Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

my dinner with hootie

here's a toast to the simple joy of dining at the french bistro. soft yellow walls, the room resonant with chatter, forks and plates randomly clink in the bus tubs carried back and forth through the dining room. the late afternoon sunlight sets the tone for a perfectly simple, lingering occasion with one of the most interesting people i have ever had the pleasure to know. hootie wildermuth, (susan o'day, or in the sacred circle, dude). wordsmith, secret agent, extraordinary thinker, loving mother, exceptional friend.

it's hard to explain what happens when hootie is in your ear. it is an energy vortex of words and images; a free flowing rivulet of topics trickle, grow and take their own direction in the stream of dreamy consciousness. there is a story and there is a moment in time that will warm your heart a million times over. you will remember the words and and each thoughtful pause, so perfectly timed in a soft, natural way. hootie has magic all around her.

and so we start on the street. finishing her thin cigarette, i am happy just to see her standing in the door way. i stop in front of where she is; it is real life and i am here now. we hug sweetly. seated at the table, i get up and and put my face closely next to hers again; i smell her perfume and relish the way in which the scent mingles perfectly with her skin and hair. i cherish that brief second and tuck it away in my secret memento of things that mean the most.

so much to say about dinner with hootie, and her new gift from annie, which accompanied her in the mystical bag. katie's little girl gifted this small stuffed animal to hootie. of course it was not as it appears in the photo. originally with yellow fur and pink ears and nose, hootie needed a more realistic version, and thus dipped the furry animal in a cup of coffee and blackened the nose with a marker. "so much more real, don't you think, vel?" that night at the bistro, he became a real little pet dubbed moki, a sweet italian boy guinea pig. hootie recounts how she forgot about his being, and came apon him one morning, sitting on the edge of the bathroom sink. shreiking in horror, she thought he was a real house pest. and then she remembered. her own deliberate creation, he certainly looked real. we laugh hard and long. a story teller extraoordinaire, that hootie. she sweeps her hand across her bangs. her eyes, azure blue, are framed by perfect brows. she hides these things we love most, in complete self-consciousness, like a young child running away from all attention. she covers up her laughter, but it is the irresistible moment we love. beauty and irreverence, irish spirit and british wit, loving, sarcastic, too damn smart it makes you weary and just a bit weak with love. this makes my heart joyful, and i am so comforted to know she is in the world.

we take her favorite table and begin a winding, spontaneous conversation. gifts in bags, books in purses, photos, love letters, malka, big joe, bryn, photos of the boys and the bohemian mother, so many book marks hidden in the pages. amazing poetry from regular kate, a simple correspondence from her life long love. hootie asked me to read each to her, and just like that, we were nowhere else but in front of each other, and in the portals of each line on the page. i was beside her in the labyrinth of her life. i know how lucky it was to be right there, with the people she loves, sharing the wounds, reading the bliss on every page, in each word.

for the meal, we decide on a simple green salad with perfect french vinaigrette, and the mussel soup. heavenly. silky and light, a sensual bouquet of saffron, wine, shallots, cream and perfect, fresh moules. crusty bread, butter, an extra spoon. we sopped up the warm liquid with glee and unexpected delight. truly amazing and perfect. steak frites for the entree. thinly pounded, herbaceous notes flavored the meat, and a pile of potatoes to dip into our bernaise. too much, but still we chewed and savored. each course delicious in conversation, and sometimes pure quiet. we carried on with modest gluttony like a bon voyage meal without the sadness of departure. we hoisted up, as hootie would say.

our meal, like the poetry and pictures, became a series of mesmerizing moments that spoke to the simplicity of love and making. held tightly by our gangly roots, it seems we are grounded in the history and making of us. same and different, each of us, in this family of life. we are the uncommon garden varieties, and each family's food is born from the distinct memories of love and giving, in a multitude of expressions. it is astounding to think of this community of nurturing, so much alike and yet so unique. the very thought of it takes my breath away.

we cried and talked and laughed. moki sat high on the water bottle, the organic tinted chaperon of our pioneer dinner date. all seemed as it should be, perfectly imperfect, and it occurred to me in those very moments that i could be happy again. the server cleaned up the crumbs from the table, and emily joined us for a catch-up supper of mussels. susan and i sipped espresso, wishing for lemon zests, and wondered aloud about the shyness of our server from lyon. we were a happy table, ready to move on. we walked in the rain, shopped for books and shoes and traversed the universe in the span of three hours. we laughed a lot. mostly at ourselves.

i am grateful beyond words for my dinner with hootie. i felt tapped in to a brief but powerful transfusion of the life blood we all crave. the simplicity of friendship and the lust for life as we lovingly accept it was back in my veins, pumping to my heart, holding on. restoration of the good old regular, as hootie would say. i know exactly what she means.

it is a dinner we should all have now and then. together, and just for the hell of it. i am truly thankful for the richness that graces my path in the people like hootie wildermuth. i am humbled and so well fed. take the moment right in front of you. it is yours. that is what i learn, each time i choose to see the love all around me in this garden of life. i am grateful for the magic that still exists.

with much love xoxoxox

Saturday, May 23, 2009

the best way to take your lumps

on a trip back from a work project in reston, (virginia) i had the opportunity to visit my good friend colleen in maryland. i took her up on the awesome suggestion to lunch at jerry's seafood, where she has worked for many years. not only was it a moment of pure crustacean heaven, but one of great meditation on the experience of farm to table. (or in this case, shore to table). jerry's seafood restaurant is top notch dining, and i was in for a (sur) real treat.

lunch took the shape of a full on tasting of just about the entire menu. residing currently in a seafood challenged state, this was two hours of oceanic bliss. seriously. colleen was at the helm, so i sat back with relaxed abandon. lunch began with a trio of crab soups. traditional bisque with cream with sherry, curried crab bisque, and traditional chowder - tomato based with corn and lima beans. each more delicious than the other, with velvet finish on the bisque, fresh crab chunks, and just the right seasoning. the chowder was a perfect contrast to the creamy duo, and i finished every drop in each cup.

colleen was working the lunch shift, a light business on hand, so luckily had the chance to frequent my table. between short life snippets on the family, dogs, and updates on the boat, she delivered the white glove treatment in professional service and personal attention. i was completely spoiled.

i grazed through the menu.
perfectly fried shrimp, in a light batter that jerry has used for years. the shrimp was tender, and i dipped them (lovingly) in the home made remoulade sauce. crunchy, light and sweet. the sauce was dead on.
my beverage of choice: ice tea, perfect strength, unsweetened and lots of fresh lemon. next, bacon wrapped scallops, moist with a hint of hickory smoke. perfectly cooked, sweet and salty.
a deep fried crab ball comes full of that jumbo lump. i squeeze fresh lemon on it and take a slow bite. how could it be so good?
my palate took a cleanse with jerry's famous house salad. crisp, fresh, in a chilled plate. garden fresh veggies, and amazing blue cheese dressing so chunky with blue cheese it elicits complaints some days of "too much cheese". is that even possible?
as i sat at the table, i took a moment to meditate on the simple joy in dining alone. through the window i saw billowy clouds that were shingled in the sky in a way that you can only view in the north atlantic. between the shuttered blinds at my table i saw cerulean blue and white, a bright yellow school bus sat in the parking lot. it framed a perfect glimpse of a simple afternoon in lanham, maryland.
right then, we went deep into the chesapeake for what could only be described as heaven in a shell. colleen cleared the many small plates to make room for a giant mound of sizzling crab. jerry's crab "bomb" was a 6 oz. snowball of the biggest lump crab i've ever seen. bound only with fresh mayo and old bay seasoning, it was cooked to perfection in a blistering hot broiler. good lord. seriously. i was blown away, far into the waves of the eastern shore, lingering, reliving my years spent in Annapolis, my love affair with crab - and every bite took me back to a delicious memory.
once we visited pooh on the eastern shore, and amy, grace and i went to the most dilapidated crab shanty, just barely standing. cultivating soft shells in what looked like commercial porcelain sinks. the entire structure was crooked, and we walked the creaky planks in true awe. nets, traps all around, owl decoys swung back and forth on the dock. i remember that day as if it were just this afternoon. i always will.
i remembered tuesday nights at the blue channel inn in arnold, with colleen and crew, all the crabs you could eat for ridiculously cheap...beers, vinegar, butter. trays and trays of prehistoric dinner.
kentmoor marina had its own allure; crabs on the deck, all you could eat, salad, soup, a pound of steamed shrimp. it is what marylanders do all summer long. repeatedly, with fervor. just like a good italian and wednesday night spaghetti, this is the simple pleasure of living and working on the coast. it inspires me to write respectfully of traditions that cannot be replaced by anything else.

as if to outdo her own self, colleen tops off the feast with a perfectly fried soft shell crab, meaty and loaded with back fin. I linger in the moment of that bittersweet taste of the fat, and my endorphins are way beyond opiates. so full, but not willing to leave one leg on that plate, i pick and nibble and just like that crab, devour the entire body, limb by limb. i am on the verge of purge, but couldn't fathom leaving one thing out. i hoist up, as hootie would say, and finish with dignity.
i quietly soak my time and study colleen's face as she tells me about the new pups, furniture for the house, old friends' whereabouts. we talk about mary e., odenton, gail, truffles, blaine, the dd garage, sydney, dino, camille. colleen is just as i remember her. big brown eyes sparkle, she talks with her hands, and speaks with a quick, unique cadence. her posture is just as i remember, upright, her skin tanned from weekends on the water. she does not look any older, but i think tempered by the events that have enveloped her life in the past years. she tells me funny stories, spins yarns in her fisherman style. she freewheels with so much openess. she has always filled my heart with rainbows and sunny days. she still she does. brings me to tears with a dose of old fashioned loyalty and never forgotten friendship. i thank the goddess for holding some things dear, whether near or far.
so we carry on about the state of things. coll girl insists that i try a slice of lemon pound cake, from the special lady who makes all of jerry's desserts. it is scrumptiously lemony, dense and perfectly not too sweet. a puff of whipped cream on the plate. we continue our discourse and she decides that i must try the coconut cake. it is huge, and furry with coconut shreds, creamy filling in the middle. i barely gouge it with my fork, but can't resist one bite. coconut is high on the list of my weaknesses.
i am filled up, with good food, good friendship, and the sunshine inside me from the sea shines out to everywhere i look. it is divine crab crack, at its finest.
we end the lunch with a thorough tour through the kitchen. it is a simple and sparse area, white paneling. stations are quiet right now, but i can picture the madness on friday nights. we pass the crab picking station, and colleen finds yet another gargantuan lump of pristine crab. pops it in my mouth, like an after dinner mint for poseidon. i am beyond belief, especially when i see the rack of proofed portuguese rolls, and once again transcend to my remembrance of how well colleen loves, and shows it without even knowing. she talks of every important part of what makes jerry's kitchen hum, in short concise detail. she has pride and respect for what she does and those she works with. i am proud to be her friend as we stand in the kitchen at jerry's. she is so easy to read. a breath of fresh air in this complicated emotional world we have constructed.

walking the red carpet, lunch like this never tasted so good. inside this delightful meal, i am bedazzled one more time to taste the realness of friendship, the beauty of our earth and sea, and to share this loving exchange of a small and perfect slice of life. if you were with me at jerry's, you'd be full of sunshine, too. feel the rays washing over you with happiness. i wish you were.
what goes around, sometimes does come around again in our lifetime.
thanks for so much xoxo

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

my mother's birthday.

it seems fitting that i would start this journal journey with a short tribute to the most loving food influence in my life. today is my mother's birthday, and though she has been gone for over a decade, i think of her each and every day. mostly at meal times. always at the delicious bite of our season's first fruits.

my mother transformed love into food, and food into love. it was the vehicle in which she showed us her dedication to community, wellness and simple aesthetic pleasure. she was a natural zen buddhist. living the day to day moment to its fullest. that was helen vella.
starting monday, helen would take a trip "up ditmars" with her rolling basket cart to each favorite specialty food store. it was the first part of preparation in the every day dinner meal. monday through friday, without fail, mostly rain or shine, the trip was made. In a linear sweep, she worked her way from 47th street to 31st street , down one side of the street, and back home on the other side. the task at hand: selecting the day's most important meal, piece by piece. sal's produce for daily fresh vegetables, joe's pork store for coarsely ground sausage stuffed with fresh italian parsley & provolone cheese, carl's dairy for super aged auricchio provolone, pecorino romano, daily made mozzarella, perfectly sliced lunch meats. joe the butcher on steinway wrapped roasts, and pounded veal scallopini precisely to her wishes, and though she cooked simply, there were standards. fridays during lent included a trip to the marino's fish, for pristine flounder or a glistening, milky fillet of sole. . there were a myriad of other stores for ethnic delights; olives, cheeses, pastries, cookies. ben and pete at associated food store were a sometime stop for staples. most importantly, the last stop home was to the bakery for a loaf of crusty, seeded semolina bread. it was the final, and most critical purchase to complete the dinner. it was a crazy schedule, we all ate at different hours between five and was truly a full time job, one she relished and fiercely upheld through all of our lives together.

i think lately of how my days have been consumed with endless work meetings, conference calls, countless trips in the car. i have spent so many hours in pointless conversations about topics that, at the end of the day, don't really matter. at the heart of it all, love and happiness take such simple shapes in our daily lives for us to see. like the glistening frame on my mom's hand cart as she rolled up ditmars. one day in my twenties, i passed her in my car and saw happiness and bright resolve on her face as she walked briskly in the sunshine. i pulled over, so happy to have chanced upon seeing her, to give her a lift. it startled her for a moment, and i remember how much i loved her in that very minute. we laughed . tried to figure out how to fold the cart and get it and the food easily into the back seat of the car. it was far more complicated than if she had just finished the trip on foot, but she figured it out - just for me.
by far, it was one of the sweetest memories of my life. love and food, all wrapped up in the joy of shopping and cooking for this family. that was my mother, and that is one of the many simple, loving moments she has passed on to us. if you knew her, you would understand that this is what made her happy the most, and happy to share with you.

bon apetit.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

first things first

i'm almost ready to do this. getting thoughts together has always been the hardest part.