Archive for the delicious places Category

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.


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.

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….

ad hoc

Posted in delicious places, delicious stories on December 29, 2009 by thatwasdelicious

I like restaurants. Surprise, surprise. But really though, there is something wonderful about sitting down to a table and having someone bring you a plate of warm, well-made food. And it is even more fun if the food they are bringing you has a story, has ingredients, has a method of preparation that you would not be able to tell, acquire, or do half as well.

Ad Hoc is a small restaurant just outside of Napa. It was started as an interim restaurant: they were working on finishing the interior but the kitchen was in place so the staff decided, why not serve family style dinners at a big tables until the place is finished. So they did. Each day the chefs would sit down, take stock of what was readily available, print up a menu, and wait for the guests to arrive. Dinners came on big plates and people helped themselves. When it came time for the orginally planned restaurant to open, there was such an outcry from the faithful regulars that the restaurant retained its family style dinner service.

My mom had read about this restaurant and had decided that for Solstice, her present to my sister and I would be a dinner out at Ad Hoc. That to me is the perfect present.  We decided that we would make a day of it. Claire found a petrified forest with some hiking trails nearby and and a market that she wanted to snouse around in. After sleeping in and eating a slow, 4 cup of tea breakfast, we packed into the car and headed north. The drive up through the delta is flat and wide. There are mountains peaking out of the distance and the hills in the first part of the journey are bare and look like folded pieces of sandy velvet. The trees are small and scrubby but as you go further north they get taller and covered with a glowing, light green lichen. The day was cloudy but occasionally the sun would slip through a break in the heavy clouds. When we got to the petrified forest there was mist rolling in between the hills and the whole woods was quiet and eerie. But beautiful.

After tromping through the woods and studying the petrified redwoods that made that particular part of the forest famous, we headed down off the mountain and into Napa Valley. As the sun set, the lights that decorated the vineyards popped on. The clouds cleared and there was just the thinnest sliver of moon and bright stars above as we drove to the restaurant.

Now, I am not a woman who revels in choice. Give me a pair of jeans, a tee-shirt, and a fixed menu and I am a happy woman. Having left the strictures of vegetarian eating behind, I have opened my world to a myriad of choices that weren’t there before, but in this case it opened up the door just wide enough for me to be able to eat what the chef had decided to prepare for the evening but did not leave me with a menu full of delicious, tempting impossiblities.

The menu for the evening of the winter solstice was:

Baby romain hearts served with pickled pole beans, radishes, carrots, carmelized onions, bacon and a green goddess dressing

St. Louis-style BBQ ribs, beef brisket and buttermilk shrimp with rice and black eyed peas and collards

Camembert with fig and almond chutney on paladin toast

Asian pear and blueberry cobbler with a drop biscuit crust and spiced chantilly cream

And it goes without saying that it was delicious.

It didn’t hurt that we entered the restaurant at the almost brain-numbed point of hunger (we had forgotten to pack snacks for the trip). And it didn’t hurt that the ingredients were good and fresh and were left to speak for themselves. We started munching on warm bread baked down the road by a local French-style bakery. The butter was soft and salty and the bread was chewy and dark. The salad with its bright crispness revived us from our states of Hanger–crunchy romain, radishes and carrots with cool, creamy, herby dressing, the soft sweet onions married to the tart, vinegary pole beans and salty crunchy bacon.

Then, with Hanger appeased and hunger tempted, the plates of meat came out. The ribs and brisket were smoky and the BBQ sauce was spicy, and sweet. The shrimp were grilled and retained just the faintest sourness from the buttermilk. The rice and beans were a necessary side to tame the spiciness of the BBQ sauce and the collards were done as collards should be–vinegary, slow-cooked, soft and chewy.

By this point we were full and nearing satiation. Conversation picked  up as we settled back in our chairs to finish off glasses of wine and beer and wait for the remaining two courses. The cheese course was excellent–the camembert was fresh and creamy and as it warmed to room temperature developed the faintest taste of hazelnuts. Paired with the sweetness of the figs and almonds, the camembert lost some of its piquancy–but not in a bad way.

Finally, dessert. Claire and I ordered coffee in the hopes that a strong cup would help digest the dinner, make room for dessert, and keep us awake for the long ride home. It was served in a French press and once the dessert had been laid on the table, the waiters left us in peace, allowing us to sip our cups of coffee and slowly do justice to the cobbler in front of us. The cobbler was good in the way that all cobblers are. Any subtly would have been lost on me at that point, any more richness would have sent me immediately into a food coma.

Finished, we piled into the car and began the long trek back to our small house in the Valley of Heart’s Delight.

Happy Winter!

snow day

Posted in delicious places, delicious stories, vague recipes with tags on December 28, 2009 by thatwasdelicious

What to do if it snows in Philadelphia:

snowed in

Wake up late. Pull the blinds up just enough to see the snow falling on the roof tops. Go into the kitchen and make sausage gravy with the broth from the sausage soup made the night before and pancakes. Load up one plate with pancakes and maple syrup, fill a goblet with gravy, pour dark coffee into one mug. Crawl back in bed and have breakfast in bed. Decide a few hours later that in order to avoid the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s authority to fine you it would be a good idea to move the car, go to South Philly, maybe find some Christmas presents.

Walk through the snow storm, wind blowing the sharp powdery crystals into your face, under your scarf. Stop at a coffee shop and sip another cup of coffee and a beautiful cup of hot chocolate until the AIDS Thrift Store opens for business. Walk a couple of blocks to the antique market and look at funny glasses frames. Continue on to the thrift store and shift through piles of used books. Decide that the weather is only worsening and it is probably time to head home.

Shed layers of scarves, mittens, flannel, wet jeans. Put wet socks on the heater to dry and jump back into bed, where, let’s face it, you should have been this entire time. Play some music, noodle around, fall asleep, deeply asleep until it is dark outside. Then, warm up some more soup and begin to replace all of the layers that were previously shed. With soup in belly and a flask of hot chocolate and whiskey, head back out into the storm.

Shuffle through the quiet, dark streets, stopping to help someone push their car out of a snow drift. Cut through the park where the Christmas lights twinkle in the bare branches and where the snow glitters under the streetlights. Head to the bar where Buddha Fest 36 is continuing on depsite the snow piling up and drifting outside. Listen to music, sing along, drink some funny cocktails and a few city-wide specials and then head back out, looking for dinner.

Pause to eat some snow, despite protestations of the more sensible.  Schlep down to Pine St and into Leila’s Cafe where an electric fire burns in a brazier. Order sandwiches and sit at the table nearest to the window looking out over the street. Follow the sandwiches with baklava, a pomegranate hookah, and cups of sugary cardamom flavored Turkish coffee.


Walk home through the snowy streets, on the street, with a guitar case bumping against your leg, another mittened hand in yours, and the cold kept at bay with food, drink, and the knowledge that home is not really all that far away.

the familiars

Posted in delicious places, delicious stories on November 30, 2009 by thatwasdelicious

This Thanksgiving after we had been fed and delighted at Joe’s house out in NJ, Claire and I headed back into Philly for a few short hours of sleep before we headed out for a road trip back to her place in Red Hook, NY. The early morning was misty but clear and as we drove out of Philly the moon was bright in the sky and there could have been snow in the bare branches. By the time we got to Trenton, the sun was well on its way to making a clear, crisp day, we had eaten pie, gotten lost, and gotten found. The trip was slated to take 3 1/2 hours, but it was 6 hours later that we rolled into Millerton (the small town where Claire works at Oblong Books)

Millerton and Red Hook are typical upstate NY towns–small with their fair share of book stores, antique shops, and coffee spots. The roads between the towns are long and windy and pass through horse farms and beside abandoned churches and failed gas stations. Sometimes it is strange for me to realize that Claire has been living for the past four years in these rural and out of the way places. But whenever I visit her, I have the distinct feeling of coming home. Perhaps that has something to do with Claire herself–after all, there is nothing like being reunited with my sister to make me feel instantly at home wherever we might have found ourselves– or perhaps it has something to do with the landscapes that remind me of a place called Home.

This trip to Red Hook was marked by the fact that Claire and Zak (her boyfriend) have moved in together and have spent the greater portion of 6 months negotiating the ins and outs of living together. I think that they are doing remarkably well considering that they are not only seniors finishing up their senior projects and theses but also working nearly full time hours. They have worked out cooking, and cleaning, and bills, grocery shopping and laundry—all the mundane particulars that really show you the true colors of the man or woman you have decided to partner up with and build a life/make a nest. I am impressed at their maturity and their closeness on a nearly daily basis. This trip to NY was the second time that I had gotten to be a guest at my sister’s pad. Their place is cluttered with books (the temptation of a 40% employee discount has given free reign to two voracious lovers of books) and funny vegetables in various states of maturity. Papers and knitting projects poke out of the couch, Claire’s jewlery siddles up to Zak’s razor on the bathroom sink and shoes and sweaters are mingled with disregard for ownership on the bedroom floor. Their home is homey in this clutter and I found myself settling in surrounded by books for two long afternoons of inspiration and reading.

Saturday afternoon I spent a cold day typing away in the attic of the bookstore while Claire worked down below managing the children’s section. Dusk was falling as Claire came up the stairs to find me and as the stars came out and the Christmas lights popped on we drove back to her house where Zak awaited us with dinner at the ready. Zak had called Claire earlier in the day to tell her that he had plans for dinner.

Now, Zak is a boy who likes strawberry yogurt and peanut butter sandwiches. He is not known for his culinary adventurousness or his desire to explore new and different foods. So while Claire has been spending these months of dorm-free, cafeteria-free life exploring recipes, ingredients, and cooking techniques, Zak has been sticking to his guns and his peanut butter sandwiches. There comes a time, however, when all palates will expand, and I think that Claire’s gentle influence and explorations of the potentials of kitchens have worked their magic on Zak. So in one of his newly resolved forays, Zak promised us empanadas, tomato soup, and grilled cheese.

On the way home, Claire called and Zak told her he also needed some wine and some salad greens. We stopped at the small shops along the way, each time dashing through the cold night air from car to store and back again–hunger building in the tummies and the primal desire to be in a warm den growing with the each foray into the cold, dark.

It’s funny how you can forget some of the most basic but delicious combinations. A wise food writer once wrote something along the lines of: the best food is the food that reminds us of foods we ate in our childhoods. I can’t remember the last time that I sat down to a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, but the instant it was suggested as a dinner I realized that what a perfect idea it was. Warm, sweet and salty soup with crispy buttery bread and melty cheese on a cold night with wine and some late fall greens (to make it slightly more adult), what could be better?

What made it better was walking up the stairs to Claire’s apartment and seeing the table that had in the afternoon been covered in books and pens and odds and ends filled with plates, sandwiches, smelling the chickeny, doughy scent of empandas in the oven and seeing the curl of steam over a pot of tomato soup on the stove. Claire and I piled our purchases on the counter and while I was busy unwinding my scarf and peeling off my jacket, Claire slipped over to the counter to give her boy a hug and a kiss.

After dinner, we piled the dishes in the sink and left them for the morning. We headed off to the movies (Fantastic Mr. Fox). And as I settled back in the car seat and left the driving to Claire and Zak, I realized that we are all growing up. And I really like this version of adulthood. Familiar in some ways and completely ours in other new ways.

adair winery

Posted in delicious places, delicious stories with tags on November 30, 2009 by thatwasdelicious

This summer my mom and I learned a very valuable lesson: if you are lost, stop and ask for directions. We discovered through a (now) hilarious set of circumstances that we are women of great faith. Given a tip by one of my mom’s co-workers about a great way to get back from Monterey that would take us through orchards and fields of phlox, we decided that we would leave the familiar Rt. 1 and have ourselves a bit of a scenic adventure. The tip, however, did not include detailed directions. So we set off around 7 pm after a long day (I had run 20 miles and then we had hiked to some bluffs to see seals basking in the sun) back towards what we thought was home. The sun was setting behind us, there were fields (they appeared to be filled with phlox), there were trees (they could have been an orchard) and it was beautiful. Signs of civilization began to fade away as we drove on and the moon rose. It seemed to my not well-honed sense of direction that we were heading southeast rather than northwest but since we had seen at least one field of phlox and surely those hills over there were our San Jose hills we pressed on. And on. And on. About two hours later we realized that we were not heading back towards home and it was time to call defeat and turn around. Another two hours later we returned to the start of our journey and decided that since it was now 11 pm, we would skip any attempt to find the scenic route and just head home.

It was with this well-learned lesson in mind, that we stopped to ask directions in a small town in upstate NY later this same summer. My mom had flown in to visit Claire and I and we had taken on the adventure of trying to find a small winery out one of the windy country roads that criss-cross upstate NY. We had uttered that famous phrase, “It must be around the next bend” at least 10 miles after we should have been there and rather than push on, we stopped.

I hopped out of the car and walked into the only bar in town. There were a few men at the bar and another large table filled with large men and plates of yummy-smelling, fried bar food. I took a look around and met the eyes of the only other woman in the establishment, the bartendress.

“Can I help you?” she asked

“Yes. Actually I am not from around here and we are looking for the Adair Winery. Do you…”

Before I had even finished my sentence she was already calling over to the table of men. “Larry, she needs some directions….”

Turns out that I had wandered into the local highway comissioner’s monthly lunch and that Larry was the head of the commission. A set of stellar directions and helpful hints from the rest of the bar later, I returned to the car triumphant.

10 short minutes later my mom, Claire, and I pulled up to the winery. Wineries and wine have always held a certain amount of mystery, romance, and sheer potential for me. I had grown up hearing about my mother’s summers spent working at the Nissley winery. She talked about those long summer days tending grapes, washing tanks, picking grapes, bottling wines, and hauling boxes with such love. When we were little, the musty, damp smell of wine on a cork elicited the pleasure of knowing that a story was going to be told. Now that I am old enough to drink myself, there are few things that I love more than filling a table with food and glasses with wine. Wine lends itself to long conversations, exuberant hyperbole, and an incredible sense of love and well-being. As Tanya says, “It is not for nothing that Italy is a nation of storytellers and dreamers.” And I would contribute a great portion of my love of Spain and Spaniards to the fact that wine was consumed like water on a regular basis.

So here we were at this little tiny winery. The shop where the tastings were held was in what used to be the hayloft of an old barn built in the style of the Dutch who had settled the New Paltz area. Below the loft were the tanks and the first scent that greeted us was that rich, woody, grapey smell of wine fermenting in casks. We three skipped up the stairs, excited to see what this small, one man show of a winery had to offer. We were greeted by a young man whose gaze slowly lifted from the book that he was reading as if he really would rather we didn’t disturb him. Once engaged in conversation about the wines, however, he was an able and creative guide.

The magic of wine is the time it takes to cultivate the vineyards, the wine itself. There is also the sheer unpredictability of the grape–so easily affected by wind, rain, sun, soil, fermentation, and a host of other factors, the surprise of a bottle of wine is also a great deal of the pleasure. Grapes like to work hard to survive. They like hard minerally soil that taproots will have to strain through. A grapevine likes to be tested, these are not the spoiled fruits of the orchard but the craggy tenacious fruits of the wild.

Adair Winery is young by all standards of wine-making, but for the youth the wines are good. The reds have a little more maturing to do but would make easy table wines. The whites were sweet and cold, which on a hot summer’s day was perfect. The real treat, however, was the blackberry kir. This beautifully tinted wine made with blackberries and a white wine grape (whose name I cannot remember) is served cold. The sweetness pairs wonderfully with spicy sausages and is a wonderful opener to any meal. It is not heavy in its blackberry fruitiness, which I think comes from the fact that there is a nice balance of the white. When my mom offered to buy my sister and I a bottle of wine each for our house-warmings, I chose the blackberry kir.

It was an evening in September when I decided to crack open the bottle of wine. Tanya came over and I pulled the blue bottle out of the fridge. I still did not have a couch and so we took the wine with some fresh peaches to the living room portion of my apartment. The evening sun streamed in and we sat on the floor drinking the cold, sweet, fruity wine from blue glasses that I had bought at Cowtown, NJ. As we drank the wine, we chatted and played cards. Hunger was far away and as we poured ourselves another glass, and then another glass we felt the unwinding and delight that comes from drinking heady wines in the summer. The world seemed filled with possibility and sweet around the edges.

We finished the peaches and the wine and headed out from my apartment for a walk through the evening filled streets. I think that we may have had ice cream for dinner, but I can’t be sure.

When Tanya was called up to NY for a recruiting trip, she made a point to stop by the Adair Winery. She purchased 5 bottles of blackberry kir. One has been incorporated into Tanya’s birthday dinner, another into a dinner that Claire, Lauren, Tanya and I made as we baked pies for a Thanksgiving feast.

And so three remain. They might even make it through the winter to spring days…. We shall see.

Un besote gradote and a good bottle of wine,