The Gleeful Gourmand: December 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