by the Executive Chef and Owner.

Chef & Cathy’s unassuming acknowledgement of our arrival set me right at ease in their home. The vibe here felt so comfortable, different and deliberate. These are the kinds of places where I want to eat. Basking the walls is a warm yellow; reminiscent of the setting sun on the cusp of summer. Promising, inviting and comforting all at once. The large wooden tables commensurate with plate sharing and engaging smiles from all the staff speak volumes to the thought behind this establishment.

The food and wine pairings just added to the bliss. I make calculated decisions (as you might remember from my trash can purchase post), so when I trust my server, I prefer to let him or her pick my wines for me based on our food. The choices made for me were so apparently specific and just perfect.

Terre Valse Trebbiano (2010): contrastingly soft on the palette and rich in flavor with well-balanced fruit quite obviously came from the same region as the cuisine. The wine was so amazing in particular with the beets that I had to have a sip after each bite. We ate

Insalata di bietole

Insalata di bietole

Red & yellow baby beets, endive, pine nuts, gorgonzola & red wine vinegar;

Burrata in Guazzetto

Burrata in Guazzetto

Imported burrata warmed in its own milk, cherry tomatoes, black olives, basil & oregano;

Affettati misti

Affettati misti

Selection of house cured meats and antipasti. I don’t remember all the meats but there was duck prosciutto, capocollo, spreadable sausage, mortadella, pancetta, pickled red onions, eggplant and sweet peppers.

another just because it was so pretty!

another just because it was so pretty!

Colosi Sicilia Rosso IGT Sicilia (2008): Deep red fruit sweet (not dessert wine sweet), soft bodied and smooth with surprisingly delicate tannins. Again, unbelievably complementary to

Tagliatelle al sugo di coniglio

Tagliatelle al sugo di coniglio

Ribbon shaped pasta, braised Lancaster county rabbit ragu and

Pig neck & jowl

Pig neck & jowl

with white beans and broccoli rabe.

one more...

one more…

Classic Abruzzese food and new world twists made from as much local product as possible coupled with servers that still walk with you to show you the bathroom puts Le Virtu, in pen, on my staple list.

Sweet Emotion

I often roll posts around in my brain for a week before I actually sit down to type it. I was toying with a post that aimed more at being funny and less about a couple of poor food experiences in an effort to play down the negativity. But I’ve been writing for two days and everything is coming out wrong and I’m second-guessing all the words. I’m realizing that I’m not struggling to write this because I feel negative I’m struggling because I feel heavy.

Death has been on my brain all week. No one close to me is dying, but people that I spend a great deal of time with are dealing with the death of a loved one. It’s painful and sad. It is also emotionally surreal watching from the outside. It’s got me thinking how important it is to always say what you mean and to live in the present moment with the people you love.

So with that said, I have been twisting the experience of two poor dinners into much more positive memories. It starts by erasing the food and focusing on the time spent with my friends. But not without getting it out on “paper”. I hope that I do not offend, but there are two restaurants that are being crossed off the list – for good.

The first dinner at a Philadelphia seafood house left a superficial notch on my restaurant belt. The most exciting part of this restaurant is the building’s sensational story. It was, at different points throughout history, a bed & breakfast, a boarding house, a stop along the Underground Railroad, a popular saloon (brothel) during prohibition, the only biker bar in Old City and in the year I was born, it became the restaurant it is today. Maybe I was already jaded by that smell and the look of the servers and “management’ that embodies all old school seafood joints (Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant circa 1991?). However I doubtlessly lost any hope of a spectacular meal when I overheard the “manager” explaining simple syrup to the bartender. I know there are more than a handful of people who don’t know what that is, but isn’t simple syrup Food & Beverage 101?

It also could have been the garish, Red Lobster-esqe décor, the lukewarm fried calamari, the strange texture of the snapper soup that might have been exaggerated by the profoundly bland taste, the overcooked & dry garlic blue crabs, the watery snow crab legs or the disappointing “award winning/best ever fries” that confirmed my decision not to eat here again. Luckily Ardell, as always, made for delightful and amusing company.

Snapper Soup

Snapper Soup

Fried Calamari

Fried Calamari

Garlic Blue Crabs

Garlic Blue Crabs

French Fries

French Fries

The second dinner was a newer restaurant. There were no expectations because I hadn’t read anything or talked to anyone that had eaten here. I still try to be hopeful that I’ll stumble upon a place that has decent food. But the dream was shattered early on as I asked the server, first what she would recommend and second if she thought what we ordered was too much or too little food. Both answers were uncertain and scripted. And again, it could have been any of the following that clinched it for me. The shrimp cocktail that arrived when we ordered BBQ cajun shrimp, the five wimpy pieces of asparagus wrapped in prosciutto where each piece was torched (?) including the prosciutto, the wet, special crab meat crab cake, the overdressed and underseasoned frisee lyonnaise that contained not a single piece of frisee, the diver scallops entrée with a broken beurre blanc and flimsy green beans, the thoughtless cheese plate with one strawberry and bruised apple slices or the chewy chocolate dipped bacon. We couldn’t even get one. One solitary plate that would make me come back to have a drink and eat that one thing that was pretty good. Not one.

Shrimp Cocktail

Shrimp Cocktail

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Crab Cake

Crab Cake

Frisee Lyonnaise

Frisee Lyonnaise

Diver Scallops, Wild Rice, Green Beans

Diver Scallops, Wild Rice, Green Beans

Chocolate Dipped Bacon

Chocolate Dipped Bacon

But a night of huge belly laughs, crazy work stories and a dash of “love” with some of the best girlfriends on the planet can obliterate any memory of a bad meal. And ladies if I didn’t say it that evening, please know that you mean the world to me, I am grateful to call you my friend and honored that you have allowed me in your life. Just a small helping of my unedited raw emotion.

Always say what you mean.

Shifts

By the time I turned 26, I had managed 1 clothing retail store, a few weddings, 6 different restaurants, and was set to transfer to my 7th restaurant in southern Maryland. Moving to Annapolis was one of the hardest things I ever did. For the first time in many years, I was living away from everyone I knew, everything I had known and was truly alone. Anxiety, panic and pure fear set in within one hour of the moving vans pulling out of the parking lot. My decent sized one bedroom apartment with plush ivory carpeting, a mini balcony overlooking the parking lot and 4 other buildings that looked exactly like mine and more than enough windows to make it feel warm and happy, was neatly stacked with boxes all clearly labeled with its contents and corresponding room.  Moving in general is a daunting task but for me, unpacking was the perfect way to disperse the anxiety.

It wasn’t until a week later that I realized the fear kept me house bound for nearly 4 days. I had become embedded in my new home and the thought of leaving it to step foot into a new town where I knew no one was more paralyzing to me than if Dave Matthews knocked on my door to ask to borrow a cup of sugar.  Eventually, the fear subsided and Annapolis became the town where I “grew up”. Maryland Blue Crabs, She Crab Bisque, Dynamite Halibut, Veuve Clicquot, Stoli Vanilla & Diet Cokes, a Macaroni & Cheese cook off and a dirty joke about birds are but a few of the innumerable memories I have of my 4 years in Annapolis.

bedroom of that first Annapolis apartment

bedroom of that first Annapolis apartment

my Annapolis "old man" crush

my Annapolis “old man” crush

So I’m really just setting the stage. If you know me, you know that I am incapable of telling short stories. There are way too many details that I find important for me to get a story out a) in a reasonable amount of time and b) without it wandering all over the place as I remember other particulars, that are my attempt at giving you the big picture view of my story but honestly I think wind up confusing most which makes the story even longer.

On an early spring day, much like this week has been, in 2002 I stepped foot into my new restaurant. The first day is always exhausting. The other managers bombard you with their gripes, you learn new ways of doing old tasks and none of the staff will really speak to you. I understand completely why this happens. I know what’s going through their heads. “Is she going to be a bitch?” (Yes) “Is she going to change the way we do everything?” (Yes, but I’ll make you think it’s your idea) “Is she going to make us follow the rules?” (Yes, but I’ll show you that it will ultimately make your job easier) “Is she going to be lazy like so-and-so”? (Not a chance)

I think by day three I had won a few of the staff over by not saying much, smiling and helping out as much as possible. And then the gay niglet walked into the alley and started talking to me as if he had known me for years. The shock seemed to last for a week or two because the next thing I remember we are driving to the Ikea in Northern VA when he jumps out of the car as we are inching along in DC traffic, runs into the woods to pee and jumps back in the car, 30 yards and 8 minutes later. That was the day I knew we were going to be lifelong friends.

gay niglet eventually became my roommate at another home in Annapolis

gay niglet eventually became my roommate at another home in Annapolis

That day I purchased the trash can I still own today. It’s been a great trash can: small enough to fit in a city apartment, but big enough to handle the trash of a single gal that’s not home much. It’s flip top is level with my knee so when my hands are coated in the raw ingredients of soon to be baked bangin’ meatloaf, one swift movement of my leg opens the can and that stray egg shell will not crunch in the bite of one of my dinner guests. However, I recently decided that said trash can had lived its life with me and it was time to purchase a new one.

During the purchasing process, two things have puzzled me.

Who knew there are over 7 different types of trash can styles to choose from? Everything from Sensor Cans to Step Cans to Touch-Bar Cans. How am I supposed to decide what will be the best replacement for my generic yet admirable, ivory colored plastic Ikea can? Alas, have no fear! There are YouTube videos to help you make that decision and much like everything else in this country, the reviews are endless. A quick search of “trash can reviews” consumed 2 weeks of clicking, reading, deliberating, and re-reading. I mean because really, if I asked you if you liked your trash can and where you purchased it from, you would look at me like I was crazy, right? Instead, I fed my perfectionist need for purchase research with late night internet reading.

After two weeks, I finally decided on a fingerprint-proof, stainless steel, step can. I spent a bit more than I had intended but it comes with a ten year warranty and fingerprints on stainless steel make me neurotic. This just seemed to fit. And once the can was perfectly positioned under my kitchen counter, I knew I had made the right decision.

So what’s the second thing that puzzled me? How do I throw my old trash can away? And I’m not asking this because I am struggling to part with it, I mean I really can’t get the City of Philadelphia to take my trash can away. The first week I put it on the curb with my trash bag beside it. They turned the can upside down on the sidewalk. The next week I left the trash bag in the can, tied up and shoved the lid down beside the bag. They turned the can upside down again. The third week I lay the can down on its side with the lid inside. It was exactly as I left it. Do I really have to put the trash can in a plastic trash bag to get the rubbish men to take it away??

I’ve moved 3 times since I purchased that original trash can. Maybe I am holding on to it in the subconscious part of my brain, an attachment to my history. But everything changes, all the time. Gay niglet is still in my life but our relationship is different. It’s better. Friends have come into my life, left and resurfaced in that same time period. It’s all a part of life. Adopting the idea of change as inevitable has helped to alleviate some of the stress of everyday life. And if it starts with a trash can, so be it.

I'm craving true Indonesian satay, this is what my brain sees when the craving takes hold

I’m craving true Indonesian satay & this is what my brain sees when the craving takes hold

**Part of this story is a work of fiction.

Patterns

bangin sushi from Hikaru

bangin sushi from Hikaru

This post is not about sushi, but I had to include the picture because it was just so vibrant in this mostly grey week…

I admittedly ate Taco Bell everyday in high school. I still have a soft spot for a Baja Beef Gordita and bean burrito with extra cheese and onions. On those days when I’ve hit every red light possible, gotten stuck behind the old man driving 15mph while trying to merge into traffic going 50mph on a short entrance ramp, been ogled by some man with missing teeth and wearing a sweat suit, I figure what’s the worst that could happen. I get in my car and make the trek to the closest taco bell for my biannual visit.

Once my friends and I had our licenses, we were at the Taco Bell drive through every day after school. So much so, that we were on a first name basis with the drive through operator. One of my friends drove a baby blue 1960s mustang. I thought she was so cool. I’m pretty sure it was my first exposure to “vintage”. Everything about her was cool. She had a boyfriend, her parents were rarely home, wore the coolest jewelry, knew all about classic rock and she ate pomegranate seeds. On one such random afternoon at her house she introduced me to these slightly sweet and sour seeds. I believe I spent the remainder of that year painstakingly removing the arils from the white membrane. And while I was (and am still) slightly annoyed by the texture of the little seed inside, I ate them because she did.

And so it amused me when Belle, the youngest daughter of my boss, asked me if I knew what pomegranates were and would I pick some up for her the next time I was at the store. She said it was her latest addiction. Nostalgia set in and I wonder, what is it about pomegranates & teenage girls?

This fruit has been mentioned since ancient times and is rich in health benefits. Is it that time in your life when you begin to think about what you eat? When you start to pay attention to older women’s habits and try to emulate them? Regardless, it’s encouraging to see healthy eating habits in others, especially teenage girls. Sadly, the season for pomegranates has ended in the Northern hemisphere and now only the juice remains until next fall. I’m ok with that though because as I type I see buds on the Bradford Pear trees in front of my house!

my Bradford Pear tree

my Bradford Pear tree

Amalgamation of my time

Do you know the Shel Silverstein book, “The Missing Piece”? I didn’t until recently. Not only was it the exact message I needed for my birthday, it was also given to me by the person that I love the most in this world. I’ve always known this about my gay niglet but I get a little bit verklempt when I think about just how much he means to me, how many unbelievable memories we have together and how many more are to come.

the book

the book

The New York Times review of this book says, “This fable can also be interpreted to mean that no one should try to find all the answers, no one should hope to fill all the holes in themselves, achieve total transcendental harmony or psychic order because a person without a search, loose ends, internal conflicts and external goals becomes too smooth to enjoy or know what’s going on. Too much satisfaction blocks exchange with the outside.” My not so humble opinion is that we humans should think about this more, including myself.

This last week brought some disappointing food, some unexpected deliciousness, and overall some great friend time. And to boot, this last week has been peaceful, especially in my brain. I like peaceful.

So this last week. Only the good stuff. I met up with some of my girlfriends, Ardell, Queen Bet and Western Lea for some anti-V-day fun. I can’t tell you about the food because I didn’t like it. But Blanton’s was on their shelf so I distracted my food disappointment with bourbon and great girlfriends.

not so fabulous meat & cheese plate

not so fabulous meat & cheese plate

i wanted these to be good!

i wanted these to be good!

JAZZ! Wiener dog and I got to see an incredible jazz band called the Gin Canaries. They played music from the 20s to the 40s and are worth checking out. It just flowed with my week of listening to WRTI on my ride home from work everyday.

Dive Bars! There’s nothing about a bar with no one it, that sells $4.50 bourbon, and incredible conversation, with someone I don’t see very often, that I don’t love. Except maybe that I worry about whether the bar is actually making money. I think this bar is.

New York! While my NYC restaurant experiences, of late, have not been stellar, I will admit that I am not spending $200 per person when I eat there. This trip introduced me to French food in Harlem. Plate licking good food, beautiful staff speaking French and that timeless feeling of a bistro.  Maison Harlem will be a place I go to every time I’m there.

grippin!

grippin!

Astor Wine & Spirits is quite possibly, the most orgasmic liquor store I have ever set foot in. A mission to find something for Gay Niglet’s variation of the mint julep for his Kentucky Derby party ended with us spending $120 on some really cool shit. Old Scout Smooth Ambler may be my new favorite bourbon – side note, they carry it at Time – and Cardamaro tops any vermouth I have ever had. I don’t really like vermouth but I do understand its role. Cardamaro is a wine based Amaro (Italian for bitter) and is a bitter sweet concoction of herbs and vegetables. This is a trend I would stand behind. Someone start it, I’ll follow. But only because I knew it first… A cardoon may be my next tattoo. It just looks like something I would like.

booze

Overall, this last week has been pretty great, even if there is not much food to write about.

I think I want to forever sing, “Oh, I’m looking for my missing piece.”

And wait, there’s more…look what I’m doing tomorrow…

look for me!

look for me!

Valentine’s Ode

Mr. Marrow

Mr. Marrow

There was a time when February 14th was a happy day

Excitement, candy and cute little cards

But those sweet days have gone away

Now I’m on guard

Don’t want to go out and play

But Mr. Marrow you give me joy

With your buttery flavor and slippery texture

You evoke a mature

Manner much stronger than a boy

 

Some may think you are repulsive and glutinous

Definitely not luminous

But you are beautiful and flawless to me

Fulfill all my needs and desires

So much so I want to get down on one knee

You remind me about the selflessness I want to attain

That I lack the desire to be like all the rest

That life is impermanent including the pain

 

Won’t you be mine, oh Mr. Marrow?

I ask you with kindness in mind

Because when I eat you I feel like an Egyptian pharaoh

You are like no man that I can find

Indeed my choices are becoming narrow

So on a day like today

Be kind to those around you

In particular the single dude

Cuz a gal like me certainly ain’t no replay