sunny saturday

Posted in delicious places on January 18, 2010 by thatwasdelicious

"Two-Prong Wooden Fork" : just for fries and maybe poking your eye out

A walk down Forbidden Drive (origin of its name: you were forbidden to drive there. isn’t that the most prosaic explanation of an exciting name that you’ve ever heard?) led us to two fantastic new places:

Bruno’s Diner.  When the girls at the stables at Fairmount Park’s north end told us we couldn’t use the equestrienne bathrooms but “There’s a diner at the end of the road,” the inconvenience of me having to pee every 10 minutes became a blessing.  Bruno’s is awesome. The big outside front porch must be heavenly in summer, to watch fireflies and swat mosquitoes and wait for the bats to come out in the evening. Still winter, though, on this peaceful sunlit  day, chilly even with surprising warm gusts of snow-and root-scented air coming up from the ground. We found the second, glassed-in front porch perfect for our purposes. The gray wood and jukebox and no-frills rickety chairs made it feel like a been-around-forever shabby beach-side diner.

The waitress seemed like a busy older sister and urged cokes upon us and took good care of the large older  man in a stained sweater and black sneakers who looked like he had seen better days and may have come to Bruno’s on many of them.

The banana split served to the young family nearby stretched absolutely colossal in its glass dish. Matt’s burger was big, my diet coke came in a satisfyingly wide glass with lemon.

And the fries, cut round, were served with special two-prong wooden forks that you used to spear them and pop them in your mouth (the most uni-purpose utensil I have ever seen.) I asked the mustached manager what they were called. He brought us a box of them – “two-prong wooden forks,” the label said. The picture was of the forks spearing a fry. He told us that the factory had actually discontinued them, because Bruno’s was literally the only person buying them, but that he had found another supplier.

When I left, I went to buy a gumball from the penny-a-gumball machine – and when I didn’t have a penny, a gentleman sitting at the counter gave me one. I got pink!

Bruno’s is a must-return. Who will join us for a day-long hike up and down the Wissahickon Gorge – with lunch at Bruno’s? The banana split is on me.

The Great Beech.

The Great Beech

The lady stands her ground

The Great Beech is a grand old lady tree, grand enough that people decided they would make a sign with her “name” on it. She does not really give a leaf about signs. She has a silvery smooth bark and many branches the size of tree trunks themselves, so wide that her root system creates a sort of sofa at the base of the trunk. She is a very calm and strong tree, and she welcomes visitors in her branches with lots of nobbly bits to brace feet on and wrap hands around. Many of her nobbles look like breasts and nipples, some look like elbows. In some places, her branches have met and grown together in arcs. She is an arbol to come visit when you feel sad or afraid. I have a feeling that an hour curled up in one of her big branches could heal a lot of ills.

And both of these places are in Philly! Hooray for this crazy mixedup city.

rainy sunday

Posted in Uncategorized on January 18, 2010 by thatwasdelicious

Today was peace.  Inside the little apartment, outside in the rainy street, inside my heart and stomach. It was a nibbling day, one of the best kinds: where you are reading or writing or cleaning and only remember to eat when you are done. That is a great hunger – the forgotten kind, and easily satisfied by a big bowl of cereal and some fruit, or the second half of that sandwich from yesterday.

After a day of homebody nibbling, the elegant Msr Nick and I made a date for a poetry reading at L’Etage. When I climbed on my bike, the rain – steady, noisy drops all day – had lightened to a mist. The bike tires barely hissed on the street. Under the streetlights, my body felt light in the bicycle’s motion, sheer and bright, another electric reflection skimming the asphalt. I rode past the vibrating neon cheesesteaks of Pat and Geno’s, the darkened library, empty streets.  Nick was waiting upstairs, whiskey in hand. After an hour and a half of music and intricate words, we skipped out early to get a dessert crepe in Beau Monde’s last 10 minutes of Sunday night.

With little hesitation, we chose chocolate with crispy coconut, to be served with coffee ice cream. The crepe came already divided in two and sprinkled with powdered sugar. The ice cream melted where it hit the hot crepe. Oh, it was cold and bitter and sweet, and the crepe hot and crunchy and milksweet, that back-of-the-tongue cling of good chocolate. The textures and flavors wrapped around my tongue and tingled my teeth. Nick’s conversation about poetry and plans, and the sweetness, richness and perfection of the crepe, carried me home happy tonight.

after the party there’s the hotel lobby

Posted in delicious places on January 17, 2010 by thatwasdelicious

Some fantasies are so grand that living them out for just one night is thoroughly satisfying, enough to leave you worn out and dazy. Living them out for any more than one night probably wouldn’t work as well. But the one-night rule sure works for the fantasy of living in a luxury hotel with all of your female friends. Here your only job (besides the good works you may do on the side) is previewing pay-per-view-porn and laughing, dancing to important songs like “Bad Romance,” soaking in the hot tub, hot-boxing the fancy hotel bathroom with women perched on counters and bathtubs and toilet seats, remarking how gorgeous your friends all are, ordering pizza, telling sort-of secrets, drinking champagne, and falling asleep every night in a big, white bed, with one of your beautiful friends snoring next to you.

at the plaza hotel

Cheap pink champagne has never tasted better.

christmas fish

Posted in Uncategorized on January 17, 2010 by thatwasdelicious

When I was growing up, I had a picture book about a little boy in Czechoslovakia going with his grandmother to pick out a live carp to cook up for Christmas dinner. That’s what the Czechs do on Christmas eve – pick out a fat carp from a barrel, take it home, and leave it in the tub until it’s time for the carp to go with Baby Jesus up to heaven and the cleaning and frying of the fish to begin.

I like eating fried fish on Christmas, a tradition my mom still observes. It’s tasty and doesn’t make you want to fall asleep right away, like turkey. (I just capitalized that by accident…those boring Turks!) It’s a meal I look forward to a lot. But this Christmas, Wooten and I were headed for his parents’ house, and the year before, I spent Christmas eating ice cream sandwiches on a lawn chair with my friend Oso, in order to avoid making smalltalk his large, jovial, and very conservative Argentine family.

This year I’d toyed with the thought of making fried fish, but it didn’t seem like there would be time before we left for GA.  When Joe decided to have dinner with us on the 22nd of December, though, and I discovered some  catfish in the back of the freezer, I found myself making Christmas dinner for the very first time. One might even say we whipped it up. Matt got some Canola oil to improve the frying, and I set out the three bowls  – one with egg, one with flour, and one with breadcrumbs – next to one another, just like I’d seen my mom do for 22 years. Coat the fish in egg, lightly in flour, and then breadcrumbs sticking to the yellow, floury layer of the first two.  And then a quick fry of the fish, which started to smell heavenly – salty and greasy and light.

Joe appeared with jug wine and the comforting clomp of boots up the stairs, gifts exchanged, radio shows made fun of, stories swapped, and then fish was on plates, mashed potatoes scooped out, and all devoured in the light of candles on our table and the Philly skyline outside.

Realizing I’d known how to make Christmas fish all along was great. The fact that it was ACTUALLY delicious, and that happy boys were eating seconds, was even better.


Posted in Uncategorized on January 14, 2010 by thatwasdelicious

On the first afternoon of the first visit to Matt’s family in Georgia, Kelly Wooten (his mom and an insanely delightful person) got up from lunch and said “I’m just going to whip up a snack cake.”

ms. kelly, wondrous whipperupper

Several discombobulating experiences had already occurred at the Wootens’. His parents greeted me with giant hugs, as if I had known them a very long time, and a beribboned journal and small welcome note on the guest bed. Then, candy dishes. It was noon, and three fistfuls of Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Nuggets and Dove Premonitions or Sentiments or whatever had already made their way into my tummy because candy dishes winked at me behind lamps and on bureaus. My parents don’t do candy dishes or welcome notes, and my urge to say  “thank you” every three minutes was beginning to embarrass everyone.

And now, this snack cake. How do you just “whip up” a cake? A cake, by my reckoning, is a complex, messy and mysterious object that

gets made over hours and days of saying “maybe we should make a cake…” and then procuring the ingredients and still missing a few of them and then substituting with Chai powder and milk and creating something so inedible that not even your humungous calorie-sucking younger brother will eat it.

Then I thought, Waverly would love this woman. “Whip up” is a phrase one may use to describe their cooking. When Wave writes about her childhood meals with such detailed sensory memory – and sense of recipe  – it’s obvious her mom introduced her into the life of the kitchen early. I imagine Wave chopping celery the way she does now (scary restaurant prep-style), a giant knife in her stubby five-year-old hands. Wave does not hold any misplaced wonder or fear about how food gets made.

My mother might have already pegged her daughter as too spacey to wield a rolling pin; also, she liked her dominion in the kitchen, and I was perfectly happy to be reading instead. So I mostly stayed away from the kitchen, except for omelettes with lots of chopped onions (the eggs had to be beaten in a copper bowl, according to my mom, for better aeration) and sometimes brownies from a box.

Until fifth grade or so, the kitchen was a warm, pleasant cave of bowls, NPR and the smell of melting butter (we must have cooked with a lot of butter, because I remember thinking it was essential to melt a big pat of it in every pan, including the first few times I made bacon). Things clanked, Terry Gross interviewed, butter sizzled, my mom frazzled, and food appeared.

In fourth grade, I learned how to boil water. It was a process that seemed dangerous to the point of foolhardiness, mostly because of the old gas-burning stove and its ticktickticktickticktickFWOOM! If the spark didn’t catch right away, the FWOOM would flash out blue for inches sideways from the bottom of the kettle (and maybe catch a nearby paper towel on fire and then maybe you would have to wave a flaming banner through the air and maybe drop it and stomp on it until crispy black shards littered the floor).

The first recipe to suffer at my hands was chocolate chip cookies, that self-fulfilling prophecy of a recipe on the Tollhouse chocolate chip bag. Unsure about fractions, I misread the cup measures (I thought that 1  3/4 cups meant one unit, being “3/4” of a cup, of flour). When we held the baking sheet vertically over the trash to scrape off the deflated mess, it dripped off the tin in goopy strings.

My senior year of college was the first year I closely watched someone cook.  Far from a conjuring trick, cooking turned out to be a practical process involving love, fear, experience, and presence of mind.Waverly’s hands worked systematically, with no wasted movement, and little external narration of her experimentations, so if you looked away for more than a minute, her dishes seemed to magically appear. Our roommate Michelle was a whirl of clanking bracelets, big sleeves, cigarette in the air, and at the center of it all, two small nail-polished hands chopping Japanese mushrooms and sprouts and whipping up bowls of noodles that she sucked down with total pleasure. Emily was a meticulous baker and chopper, her movements more languid, taking time to look at the incredibly symmetrical pieces of carrot she produced before they went in the pan.

energy bars for breakfast!

energy bars for breakfast!

I love all the styles of cooking I’ve watched, from cataclysms of frosting to clean-as-you-go assembly lines. The cooking style that continues to wow me,  though, is cooking without drama, the men and women who “whip things up.” They move from idea to creation so quickly. They don’t stop to mull on perfection, they take missing vanilla in stride, and they do it all with the knowledge that it will be gone soon. They are zen Buddhist monks creating brown-sugar mandalas.

Kelly did make that snack cake, in about fifteen minutes, with her stand-up mixer and a new recipe. She just for fun, just to have around under a big glass dish to snack on. When we came to visit for Christmas, she made chocolate chip cookies within about 20 minutes of walking in the door, and they were delicious: salty, sweet, chocolatey, chewy.  It’s the kind of easy doing and giving that’s adulthood, that makes homes and makes us at home in the world.

running home

Posted in delicious places with tags on January 12, 2010 by thatwasdelicious

Going back to California in the winter is like time traveling. All of the sudden the edge of winter is gone. The nights are chilly and sometimes you need a coat during the day, but the essence of the weather is like the best, about to burst, part of an eastern spring. The other thing that I love about California in the winter is that the light is blue. The sky, the sun, the mountains, the shadows all have a blue glass bottle sitting in the sun glow to them that makes me feel like it is time to make a thousand and one plans, go for a run, jump in the ocean, and sleep like a child.

Last year when I arrived in California it was after a fall of traveling. My mom had moved into the house about a month before and Claire and I weren’t sure how to make this new place our own. I spent the next 6 months working, studying, and running and somewhere in those 6 months I found a way to make California home. When I stepped off the plane this December, I could feel it. The lightness that catches you under the feet, the elation and freedom that comes from knowing that you are home and some of the unconscious burdens of living and taking care of oneself are going to be lifted.

I think it was about the fourth day I had been back I pulled out my running shoes and went for a run through the neighborhood, a way of reacquainting myself to the streets that I sometimes get confused with Philly streets because they are overlapped in the part of my mind that knows Home. First there is the turn past the house that has lemon and orange trees by the front door. Then there is the long stretch of homes with fences and lines of roses, another turn and I am running past the school. Then a long straightway to the house with an  abundance of lavender and the cat that looks like a leopard which is next to the house of the outrageous hippies who have a dirt yard that with a sign that says “water conservation zone”. Cross the main drag of Mathilda, I am running past the public library and the women in kurtas who take a daily walk from the library to the park. There is another long stretch of road past a fence covered in ivy and then I hit the neighborhood of the fruit trees. Persimmons hang on the bare branches like orange-y Christmas baubles, pomegranates hang low, a dark purple-ly red also on bare branches. Avocados are still green amongst their waxy leaves, the smell of bay and oily citrus follows me until I hit the park. From the loop around the baseball diamond it is a nice stretch along the railroad tracks. Following the tracks I can feel my legs loosen-they know how close I am to home, how fast I can take this last stretch to my door, my house…

PS I first titled this “persmimmons!” for the beautiful persimmons that I took a picture of and wanted to write about, but then off I went on a tangent and ended up writing about running. BUT….what I wanted to write about persimmons is that they are delicious. Right now they are in season in California. Trees are covered in these funny orange, red almost tomato looking fruits. The taste of a persimmon is sweet and fresh, it is somewhere between a carrot, a mango, and maybe one other flavor that I can’t quite name since it am trying to write about taste from memory. The flesh is firm but juicy and I don’t think you can eat the skin, or you could, but I never have….. not sure why now that I think about it. A ripe persimmon smells absolutely luscious and sometimes they are so juicy the skins split. That is ideal. Softer is better, sweetness getting more and more concentrated and skin slipping loose from the skin. But don’t mistake bruised softness for ripe softness, the difference is in the smell. Just like a baked good, you know a fruit is ready when it smells like its taste. I think that persimmons are eaten in some parts of the world to celebrate the New Year-the color and taste of a fruitful year to come. Also, their name…persimmon….. oh I love it. Right. So that is what I wanted to write when I put that picture up. Now you know….

a fatty good year to you all

Posted in Uncategorized on January 3, 2010 by thatwasdelicious
*The traditional pork, saurkraut, mashed potatoes New Year’s meal with Blue Moon to celebrate the fact that we saw the new year in with a full, blue, moon.*