Friday, March 28, 2008

Charleston Chew

You want to hear something shocking? I don't mean, like, "ooh, that's shocking", I mean like, "WHAT?!?!" sort of shocking... I had, get ready, an almost perfect vacation. Seriously.
Take a minute to absorb.
Here's the deal - Got up early last Saturday, drove down traffic-free 95 to get to a waiting shuttle at the parking lot. Walked in (keep in mind, on a spring-break Saturday morning) to an almost empty airport, checked in at the counter with a real live person and was through security all within 10 minutes. Boarded first, rolled into Charleston 75 minutes later, and was in an upgraded rental SUV and driving to our hotel with all of our luggage 20 minutes later... with a free 'no need to refill it' tank of gas, I might add.... and on and on, it just didn't stop the whole week. We even rolled out of Charleston after lunch on Thursday and were eating dinner at home that night. Crazy. The only hiccup in the whole week wasn't even that bad... When we got back to the car, the battery had gone dead for some reason or another, but as soon as I called the parking lot guy from my cell, he rolled out and gave us a jump while the kids were watching a movie in the back seat. I don't even think they noticed... I don't even know what to say... kids did a great job on the trip, we saw some cool stuff... I'm at a loss...
Ok, I'll focus. For one, Charleston is a city like any other, there are good and bad parts. We stayed in the historic district though, so it was pretty upscale... and the good parts of Charleston were amazing. Every place we've gone has beautiful parts that stick in my head - like the olive groves in Umbria, the cobblestone side streets of Dijon at night, caves in New Mexico, the water in Costa Rica, the comforting plumes of smoke and cardboard ash that billow out of the drums lining the streets of the Italian Market, etc., etc. - but the grounds of the Magnolia Plantation were unparalleled. We spent almost three hours walking around the grounds and it felt like the blink of an eye, with every turn of the path bringing something that was literally breathtaking. Sweeping Magnolia trees draped with Spanish Moss were everywhere, and framed every picture we took... fantastic.
Blah, blah, blah, scenery was lovely, whatever. The food, ahh, the food. Let me just say, I had grits every single day we were there, and on some days, for more than one meal. Grits with hot sauce, grits with shrimp, grits with lobster broth and scallops, grits with tasso, grits and eggs, and my favorite, grits with extra grits. The grits were so good, I was ashamed that I ever made grits at home because they weren't nearly as... I dunno... gritty. On top of that - red velvet cupcakes and pecan pie, jambalaya, handmade walnut and spinach ravioli, honest to god fried chicken and collard greens - it was heaven.

It was the kind of vacation that made me think at least a few times every day, "I should blog about this..." and now that I'm home, there's just too much to write about, so you'll just have to imagine from my picture-rich post.
oh god I almost forgot... the icing on the cake of this perfect week... I got so much done while we were away. Sent our tax stuff out to the accountant before we left, sent the amp plate from my subwoofer off to Polk to be fixed, and dropped my beloved espresso machine off at the shop to have a few things done. Now that I'm home, everything is shiny and new again, and after installing a new water filter and letting the boiler warm up for a few hours I had a perfect shot to end a perfect week.... heavenly...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Words Of Flesh And Bone And Leaf And Flower

We've been doing the back and forth thing lately, Sara and I, caught in this odd cycle of work. For a few days I worked late, and to catch up, when I was finally home with the kids she would stay late. Funny thing is, everything seems amplified when we live like this... In some sense it's harder (especially the 12 hour days, one after the other, that keep me on my feet cooking like mad until I sit down in the car for the ride home), but in a way, I like the pace. Days like these my legs and arms ache with each movement, everything I do seems timed to the second, and I hang on each bite people lift up on their forks... waiting to see how their face changes, if they snap into focus.
Days like these I'm taut like piano wire in the kitchen, but when I walk in our front door aching and burned, home is a fairy tale. Past our front door, I can hear the kids padding around in their socks upstairs, and can almost feel them in the air... and for a while they're perfect... telling me about their days so fast that each word spills over into the next. If it's anywhere after eight o'clock Sara is, of course, lying in bed with her laptop at the ready... but on days like these with the goofy hood of her pajamas pulled up tight she still has the same smile that knocked me over when we met eighteen years ago. Tired as I am it's days like these I'm electric, and when everyone is asleep I want to write like Beryl Markham (or at least her husband) and have every word that's typed out be true and worth the telling. I want to start lifting again... I want to buy a duck press even though I have never had the need to press a duck... and want to learn how to play the Sitar on the off chance that someday someone needs a Sitar player, or marijuana is legalized, whichever comes first.
Then there are the days when she's late, and for a few brief shining hours the kids are just mine, and I can mold their little brains in ways that Sara would never put up with. This week, for example, I played "Are you gonna be my girl?" at an absurdly high volume often enough for Sam to learn all the words (and Lily a good chunk of them), and played old Underdog cartoons on YouTube until long after the point when they should have been getting ready for bed. Plus, we put whipped cream on a few foods that never, ever, should have whipped cream put on them. A noble experiment, sure, but believe me, not something we'll repeat.
When it comes down to it, I like these weeks a bit more every now and then. Sure, I'm tired, sore, and bitchy - but all of the effort makes the rest of my life shine a little brighter when I walk back into it. Plus, I get paid...
And to top off a week like this, I couldn't have asked for anything better than the enormous package I got from my new friend Amelita. A while back we started talking a bit about this and that... food stuff, for the most part... and she suggested we swap a few goodies and start a little USA-Australia food connection. I sent a package a couple of weeks ago stuffed with a few fun things from work, some spices and quinoa, some Tastycakes, etc... and lo and behold today I got a box in the mail absolutely stuffed with TimTams, dried mushrooms, jams, spices, chocolates, pink salt, raspberry tea, jelly crystals, olive oil... and almost every other category of food you can imagine. An entire dining room table full of stuff as a matter of fact. I restrained myself and waited until the kids were home before I opened it, and let our little Australian cornucopia spill out in front of them so that we all could root through it. Plus, she sent along a book of photographs of the town and beaches of Townsville, where she lives, for us to flip through while we munched our way through the box. Perfect end to a perfect week....

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Kid Gloves

It's really strange how things work sometimes. I've catering small dinner parties every now and then, and to be honest, they're a little bit stressful. When you think about it, it makes some sense though... huge raucous parties don't really have a single focus, but when you set plates in front of six people, you can bet that everyone is taking a moment to size you up. Plus, I'm always sizing myself up a bit more too. With a few plates sitting in the kitchen, every flake of pepper out of place stands out like a sore thumb.
On the other hand, I has a fundraiser on Friday that was a whopping 420 people, and it was hands down one of the easiest things I have done in a while. The number of people was a bit overwhelming, but the menu was a simple buffet, and since it was a fundraiser, we had a dozen people volunteering to help with the dinner. The hardest part of the whole thing was wrangling the volunteers - they're great, don't get me wrong - but they aren't really going to stick their neck out too far if something goes wrong. Running low on salad, roast beef, rolls, etc.? As wonderful as they are, bet your ass they aren't going to run down to the kitchen to tell someone or get more... it's much more likely they'll say, "oh, sorry, looks like we've run out of roast beef today..." Jaded, you say? Pshaw, realistic is more like it. So Friday was easy, but most of my time was spent running around behind the tables, checking on this or that to make sure everything was flowing the way it should, and filling in the gaps when volunteers would randomly disappear to go to the bathroom or wander the hall... or go home... Believe it or not, the best of the bunch were the high school kids we had, because they're easy to psych up. Joke around with them a bit, make fun of them a little, tell them they are fantastic, and you're set.
Afterwards, of course, no matter how straightforward everything was, it helps if you look slightly frazzled, and say "whew!" under your breath as much as possible... that way, all of the people organizing the event say, "wow, you really pulled it off! 420 people! I don't know how you guys do it! Do you cater private parties?" Good times...
Did I say too much?
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