The Gleeful Gourmand: 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas - A Reflection

"Can you overcome this heart that's overcome?"

That's a line in a song that has been weighing heavily on my heart. We've been watching The Nightly News with Brian Williams a lot lately. Previously I've enjoyed reading my news online, or in paper form, and I still do, but we seem to find ourselves at 6:30 watching it on television with rapt attention. Afterwards, I feel deflated, depressed, and worried for the state of the world. I can't really tell whether or not the world seemed this bleak before I became an adult. Maybe I was blinded by my innocent youth, and our parents viewed the world this way too. Maybe it's because I have children now that the world seems like such an unsafe, terrifying place sometimes.

But only sometimes. Yes, lately the news has got me down. I see a lack of decorum, a lack of compassion. I see and hear of friends and friends of friends who are losing loved ones - loved ones who have little children that need them around right now. It's enough to drive you to tears on a daily basis in terms of heartache. It's enough to drive you to your knees.

But then - it's Christmas. No, I'm not talking about manufactured, ho ho ho Christmas. I'm talking about Christ. It seems a little crazy to me sometimes that within the liturgical year of the Church, we're hit with the joyous season celebrating the birth of Christ, and then just a few short months later we're hit with the unbelievable sadness (but ultimate joy) of the death of Christ. But isn't that just like life? God never promised us that if we believed that life would be fair, or easy. He simply promised that He would be there for us, no matter what happens.

I've been thinking a lot about Mary. Being a mother myself now, I feel I can better understand her - her fear at being pregnant without being married, her fear and trepidation of bearing the Son of God, in a stable no less! And I can completely understand the anguish and complete heartache she must have felt, having to let her son go. He may have been the Son of God, but He was also her son. She must have loved him totally and irrevocably, and even though He was an adult when He died, there is no preparation for losing your child. It's not as though the pain is less because He's lived a longer life, or because He's got, say, a huge job to do like saving the world. He was still her son. And the pain is still unbelievably real.

The state of the world played out on the television may get me down, and it may be hard for all of us to see the forest through the trees, but I think that sometimes the Christmas season can be a beautiful way to wake us up. Yes, it has become too commercial (and there's no finer point on this than ABC cutting short "A Charlie Brown Christmas" to make way for what? More commercials.), but it also shakes most of us out of the depression that takes over after the nightly news is switched off. It shakes us into action to be charitable and help our neighbors as God has called us to do. It shakes us into laughing with our friends and family, and hopefully setting aside old grudges and hurts. It shakes us into fervent prayer for those who need it most, and even those who might not deserve it, but still need it. We're not turning a blind eye to the reality of the world, but we're choosing to live in the joy of the birth of a baby who changed that reality entirely. I wish we could live that way all year round. That we could say honestly, 365 days a year, that the only presents we need are hope, love, and joy.

Below is a spectacular video from one of my favorite Christian rock bands, The David Crowder Band, called "Shine." In the video and in the song, it talks about a man who needs desperately to feel God's closeness. I know far too many people who can relate to these lyrics this Christmas season, but for me it also conveys the hope we have in Jesus, and the hope that we can still run in this world and not grow weary:

"Shine your light so all can see it,
Lift it up, 'cause the whole world needs it,
Love has come, what joy to hear it,
He has overcome, He has overcome."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New Richmond Restaurant - Pasture

Saturday night Buck and I finally had a chance to go out on a date night! We had a party to attend later in the evening, so we headed downtown to try a new-to-us restaurant. Which was not Pasture. We struck out two times before determining that we should have made a reservation (even though we were eating at a time when most Senior Citizens eat). Then Buck remembered that a new restaurant had just been opened by the Chef of Comfort, one of our favorite restaurants. We ended up calling 411 to find out where it was, and as it so happened, they were pretty empty when we showed up (just before 7pm).

We were seated immediately and given menus, and then left alone for a long period of time while our waiter worked most of the restaurant on our side. Since he was gone for so long, in a mostly empty restaurant, we had a lot of time to take in the ambience, which was...interesting. The upper half of the ceiling was painted in pretty much the same color as the above cow, and behind the bar was done in some wood paneling with rustic lights hanging off the wall, which gave it a trendy barn type of feel. The kitchen was at the back with a big window cut out so you could see most of the action, which was kind of cool. I couldn't decide if I liked the décor or not though, so I'll leave it there, and let you decide for yourself.

It was unclear to us from the menus what this place was about - all we had to go on from an article Buck had read was that it was farm-to-table, and mostly local, fresh food. The menus gave absolutely no indication of how things worked - it was simply labeled, "Appetizers," "Cold," Hot," and "Desserts." But we could tell that some of the things on the "Hot" menu weren't exactly enough for a whole meal. Another problem I had with the menus was that they were paper, and you could tell that they had been used (quite a bit) because of the food stains on them. Gross. At the very least they could have laminated them. Eventually our waiter came back and took our drink orders, and said to us, "So I'm sure you gathered that we mostly do small plates here." Um, no, we told him. We didn't gather that at all. "Oh, well, you're not the only ones! I've had to explain it to every table so that's why it's taken me forever to get here." Since they've only been open for two weeks we understood and let it slide, but all it would take to move things along is a few lines of copy at the top of the (newly laminated) menu that explained it.

Anyway, we put in our order - sharing the pimento cheese and Ritz crackers appetizer, and each getting a salad and an item off the Hot menu. Our order came out really fast, which we liked a lot, and the pimento cheese was really excellent. I had the beet salad, which was fresh and tender with a wonderful dressing that had just the slightest hint of horseradish in it - enough for a kick, but far from overpowering. Next I moved on to the Carolina Gold Rice with Mushroom Gravy while Buck opted for their Cheeseburger with Fries. The rice was in a small dish, but it was a perfect size, and I loved it. Though it was called "gravy" it didn't taste like it. Instead, the mushrooms tasted like they'd been simply sautéed, letting all the natural wonderful flavors of the mushrooms do their work. It was perfectly seasoned, and for this mushroom lover, it really couldn't get any better. Buck's burger and fries were also top-notch, the fries cooked in duck fat, which made them really outstanding.

We couldn't stick around for dessert because of the party we had to get to, but I'm interested to go back and try some of them. By the time we asked for the check, the place was rockin' - absolutely slammed. They haven't worked out all the kinks yet, so they could have turned our table over much, much faster to accommodate, but they didn't so we were stuck facing the bar while all the bar patrons could have touched our table and mostly spent their time staring at us as though willing us to leave (we wanted to, believe me!).

In short, we loved it. We've raved about it to everyone who will listen, and we can't wait to go back, but maybe in a month or so when they've worked out the opening week kinks. Pasture is located at 416 E. Grace St. in Richmond. It's an odd location, and a little difficult to find, but right behind it on Broad Street is a very large parking lot with many spaces reserved just for Pasture dining. Their website isn't up and running yet, but the number is listed there if you care to make a reservation:

Friday, December 9, 2011

First Wave of Christmas Baking

I'm sorry I've been so lazy with my posting lately - pestilence has spread throughout our house like wildfire, starting around Thanksgiving with Liam, running right through both girls, and finally landing on me with incredible flourish (read: phlegm). Anyway, now I feel like we're all back up and running again, which I'm thankful for since the Christmas countdown has begun.

Yesterday Liam and I had a chance to spend some quality time together and get some Christmas baking done - the first of many waves, I think. This year I wanted to try something new, so on his request I made some of the featured sweets in Bon Appétit's December issue. Specifically, we made the Peppermint Meringues, and the Lemony Slice-and-Bake Cookies. I was a little nervous with the meringues, because I think I had only made them once before, and it was a really long time ago. I shouldn't have worried, though, because the recipe was easy to follow, and they turned out to be delicious. Both Buck and I agreed that it had the perfect balance of peppermint and sweetness, so that the mint wasn't overwhelming, and it wasn't too sickly sweet. And they were so much fun to make! Liam loved seeing the egg whites in action. He loves eggs in all forms (I think if he could just eat eggs, that would be fine by him), and thought it was really neat that eggs could do something besides being scrambled.

The Lemony Cookies turned out really nice as well, though I had some trouble with the frosting, but that was baker error, not recipe error. I didn't measure correctly and ended up with soupy frosting. Again, I liked these cookies because they were different from the norm, but still delicious - light and bright citrus, with just enough sweetness. These would be great for just us, but I think I'm going to share them as gifts, too!

Click on these links for the recipes: Peppermint Meringues, and Lemony Slice-and-Bakes

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend!

Oh perfect pumpkin pie, we hardly knew ye.

I know for more than a few of you tonight is your second round of Thanksgiving feasts. How your stomachs will be able to make way for all that deliciousness once more, I'm not sure. Not even a day in between seems like enough time after all we ate on Thursday! We had a wonderful Thanksgiving with my Mom, and the three (and a half - Liam really only ate the turkey) of us worked like the perfect kitchen team. We said we'd like to sit down at the table around 4:45, and I'll be damned if we didn't sit down within minutes of our estimated time! If only Mom was around all the time - then every meal would make it to the table on time (maybe).

We enjoyed Champagne (thanks, Mom!), the perfect turkey (thanks, Buck!) and all the trimmings including my noodles, Mom's stuffing and cranberry relish, pumpkin bread, green beans sauteed with shallots and my pumpkin pie with cinnamon whipped cream. A nice Rosé rounded out the meal perfectly. No major mishaps to report, which doesn't make for an exciting post, but I'm dying to hear yours! Any funny mishaps or major mishaps out there? Share them in the comments!

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend from The Gleeful Gourmand!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving, Bets, and a Re-Post

Thanksgiving. More than any other holiday, it's the one where we (probably) cook the most, in a record amount of time. Right now it's 9:06 on Wednesday evening, and I can smell the amazing brine Buck is cooking right now for our turkey. Yes, there may have been a few meltdowns over the hipsters languishing in the aisles in Whole Foods (Get out of the way! We're on a mission here!), yes there may have been more than one mad dash to the grocery store for last minute items ("What's the difference between Vegetable Stock and Vegetable Broth?!"), and yes, I know that Liam will look at the magnificent spread tomorrow and say "I don't like any of that." I'm betting on it. In fact, you can also place your bets now on whether he will say it before it all makes it to the table, or while it's still in process in the kitchen.

But you know what? I couldn't give a flying fig. I love Thanksgiving. And tomorrow I am hosting my first Thanksgiving ever. There aren't a lot of us involved (just us and my Mom), but I want it to be wonderful, and I want to not set my cutting board on fire like I did the first (and only) time I hosted Christmas dinner. Part of making it wonderful is relaxing now, and watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. And I'll be reliving the memories of Thanksgiving past, and missing people who have gone too soon from this life. Because a large part of making dishes that are tried-and-true is the fact that we make them because we want to carry on our family traditions. In that vein, I'd like to post the blog I wrote last year for Thanksgiving about my Grandma Hazel:

When I was a kid growing up, my family would make the trek every Thanksgiving to my father’s childhood home in Moundsville, West Virginia. It’s almost impossible for me not to think of West Virginia when I think of Thanksgiving. Though the 8-hour car ride was tough, it was well worth it, especially as we wound our way through the mountains soaring and painted in their fall hues. Deer carcasses littered the sides of the roads, but that was just ordinary.

We would pull up to the front of my Grandma Hazel’s house, light blue with its slate stone steps leading up to a great front porch. She always had a pot of vegetable soup bubbling on the stove for us, and slices of white bread for making sandwiches. It was a big deal for us to have white bread since wheat was always the order of things at our home. Another thing my mother allowed us to have that first night as a treat: Diet Coke.

Grandma Hazel was the epitome of unconditional love and grace. I never once heard her raise her voice to anyone. In a multitude of cousins, I was the only girl, and I shared a special bond with her. She was also an excellent home cook – the type who never used a recipe, but made everything by sight, smell, touch, and taste. She would rise on Thanksgiving morning around 4 a.m. to put the turkey in her oven down in the basement, its door held closed by a chair wedged under its handle. When we finally came downstairs for breakfast, she would already be cooking for the crush of family about to descend on her house. My mother would jump into action helping her, and one by one, our favorite dishes would be created. I wish I could list all of those great dishes, but I know for sure there was mashed potatoes, both pumpkin and apple pies, and our family’s favorite: noodles.

These are not the kind of noodles one might think of when they think of pasta. Though the dough shares the same properties, these noodles (simply called “noodles”) are as wide and thick as a finger, and thrown into a huge pot of boiling chicken broth, seasoned heavily with salt and pepper. This simple, easy dish doesn't look like much, but oh – the taste! Like creamy dumplings, but better. Slightly firm to the first bite but completely tender on the finish. This dish is legendary in my family.

In those days, the family would descend, and my brother and I would play with our younger cousins until we sat down to eat around noon. We would feast as though we’d never seen food in our lives, and then we’d all help with the dishes, finally retreating into the family room where my Uncle’s pipe would fill the room with its spicy aroma. The cousins would play out on the front porch, taking turns on the swing until about 5 p.m. Then we’d all troupe back into the kitchen, and out would come the entire meal again. And we’d all tuck in as if we hadn’t just gorged ourselves a few hours earlier. Dishes would be done again, and family members would stagger out into the crisp fall night, bellies distended.

When my Grandma Hazel passed away when I was in the 8th grade, it was a blow to all of us. Thanksgivings from then on were spent with my other grandparents in New Jersey. But there was one similar thing on their table: the noodles. My mother had secured, all those years working side by side with my Grandma Hazel, the recipe for the noodles. And suddenly the noodles took on a whole new life. Suddenly we were not the only ones who dreamt lustily of them when the air grew cold.

My father passed away a month after I graduated high school, and that was the year that my mother passed the torch to me. I was now the keeper of the noodles and all their grandeur. That first Thanksgiving without my father was so difficult – Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday. But having those noodles on the table was a comfort. Everything changes, but that dish has remained constant.

I still make the noodles for my family. No matter where we are: Here in Virginia, or even in Hawaii with my husband’s family. My brother even made them in Baton Rouge when he and my sister-in-law couldn’t make it home for the holiday. The noodles are always on the table wherever we are.

As I make the dough, knead it in my hands, and send flour flying all over the kitchen and myself, I feel honored to be a part of something so simple, yet so binding.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Happy 4th Birthday Liam!

Liam turned 4 years old last week! I cannot believe how fast this boy is growing up. We’ve been doing a lot of reminiscing with him about what it was like when he was a baby, and looking over old photos, which he loves to do. I think it’s hard for him to grasp completely that he was ever tiny like his sisters. I love telling him about what a happy baby he was; in fact, I feel so blessed that he and his sisters all have pretty much the same disposition, even though they have slightly different personalities.

When Liam was a baby, well into his first year, we always thought he’d be a very quiet, pensive little boy. He came out looking like a little old man, and continued to look like a little man as he grew. He was often very quiet, and almost always had a concerned look on his face, as if he was trying to figure out the deepest mysteries of the world. He was happy, but pensive. So naturally we thought he would grow up and be the same way: Shy, reserved, pensive, and quiet. Nothing could be further from the truth. His first real word (besides Mama and Dada) was “Horsie” at his 1st Birthday, followed quickly by “Doggie” the very next day. From that point on, he racked up a vocabulary at an astonishing speed, and he never shut up. He became ridiculously outgoing, and a hopeless flirt. If you were a waitress, you would not be able to get away with just saying hello to him. He was going to charm you if it took the entire mealtime. He still has never met a stranger (which can be a good thing, and also kind of a scary thing, since he seems to think absolutely everyone is his friend), and people genuinely seem to gravitate towards him.

These days the thing I cherish most about him is his empathy towards others. If he sees another kid fall down, or hears someone crying, he will be the very first to pipe up and ask them if they’re okay. When we were at the D.C. Zoo last spring, we were looking at the elephants and the adults were talking about the sign that told you how to donate to keep them well maintained. You had to text something on your phone, and that would be the donation. All of a sudden I saw him struggling, and almost crying. “Help me Mommy! Help me with my pocket!!” When I asked him what was wrong, he said he had to get his money in his pocket (some loose change Buck had given him after buying a snack), because he wanted to donate it to help the elephants.

Then last Friday night I was stuck in traffic on my way to visit my friend Liz in D.C. Buck called me on my cell to report that he had left his wallet in the center console of his car – the car I was driving. Whoops. To make matters worse, he had promised Liam that he would take him to his favorite Mexican restaurant for dinner, and Liam was really upset that they couldn’t go because Buck didn’t have any cash, or any of his cards. Buck called me back about 20 minutes later and told me a story that brought tears to my eyes: Liam had suddenly said, “What about my money?” And Buck said, “What money?” to which Liam replied, “The money in my piggy bank.” We give Liam our loose change, and he also gets loose change from his grandparents. We’ve taught him to count it, and put it in his piggy bank. When it’s full, we take Liam to the bank, and deposit most of the money in his savings account. The rest, about $15, he’s allowed to take to Target to spend on whatever he wants. Well, he had about $36 in there Friday, and said emphatically that he wanted to use that to pay for dinner. So off to Coinstar they went, and the rest was Mexican food-fest history, capped off with Sweet Frog frozen yogurt.

It’s these types of moments that melt my heart. I hope that his love for people and empathy will not change as he grows up. He’s not a perfect kid, and we have our fair share of challenges and obstacles. But he’s quite simply the best little guy we know.

For Liam's Birthday dinner, we made his favorite "curly pasta" (we really don't know what else to call it, and have no nifty/special name for it). This is a dish Buck created this summer, and it's so ridiculously good I actually demand it most weeks. I guess I could re-name it a summer pasta, but there are several ways you could make this perfect, even without a grill (notes below).

Buck's Summer Pasta

• One package of your favorite wide German Egg Noodles

• Any favorite sausage, 1 per person (We like the Tuscan pork sausage from Whole Foods)

• 1/2 large vidalia onion, sliced thinly

• 2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced

• Olive oil and butter

• Parmesan cheese, grated (as much as you like)

• 1 green, 1 yellow, 1 red, and 1 orange bell peppers

• Garlic Powder, Pepper

1) Chop bell peppers into large chunks and put into bowl. Drizzle some olive oil over them and sprinkle with Garlic Powder and Pepper. Mix with hands until coated. Place in a vegetable grill pan (meant for the grill), and grill them on high until cooked slightly through and browned on edges.

2) Grill sausages on medium for approximately 10 minutes. When done, slice into 1-inch pieces.

3) Meanwhile caramelize onions in a sauté pan with olive oil and butter, and boil noodles in salted water until al dente. Add minced garlic just after the onions caramelize, heating through for about a minute.

4) Mix noodles, onions and garlic in large bowl with some grated Parmesan cheese (again, as much as you like). Add in bell peppers and sausage, tossing until incorporated. Add more Parmesan and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Notes: Instead of grilling, you could easily sauté the peppers and fry the sausage. The grill just happens to bring out a certain smoky sweetness in the peppers you can't get in a pan. The amounts above make for a lot of pasta, which is great for us because we like to eat it all week. Also, Liam hates bell peppers. For his birthday, we made sure there was everything but the peppers. If you're not grilling, go ahead and rename this dish Buck's Most Stupendously Awesome Pasta.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cast Iron Revelry

Mushrooms, peppers, and onions sauté in my new cast iron dutch oven. A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

The week before my birthday I asked my husband, "So, have you bought my birthday present, or do you know what you want to get me?"

"" (I could literally see the wheels turning in his head as he determined if this was a safe answer or not.)

"Great!" Was my enthusiastic reply. Because I knew exactly what I wanted, and I didn't want to wait to get it. It was something I had wanted for years: A Le Creuset 5 1/2 quart cast iron dutch oven. For years now I had been coveting this gleaming pot of beauty that beckoned from the pages of Williams-Sonoma, tired of passing up recipes that called for such a pot - one that could do the heavy lifting on top of the range, and then easily moved into an oven. Not every pan and pot can do that. In fact, most cannot. Cast iron can.

And it may be true that I could have acquired a cast iron dutch oven for less money, and without the pretty name of Le Creuset. But damnit, I wanted it. In red. And I practically skipped to my nearest Williams-Sonoma. I was the only person in there that day, and the saleswoman offered me a free Espresso. How often does that happen? It was meant to be.

So, what's the big deal about cast iron? I personally love it and have a 12-inch skillet that I use all the time. It retains heat well and evenly distributes it, and it browns meats to a golden perfection almost every time. It's been used in cooking for hundreds of years, and I personally like that I'm cooking with something that is so technologically simple, yet so brilliant in application. No bells and whistles, no frills (except for that deep red color I got my dutch oven in - I admit, I was seduced). It's heavy and substantial; enough to give your biceps a workout. If there's ever an intruder in my home and I'm near the kitchen, I won't go for a knife, I will go for my largest cast iron skillet. It's a deadly weapon. Just ask my white stove, now sporting a black divet from where I chipped it after lightly grazing it with my skillet.

I've also wanted to make my own cornbread in a cast iron skillet for a long time, but didn't have the right size. Neither did Williams-Sonoma or any other store I checked out. Here's a little secret for you that a family friend, who works at Williams-Sonoma, told me: That size can be found at Cracker Barrel. Yup. Cracker Barrel. You know that ridiculous, kitschy store Cracker Barrel has, where it looks like every country Grandma's home in the tri-state area was boxed up and then dumped into one small space? That place has Lodge Cast Iron Cookware in all shapes and sizes. Who knew? I'm usually so overwhelmed by the throngs of people, and the closeness to such kitsch that I start to break out in hives that I never noticed.

I think I might have skipped out of the Cracker Barrel too, and went home to make this cornbread, stolen from the pages of Southern Living's October issue. The recipe is courtesy of Chef Tyler Brown of The Hermitage Hotel, and it does not disappoint. Just like cast iron cookware.

Buttermilk Cornbread

• 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 cup plus 3 Tbsp. plain white cornmeal
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 1 Tbsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1/4 cup butter, melted
• 2 large eggs
• 1 cup buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 400˚. Lightly grease an 8-inch cast-iron skillet, and heat in oven 5 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, whisk together first 5 ingredients in a bowl; whisk in melted butter. Add eggs and buttermilk, whisking just until smooth.
3. Pour batter into hot skillet. Bake for 30-33 minutes or until golden brown.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween Fun!

We had a great Halloween last night. My parents came over, and my Mom brought her delicious chili, and I made cornbread in my brand-new 8-inch cast iron skillet (post on cast-iron skillets and other cooking tools to come!), Ghostly Lemon Cake Pops that were a little tough to make (some of them died a second time while being covered in white chocolate), but ultimately turned out great, and one pumpkin pie I cannot post a picture of because it's just too sad.

Let's just say it was a pumpkin pie failure as far as prettiness, and um, because of burnt edges. Suffice to say, I ran out of time yesterday and in my haste I accidentally made enough for two pies, and filled the one I had too full. It still tasted good, but it looked like a hot pumpkin pie mess.

Liam hauled in enough candy to feed a small army, and despite the rain, a good time was had by all!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Richmond's On the Map!

I would like to say that the following is just my opinion. I don't expect many people, if any, to agree with me:

I was sent a great link today to GQ online that featured the chef and owner of Richmond's own Comfort, Jason Alley, wherein he listed his favorite Richmond restaurants, and talked about how Richmond is evolving into a "food town." I was so excited to see this because finally people not only in the South and Mid-Atlantic are starting to acknowledge Richmond as a great city for food (something we Richmonders have known for a while), but it opens it up for the rest of America as well.

Some of the places I have been to and enjoyed, and some places I've heard of but never been to (but want to!), and some I'd never heard of before but am excited to try.

But. There were a couple of things about this article that rubbed me the wrong way. Let it be known that I am a HUGE fan of Comfort. Every meal I've ever eaten there has been amazing. Alley is a master of creating simple, delicious, satisfyingly true Southern comfort food in a space that is both unpretentious and fun. However, I was really turned off by how much he cursed in this article. But maybe that's just me. I've read countless articles in men's magazines (I actually really enjoy reading Men's Journal) given by actors, singers, authors, artists, etc., and more often that not the copy is barraged with their quotes containing line after line of profanity. What I don't understand is why these guys seem to think it's necessary to curse this much. Is it because they think no other man will understand their speech unless they drop the "f" bomb repeatedly?

It makes me look at these men differently. It's so unnecessary, and let's face it, terribly childish. It's the way high school boys talk when they're not around their parents (or maybe even around their parents, who knows?). And the copy suffers for it. Take the first quote from Alley: "Even Secco, a straight-up Mediterranean spot, is using all local shit." I did a double take, honestly. Because the way it reads, when you read it quickly, is that this restaurant is serving up feces. When you're talking about food, the least appetizing way to describe that food is profanity.

I understand that most kitchen restaurants are testosterone-fueled, curse-filled, trash-talking places. When the heat is on maybe it has to be. I know I wouldn't last a minute in that type of place, and frankly I wouldn't want to. But when you're representing my city to the rest of America as a place where people should come and eat and respect the food, and the city, don't you think you could refrain from cursing for just a second? Maybe? Is it really that much of a struggle to have decorum these days?

Secondly, Alley says some things about The Jefferson Hotel which are categorically untrue. 1) Gone With the Wind was not filmed there. It is rumored that the staircase in The Jefferson was the inspiration and replicated for their sets. 2) There were no random alligators in the lobby because of a flood. There were pet alligators kept in the marble pools in the lobby for show during the hotel's heyday. I know, sounds nit-picky, right? But I'm a history buff, and I think it would have been way cooler to accurately talk about how F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Elvis, and countless other famous people stayed there.

Anyway, read the article here. It's good, despite what I mention above. If you're a Richmonder, hopefully you'll have some new places to try. If you're not from these parts, come to Richmond! It really is becoming a great city for food. And go eat at Comfort if you've never been - pronto!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Whole World Is Opening Up For You (Two)

Last week Savannah and Delia had their 4-month checkup. Time has truly flown with these little ladies. When I think about it in terms of their Birthday being at the beginning of the summer, and the fact that it’s now officially fall, it feels like a long time. But if I don’t put it in that context, it feels like no time at all has passed, and I’m wondering how it is we’re coming to the close of October already.

But if I really want an indicator of how far we’ve come, it’s to look at them in their car seats. When we took them home from the hospital, I remember thinking the buckle on their car seats was unusually large. As you can see from the picture above (Savannah), it took up nearly all of their bodies. It was hard to know what to do with their tiny arms (Tuck them under the buckle? Drape them over the buckle?). Now the buckle looks perfectly normal, in just 4 short months.

We were very pleased to learn that the girls are both growing tremendously well. Savannah is closing in on 14 pounds (and is in the 50th percentile), while Delia is nearly 12 pounds (and is in the 25th). That’s remarkable to us, because their last visit at 2 months Delia was just barely on the charts. It’s encouraging that they’re doing so well, and pretty much doing everything they’re supposed to do on time even though they were born at 34 weeks.

So what are they doing now? They are very alert and aware of everything, especially each other. They are both very quick to smile, and though they are identical, they smile differently. Savannah’s smile lights up her entire face like a fireworks display, while Delia is always quick on the draw with a full, but sly smile, and a twinkle in her eye like she’s in on the joke. They’re also doing that squealing/squeaking thing babies do right before they start to really laugh.

Savannah is trying her darndest to roll over, but hasn’t quite accomplished it yet. Here’s another difference: Savannah will keep trying, and not get tired of trying or frustrated, whereas Delia will try to roll over, get frustrated, cry, or fall asleep. She reminds me so much of Liam at this age. They both love to sit up supported.

They are also sleeping through the night, and have been since they turned 3 months old, which is a blessed relief. This is a tricky time because they are really starting to let us know when they’re unhappy (Delia is the most vocal), and two unhappy babies can definitely be a challenge, but it’s also one of the best times as they start to truly react to the world around them, and take it all in. Their world is changing rapidly from day to day, and it’s a joy to simply sit back and watch them grow.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tuscan Bean Soup

Tuscan Bean Soup 

Fall is finally here! The trees here in Richmond are just beginning to shimmer with the tinge of yellow in their race to see who can put on the most spectacular show. Facebook statuses were filling up with love for Pumpkin Spice Lattes before Summer had even come to a true conclusion. The days are milder, but Virginia weather is kind of whacky during the Fall. It's cool and crisp one day, and hot the next; back and forth until Winter comes around. Regardless, it's soup season once again, and I have one I think you'll really enjoy. It's super easy to make, filling, healthy, and delicious. It also makes quite a bit, so you'll have plenty of leftovers. My mom made it for us when we were kids, and I still love it today (and so do my kids!).

What's so great about this soup is that you make it in a slow cooker, and it's ready by dinnertime. I don't use my Crockpot that much. I actually have only a few uses for it: Making this soup, making the occasional pot roast, making apple cider, and my favorite, Hot Buttered Rum. But now we've skipped ahead to Christmas, haven't we? Anyway, with the luscious flavors of tomatoes, Italian spices, and good red wine, the aroma of this soup will have you salivating all day, and it's perfect for those cool Fall nights. I give you Tuscan Bean Soup:

Tuscan Bean Soup

1 1/4 cup dry Great Northern Beans
4 cups water (to soak beans in)
2 cups water (optional)
1 14 oz. can whole tomatoes, cut up
1 14 oz. can beef broth
1 medium yellow squash
3/4 lb. Italian sausage*
1 medium onion, diced
1/3 cup dry red wine
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. dried Italian Seasoning
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

• Night before - Rinse and soak beans, cover overnight.
• Next morning - Drain and rinse beans, pick over. Combine undrained tomatoes, beef broth, rest of ingredients (except Parmesan cheese) in Crockpot. Cook for 6-8 hours on high, or 11-12 hours on low.
• Serve with your favorite bread, and Parmesan cheese sprinkled over the top. Yields 5-6 bowls.

* Notes: I actually use frozen, pre-cut yellow squash to save time, about half a bag. I also use Al Fresco Italian Chicken Sausage (it's nitrate free and organic). For bread, I actually use a thin-crust Boboli pizza, lightly brushed with olive oil. Sprinkle Italian Seasoning and liberally shave parmesan on top. Bake on a pizza stone at 425˚ for about 8 minutes. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Chocolate To End All Chocolates

There is chocolate, and then there is chocolate. The first chocolate is the stuff of your childhood memories: probably Hershey’s, or Nestle, swirled into your glass of milk. Maybe once in awhile you dabbled in Lindt truffles, or perhaps even Ghiradelli around the holidays. It was special chocolate, because the holidays are special. It was the kind of chocolate that most women talk about when they say they’re addicted to chocolate. Sub-standard, unoriginal, and dare I say it? Milk chocolate.

And then there is chocolate. There is chocolate out there that all the other chocolate companies wish they could produce. And that chocolate company’s name is Valrhona.

My mom and step-dad just came back from a wonderful 10-day trip to the south of France, and while they were there, they were able to take a tour of Valrhona’s show room. When we saw them this past Sunday, my mom gave me some cute lavender keepsakes from Provence (as well as some wonderful Herbes de Provence). And then, with a gleam in her eye, she handed me a big bar of Valrhona Dark Chocolate: Guanaja at 70% cacao.

I was beyond overjoyed, because I’ve never had Valrhona chocolate. But I know it’s one of the finest chocolates in the world. Here’s the scoop on the company: It was founded in 1922 by Albéric Guironnet, a patissier, and named Chocolaterie du Vivarais. He built it in Tain l’Hermitage, and eventually changed the name to Valrhona to suggest its location in the Rhone Valley. Today it has a standard of excellence that is unmatched. What makes it so exceptional is that it works with cocoa producers in every single stage of the process, from the planting and cultivating of the trees, right down to when the bar gets wrapped. They have a small army of people who have a complete mastery of the sensorial analysis process in tasting.

And believe me when I say, the taste is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced in chocolate. Here’s the description of the bar I received:

Named after the now-famous Caribbean island where Christopher Columbus landed in 1502, Guanaja offers a completely original blend of cocoas, with subtle Criollos, and powerfully fragrant Trinitarios and Forasteros. This Grand Cru has a high cocoa content and is surprisingly bitter, but the range is full of warm notes. The recipe, of course, remains a closely guarded secret.

I had to look up some of the words to understand what it meant, but doesn’t that just sound amazing? That’s some incredible chocolate wrapper copy right there. Here are the terms you’re probably scratching your head over (I know I was):

Criollos – A term used to describe the trees the best fine beans come from.
Forasteros – Ordinary Venezuelan cocoa trees producing a bitter, flat tasting cocoa.
Trinitarios – The rough term for trees that produce a mix of Criollos and Forasteros.

I have always loved dark chocolate, but I was disappointed on my first bite that it tasted like many other dark, bitter chocolates. And then the wave of warm notes came washing over me. It was like eating a full-bodied red wine. I could even detect some very subtle plum fruitiness in there. It’s a taste that sticks with you for a while.

Remember up above when I used the words “milk chocolate” like a bad word? I really have nothing against it, but it’s just average in my opinion. And then I tasted the little milk chocolate morsels my mom brought home from Valrhona. Once again, you think you know what to expect (milk chocolate is milk chocolate after all, right?), but then come all the different warm notes, turning it into something extraordinary.

I did a little searching and apparently you can find Valrhona sometimes in Whole Foods, and also in Trader Joe’s – both of which surprise me, because I’ve never seen it in there. But maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. I will now – our bar is sadly half gone already.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

When No One's Watching, I Do This In The Kitchen

I know I've been really slow in getting posts out, but it's been a really hectic couple of weeks around our house. In really great news, the girls are finally sleeping through the night. In even better news, my arm has completely healed from the fried green tomato incident and despite liberal use of scar cream, I now have a nice big scar - still resembling Popeye's flexed arm.

Anyway, the other night I was dicing onions finely while I was making Chicken and Dumplings, and I caught myself doing something. When I'm in the kitchen, slicing things and concentrating really hard, I turn my mouth down almost like I'm making a fish face. Now, this fish face is not new to me. I often make it to get a laugh out of Buck, because let's be honest, it's a spectacular fish face. In fact, it's so spectacular that I actually made the fish face at him while we were standing before our Priest getting married to get both of us to stop crying. I had no clue I was actually making it on purpose! In the kitchen!

Which got me thinking about how when I'm working with chocolate, melting it for baking (which is kind of a long process), I stand stirring with one hand balled into a fist on my hip. Like I'm a half-hearted Peter Pan or something. I don't do this for anything else.

So what about you readers? Care to confess anything weird you do knowingly or unknowingly in the kitchen? Share them in the comments, but please, keep it clean. And in the meantime, here's a conversation between Buck and I tonight that may ring true for many of you as well (I hope):

Buck: I really want to get a mandolin to slice things like sweet potatoes thinner.
Me: No! We cannot get a mandolin.
Buck: Er, okay, why not?
Me: Because then I'd be tempted to use it and I'll end up slicing all my fingers off.
Buck: There's the confidence I love!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 - Where I Was, Where I Am

My father was a Captain in the Army during the Vietnam War. He worked in the last outpost of the DMZ and saw many young men come in for battle, and those same young men go out in body bags. When I was a child, I was very curious about what he did over there, and what it meant. He was very reluctant to talk about it to anyone, especially his children. There were only two things he would ever say to me aloud: 1) That it was so unbearably hot there, that even in the shade it felt like 100 degrees, and 2) That the enemy looked exactly like common village people, and so it was very difficult to tell the two apart.

Of course, I know now thanks to history books what really went on over there. It never occurred to me back then, or for many years to come, that my own children would someday ask me what it was like to experience and witness that kind of horror. I couldn’t know that thanks to the Internet and television, I would witness horror in HD. It never occurred to me that I would feel the kind of anxiety my grandparents experienced as their loved ones went off to fight in WWII, as they heard of Nazi submarines possibly spotted off Long Island and North Carolina, of the fear that they would come up the Delaware River, where they lived. Or the kind of horror my mother-in-law experienced as a 5-year-old living on Oahu when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor.

And why should I? I lived in a very protected world, and though I kept up with the news daily, I never saw this coming. It was a beautiful morning here in Virginia – crystal clear, but warm. In New York, autumn was already there, but here in the south, it was technically still summertime. I drove to work that morning blaring a CD, and so didn’t catch the news on the radio. I remember walking into work, and setting my things down at my desk. I remember walking to the break room with my breakfast to get some yogurt and some coffee, and a co-worker coming out of his office and stopping me in the hall.

“Did you hear the news? A plane just hit one of the World Trade Center towers.”

“A plane? Are you sure? Was anyone hurt?”

He didn’t know. We both supposed, like many people, that it was just a very small plane that had somehow gotten off course. A mistake. Some kind of terrible accident. By the time I got back from the break room and to my cubicle, everyone was gathering around a TV that someone brought out from their office. We got the signal for our local channel, and then it became apparent as the news broke that the second tower had been hit. This was much more than a terrible accident. We all stood, riveted, numb, horrorstruck for the next hour as we heard the news about The Pentagon, about the plane going down in Pennsylvania. As we watched the two towers crumble. It seemed like it would never end.

Mostly I felt a lot of disbelief and confusion. When it was announced that Al-Qaeda was taking responsibility, I remember most of saying, “Who?” It wasn’t until later, when the Taliban entered the picture that I suddenly remembered reading something about them in the late spring of 2001. I recall perfectly sitting in my mother’s kitchen after church reading the Sunday paper, and an article about what the Taliban was doing in Afghanistan – specifically about their crusade to tear down all remaining and existing Buddha statues in the area and in their museums. I remember thinking how crazy it all sounded.

Later at my desk, I tried my best to write copy for our upcoming catalog (I was working as a Senior Copywriter at the time), but I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t get a hold on one tangible thought. It was just a reeling, jumbled mass of frightening replays of what I had just witnessed. Overwhelming grief and fear. I wanted to go home, and our boss let us, but I remember that suddenly nowhere felt safe. Home didn’t feel safe anymore. My roommates and my boyfriend at the time and I all sat around the television that night, watching the news, and talking very little. We had all purchased the special edition of the newspaper that had come out that night that covered it. The headline read “ACT OF WAR.” I still have that newspaper. It was war, but against whom? It felt like what my father was describing about Vietnam – if you can’t really tell whom the enemy is, how do you wage war on them?

I remember going to bed that night wondering if we would wake up in the morning – and if we did, what we would find? The world was already changed. Two days later I was having dinner with a friend who was about to leave to live overseas. We were laughing over the bill – I don’t even remember what got us started laughing, but we couldn’t stop. The restaurant had been pretty hushed before that anyway, but there we were, laughing hysterically, with the other patrons glaring at us. It was simply a release of all the stress and grief, but I remember thinking that I never thought the day would come when it wouldn’t be okay to laugh.

10 years later seems like the blink of an eye. I’m married, and I have three beautiful children. And I wonder when they will start teaching about 9/11 consistently in schools, and what exactly they’ll teach. I know there will come a time when my children will ask what it was like that day, and what I felt, much like I asked my father. I want to tell them this: That we were struck down, but we rose up again, and the day did come when we could laugh again.

In Memory of Those Who Died:

The World Trade Center Towers

Flight 93

The Pentagon

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Fried Green Mishap

We were fortunate enough when Irene blew through not to lose our power. My parents were not so fortunate, and were without power for a good week. So we invited them over for dinner last Monday night, and in the interest of making something delicious and easy, I decided on BLTs. While in the grocery store, I noticed something new in the stand with the tomatoes. I recognized them right away because of the way they stood out - pale green, and arranged just so. They whispered, “Fry us, fry us!” as I stood looking at them.

Okay, they didn’t, really, but I was so excited to see them - they hadn’t been there all summer. And yet suddenly, gloriously, there they were – Green Tomatoes. Now I’ve never made Fried Green Tomatoes, but I’ve eaten plenty of them, and I also loved the movie (which really doesn’t have much to do with the dish, but that’s okay).

Despite a little trepidation (I also don’t normally fry things in general), I snatched them up, and immediately started hunting for the right recipe. The right recipe turned out to not be so easy. I wasn’t crazy about some of them (too spicy), and others I didn’t have the proper equipment (a deep fryer). So I chose the simplest recipe I could find, the one I knew I’d be able to handle, and added in some elements from the other recipes.

My cast iron skillet sizzled, and I labored over the tomatoes wondering if I was doing it right or burning them. I thought they looked and smelled pretty great, so I moved onto the next and last batch. The rest of the dinner had come together, and I was plating up: I had just three more tomatoes to fry. In my haste, and also due to a little bravado at actually creating one of my favorite Southern dishes, I cavalierly tossed the second-to-last tomato into the skillet.

You can probably guess what happened next. The tomato landed with a plop, and the piping hot oil sloshed out of the pan, and right onto my forearm. The instant it happened, I knew I was in serious trouble. I shouted out the “S” word so loud that I heard Liam audibly gasp from the next room, and my stepdad came running around the corner to help me. But by that time I already had my arm under some running cold water. I then slathered some honey on it because I thought I remembered that honey was a good treatment rather than butter (it was organic wildflower honey, just in case you wanted to know). And it worked! I was waiting for excruciating pain to follow, but it didn’t. I mean, it stung that’s for sure, but the severe pain didn’t come.

Meanwhile, my mom is yelling at me to stop what I’m doing to go put some burn cream on it and a Bandaid, but I had to finish the tomatoes. I was suddenly recalling all those chef memoirs I had read and every one of them had terrible burn stories to tell while at the stove. But since they couldn’t stop to put on a Bandaid or use burn cream due to the rush in the kitchen, I figured I wouldn’t either. For a brief shining moment, I sort of felt like a chef, sacrificing comfort and healing for the sake of the meal.

The tomatoes were excellent. A perfect crunch, and that tangy sweetness you can only get from Green Tomatoes. The recipe is as follows, and you can serve it with your favorite dipping sauce:

Fried Green Tomatoes

2/3 cup white cornmeal

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

1 Tbsp. garlic powder

2 Tbsp. buttermilk

3 large green tomatoes, sliced

1 large egg, lightly beaten

¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil or olive oil

• Combine first 3 ingredients in a small bowl; stir well. Combine beaten egg and buttermilk. Dip tomato slices in egg mixture; dredge in cornmeal mixture, coating well on both sides.

• Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add 1 layer of tomato slices and fry 3 to 5 minutes, or until browned, turning once. Remove tomatoes from skillet and drain. Set fried tomatoes aside and keep warm. Repeat process with remaining oil and tomato slices. Serve immediately. Yield: 6 servings.

After that’s complete move on to the next phase:

• Curse as loudly as you can

• Run wound under cold running water

• Honey

• Burn ointment/Neosporin

• Gauze or two large Bandaids

Apply all, but not at the same time. Accept the blame for your stupidity. Take picture of wound since it resembles Popeye’s flexed arm. Send to best friend via phone. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Taking the Mystery Out of Winery Visits

This week my good friend Alison Althouse writes about what it's like to work as a volunteer at a winery. She talks about how she got her start there, and also some great tips for first-time winery visits. I find this particularly interesting since I've only visited one winery in my life, and it was at The Biltmore, which is a shuffle you in, shuffle you out sort of ordeal with little in the way of learning anything new. And truthfully, I've always been curious about what you should do at a winery. Should you ask questions? If so, which ones? Or should you just shut up and drink? Sit back with a full glass and enjoy Alison's answers:

I volunteer at the James River Cellars Winery. It’s almost laughable until you realize just how much I love working at this place. I work when it fits my schedule, I teach people about the wines we offer at our winery, and I get paid in “wine dollars” for the hours that I’m there. It’s the perfect job for me. I started visiting wineries with my best friend about 2 years ago when she gifted me with a wine tasting/tour and lunch at a nearby winery. This seemingly small event opened up an entirely new world to me.

Wine had always been something of a mystery to me. I’d have a great-tasting wine somewhere and then search in vain to find something similar in my price range at the grocery store. Visiting wineries started to take some of the mystery out of what I liked in the wines I enjoyed. I learned about tannins (I don’t like strong ones), dry/sweet/off-dry wines (I’m somewhere in the middle, depending on the season), and oak vs stainless steel casks (I typically like stainless but can enjoy light oak). The difference from one winery to another can be like traveling between different countries. They all make wine, but each wine maker puts his or her own spin on things to make them unique. Add to that the impact caused by the weather on individual vintages (the year a wine is made) and you have another reason to visit your favorite wineries at least once a year! It was a lot to absorb as I started learning about wines, but I’ve found out some wonderful tips that I’d like to share.

· You don’t have to be an expert in wine to know what wines are good. If a wine tastes good to YOU, that’s all that is really important.

· At a winery, as in life, the only truly “stupid” question is the one that you don’t ask. TALK with the person pouring the wines at your tasting and ask questions. If they don’t know the answer, or aren’t willing to find out the answer for you, then you don’t ever have to return.

· Wine is for EVERYONE (of legal age, of course). Red wine is not just an “adult wine” and Sweet wine is not just for “Kids or beginners”. Each person has their own unique taste buds and their own preferences. If their choice doesn’t coincide with yours, then buy two different bottles.

· Do a little homework and visit wineries that offer tastings. The people pouring for you should be able to share their personal experiences with the wines being offered and give you suggestions on wines you will enjoy at their winery.

When I do a wine tasting at James River Cellars, you get MY opinion of the wines we offer. I will tell you how I’ve used our wines…. I’ll share recipes…. I’ll give you my nicknames for some of my personal favorites (Our Hanover Red wine is my “I have to call and talk with my mom for an hour” wine)…. and I’ll try and make your visit to our winery as memorable as I would want it to be if I were on the other side of the bar. Come visit James River Cellars winery (it’s on Rt 1 in Glen Allen, VA, just north of the Virginia Center Commons mall) and see for yourself. Hopefully I’ll be the one doing the pouring for you!

Here are my favorites right now:

Whites: I love our Chardonel and our Hanover White. The Chardonel is crisp and clean, but still fruity enough to taste yummy to me. I love to use it in sauces (replacing chicken stock in a chicken noodle casserole is a fave right now) and to use on fish when I'm making tilapia in the microwave. Hanover White is sweet and perfectly fabulous when ice-cold and paired with a spicy pizza or thai food.

Reds: I love our Hanover Red and Chambourcin. Hanover Red is similar to a sweet pinot noir. I use it to replace water in many chocolate dishes (brownies, cakes, etc) but love to drink it in the evenings or with whatever dinner I've made. Our Chambourcin is remiscent of a port, but is unique in that it can be served at three different temperatures for entirely different taste experiences. The warmer this wine is when served, the more smoke and spice flavor comes out but, when served cold, you really get that berry-forward taste. It's truly a special wine!


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Shelter From the Storm

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past week, you know that Richmond was rocked by an earthquake on Tuesday, and is now in the throes of Hurricane Irene. Hurricanes we’ve seen here before. Earthquakes, not so much. I heard the quake before I felt it. I had just turned the dishwasher on after cleaning up our lunch dishes, and my first thought was, “Huh. Something is seriously wrong with our dishwasher.” In the next second I thought, “Wait a minute, that sounds more like a jet plane landing in our front yard.” Then I felt the shaking beneath my feet and I automatically knew that it was an earthquake (having been in two before in Hawaii).

I yelled for Liam who was in the dining room watching the tea set rattle on its tray, and he met me in the hall where I scooped up the girls from their pack n play, and herded us all under the doorjamb in the guest bedroom. It felt like it went on forever, and the house really shook. Apparently it only lasted 15 seconds. Nothing broke, just some paintings knocked askew.

But what’s really interesting to me was what I was thinking about just before the quake hit. I was thinking about Hurricane Irene, and also about Hurricane Isabel, which hit Richmond full-force back in 2003, and also Tropical Depression Gaston in 2004.

Even though Isabel was very significant – we lost power for 5 days, and water for at least 2 days – it’s Tropical Depression Gaston that really sticks in my mind. Maybe that’s because for Isabel I was hunkered down in my apartment, and in Gaston I was out in the middle of it.

No one expected Gaston to do much. We were supposed to get some heavy rain, maybe some wind, but nothing significant. It was a minor hurricane that made landfall in South Carolina. As it moved northward, it gained strength in Virginia from the Chesapeake Bay, and then stalled right over Richmond, dumping 12.60 inches of rain on us in just a few hours. By the time it was over 20 blocks of our city were under water. Buildings had collapsed, cars swept away, and nine people were killed. It was a devastating time for our city.

At the time I was working about 30 minutes south of the city. We had heard reports on the news and radio that Gaston was going to make some serious trouble, so many of us packed it in early to head home. I got on 95 North to head into the city, where I lived at the time. I expected some traffic, but I was not prepared for the parking lot I encountered just 15 miles down the road. The sky look ghastly, really bizarre and ominous – that’s the only way I can describe it. I had the radio on, and was talking to Buck (we had just gotten engaged that summer) on the phone to figure out what to do. It was in a break in the storm when my worst nightmare came true.

I was never a fan of storms in the first place. But my worst fear was (is) tornadoes. I remember that the rain had stopped for just a moment, and a huge gust of wind sent a lot of debris flying across my car from the left. The next second, a flock of birds burst from some trees and raced across from my right. I remember thinking how incredibly strange that was, when I suddenly saw, on the other side of the road, a tornado form and touch down right on I 95 South. It moved past very quickly. I couldn’t even form words, and I know I was shaking. In the next moment a guy in a huge red pickup truck rumbled up next to me on the shoulder. Both our windows were down (I was trying to speed up the defrosting of my steamed-up windshield).

“Did you see that!?” he yelled gleefully.

“Yes, I saw it,” I said, and then promptly burst into tears. (Do you remember when I said tornadoes are my worst fear?).

He burst out laughing. “It’s okay! It’s okay!” He yelled at me, still laughing.

“NO it’s not!” I retorted this so hotly that he simply laughed some more and drove on past. Meanwhile, the rest of us were stuck in gridlock.

It took me hours to get across the river, talking back and forth with Buck and my parents trying to figure out if there was another way I could get around the city and get home, but there wasn’t. Not only did I not know my way around south of the city but it was a parking lot everywhere. By the time I made it across the bridge and into the city, I was beyond frazzled. And I also had to pee so badly it hurt. I even tried to go in my water bottle. But even though it was dark and I didn’t think anyone else could see me, I still couldn’t go. By then, I had managed to exit onto the downtown expressway, convinced I could get into the city and camp out at the Omni Hotel and just stay put for awhile. I remember looking down (the ramp was way up high) and seeing the water flowing swiftly into what’s called The Shockoe Bottom (the city is almost like a “V” with the Shockoe Bottom literally at the bottom before it starts climbing back up. This is where many of the historical buildings are and the roads are still made of cobblestone dating back to the 1700s). I watched a car get swept along with it and slammed into a building. I couldn’t see if anyone was inside.

In my completely unhinged state at this point, I accidentally got in the wrong lane. In the dark, with all the rain and traffic I suddenly found myself going back over a bridge – right back where I had just come from. I couldn’t believe how stupid I had been, but it actually turned out in my favor. I saw a huge Sun Trust building across the river, and headed straight for it. I found a parking space right out front and ran into the building.

“I have to use the bathroom!” I shouted to the security guard at the front desk.

“Then you need to leave your driver’s license at the desk,” he blandly replied. I was so frustrated that I threw not only my keys but also my driver’s license at him and bolted to the bathroom.

Once I had, er, collected myself, I called Buck and told him where I was. He told me to stay put, and I got some things out of a vending machine. I sat in the front lobby eating my snacks and watched as one employee after the other left with hearty calls of trying to “brave it” home, only to see them return 10 minutes later, completely defeated. We weren’t going anywhere. It was now 8 p.m., and employees had begun to gather in the lobby, wondering when they’d be able to get home. I tried Buck again at his apartment, but for some reason, he wasn’t there. I called my parents and practically forced my mom to tell me what was going on. She finally caved.

He was coming to get me.

That idiotic, incredible man was coming to get me and bring me home.

If you know my husband at all, you’ll know he is a definite type A personality. Tell him that the woman he loves is trapped in a terrible storm and the whole city is in gridlock and he will literally go crazy because there’s nothing he can do. But wait. There IS something he can do. He can run, 6 miles from his apartment in The Fan, in the wind and the rain, down across the river to come get me. Did I forget to mention that he’s a triathlete, 3-time Ironman finisher, and all around extraordinary man?

I was so mad at him for putting himself in harm’s way, and when I told some women whom I had been talking to what he was doing, I broke down. The stress had finally become too much. These women, whose names I cannot remember, offered to pray with me. And we did, right there in the lobby of the Sun Trust building, with tons of people standing around, wondering when the hell they would get home. I wish I did know their names so I could properly thank them.

When Buck finally came through the doors, decked out in his running gear and a reflective vest, all I could do was walk up to him and kiss him. People actually clapped and cheered. It was an unbelievable moment. Then he got us in my car and drove us to his apartment (the roads by this time were crowded, but manageable). By the time we settled on his couch, it was 9:30 at night.

Storms like Gaston, like Irene, bring out the best in people and the worst in people. There will always be the idiots who go seeking out a hurricane, or who think that barreling along the shoulder in a tornado and laughing about it is fun. I knew in that moment that my husband would be the best man I could possibly marry, and the best father because he would literally go to any length to protect those he loves.

So that’s what I think of when these storms roll through town. I think about staying safe, but I also think about the moment when I absolutely knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the man I eventually married would do anything for me, go to any length, and loved me enough to run through a storm for me.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Detestable P.S.

So with my momnesia working in overdrive, I forgot three important tastes that I cannot stand, and ones that if I see as part of a dish on a menu I will avoid at all costs:

1) Dill. Another strong tasting herb to me. I'm just not a fan. I love pickles, but not if they're dilled. If I see dill is a major herb in a dish, I will skip right over it on the menu. And the same goes for ---

2) Sun-Dried Tomatoes. I know. You all are going crazy right now aren't you? I've thrown two tastes out there that you probably love. I mean, sun-dried tomatoes are everywhere. But I find them chewy, and bitter, and just plain awful. And here's the interesting thing: I LOVE tomatoes. I can't get enough of them. I practically eat them every single day. But sun-dried is just plain bad to me.

3) Olives. Olives are literally repulsive to me. They are too briny, too strong. Tapenade makes me want to throw the heck up.

My friend Lesley also sent me this link to an article in the New York Times about the psychology of hating cilantro. It's an excellent insight, and even further validation! Thanks Lesley! Click here to read it.

I also want to mention that there are several other flavors and tastes that I have hated, but gotten over due to continuous trying. Here are a few: capers, escargot (I know, how is that different from oysters, etc.? It's not, and I don't know how to answer that question, sorry), brussels sprouts, and chives (what is it with me and strong-tasting herbs?).

As always, I love comments. Any tastes that you used to hate that you love now? Post them!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cilantro, I Detest You. There, I Said It.

There are very few foods that I simply cannot stand. In our house growing up the rule was that we had to try everything once in order to decide if we didn't like it. We weren't allowed to look at a food we had never tried before and proclaim we didn't like it. If we tried it and didn't like it, chances were we would still have to eat it, but it's a great rule to live by, and one I still try to live by (and have started to instill in Liam).

However. There are some foods and tastes I simply cannot abide by. When I say that, I mean, I avoid them at all costs. If I see that even one of the tastes I feel strongly about are in a dish on a menu, I will automatically rule it out. In my defense, some of these I've tried time and time again hoping I will like them, because I feel like I should like them - since everyone else does. What a little sheep I am. Baaaa. Here they are, in no particular order:

1) Salmon. Oh, how I wish I liked salmon. It seems like most people love salmon, and love it with a passion. So when I find other people (all two of you) who hate salmon like I do, I tend to geek out about it. It's the smell. The taste. Ugh. It's very overpowering to me, and I enjoy seafood. There's a reason I've nicknamed it "The Demon Fish of the Pacific," and that's because it's disgusting.

2) Cottage Cheese. The mere mention of this dish makes my flesh crawl. I don't care if you dress it up with the most fabulous fruit, or what have you. It's sour and the texture of it makes me want to retch.

3) Oysters, Clams, Calamari, and Mussels. This is another texture thing for me. I don't care for squishy, rubbery tasting things, even if they are drowned in a nice garlic wine sauce. That being said, I'm slowly coming around to oysters. I'm not saying I'd slurp down half a dozen, but one once in awhile is fun, if nothing else than to prove to myself that I can choke it down.

4) Lollipops. I don't know why. I wish I could explain it, but I have a hard time verbalizing why I hate suckers so much. I think it might have to do with just how sugary they are.

5) Jelly Beans. This is sort of the same thing as lollipops. I just don't like them.

6) Cilantro. Okay, this is the big one. As far as tastes I can't stand, this is one that I feel at least a little validated in. I don't mind a bit in salsas, at least it's hidden very well in it. But in some recipes they use way too much of it, and I can't stand it. It tastes like dish soap to me. And I also hate it because it looks exactly like curly parsley, and there have been too many times to count that I've grabbed the wrong bunch of herbs at the store, only to be incensed (incensed!!) when I get home and discover my mistake. Gah! Cilantro, you fooled me again!

But then one afternoon I was watching The Barefoot Contessa and she actually said on camera that she couldn't stand cilantro either! I literally screamed out loud, and at my husband, as I jabbed a finger at the screen: "See!! I'm not the only one!! Ina Garten hates cilantro!" I freaked out, but in a good way. She went on to calmly explain that cilantro is a very dividing herb - you either love it or you hate it. "Yes!" I screamed at the TV, "I hate cilantro, Ina Garten!!!" Meanwhile, my poor husband just laughed and looked at me like I was crazy. Which I might be. (He hates cilantro too, just for the record)

So what are some tastes or foods you simply can't stand? Leave them in the comments!