Sunday, January 31, 2010

An Ode To Fish That Tastes Like Ice Cream

Something unfortunate happened the other day. I was disappointed in a restaurant.

I am a Midwestern girl through and through. I grew up on a very strict diet of baked chicken, casserole, and 5 ingredient crock-pot recipes. I have no business gettin' all snooty over the offerings of a wine bar! Hell, I didn't even know what a wine bar was until a few years ago. "Nice" meals out for young Erika meant we went to my family's favorite Mexican joint, my Dad ordered soda and if my Mom was feeling particularly fanciful she would order a domestic beer. It was good, stand up food. Always a tasty meal that put you into a solid food coma an hour later and still provided you with leftovers. Was I content with that? No. Of course not.

Growing up, there were years of my parents prodding me to try everything on my plate. (I still remember the tantrum I threw when my mom had the unfortunate idea of trying to feed Okra to a 7 year old, which was additionally confusing because my Dad kept telling my it was Oprah.....why would someone name their little girl after such and awful vegetable?) Now, I will try nearly anything put in front of me. In the process of trying all that food I learned to appreciate the magic that goes with it.

Last week Nick and I made our way out to a wine bar in Charleston. We were really excited cause the menu looked great, they served flights of wine, and the photos reminded us of
Purple. Purple was one of our favorite places in Seattle. We only went there a few times cause every time our bill would magically grow into this document that could also pay my student loan installment for that month....and maybe the following month too. But I promise you, to this day if you see my husband and I, then mention Purple, it will immediately be followed by one of us saying to the other, "Oh my gosh, do you remember the fish that tasted like ice cream?" Followed by a moment of silence as we recollect our mental faculties.

The wine bar here did not have ice cream fish. Instead, it served it's Pinot Gris too cold; it's pear, goat cheese and bacon salad with a dressing that was distracting and over powering; it's scallops ever so slightly over cooked; and it's Kobe sliders with a bun 2 sizes too big and with out any sort of sauce, like say a Wasabi mayo, to help marry the flavors. That's right. Go Ahead and say it. Erika, you sound like a whiny little jackass. If I were you I would want to verbally sucker punch me as well. But truly, this meal was the Pandora's box of Gastronomy. The point of no return.

The good news. I am actually a decent and adventurous cook. Also, there are a plethora of great restaurants here that don't disappoint. The bad news. Whenever any offspring come along, I will make them eat things weirder than Oprah....I mean Okra. Things like moldy cheese, and chicken liver mousse (seriously, it's so good).

PS - I way dig Okra now. Fried Okra is my side of choice when eating good, honest, comforting, southern food.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Booze should be served 24 hours at airports

This past week a spent a couple nasty days at the airport. I flew back to my Alma mater this weekend to visit some friends and help out with the annual speech tournament. This, of course meant flying out of Charleston International. As far as I am concerned, despite the title, it is regional airport. I flew into another regional airport in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. For my flight out I opted for the lowest rates possible and that meant during the course of my journey I set foot on the ground in 5 different states; South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Minnesota, and finally Iowa.

Airports are just a bastion of turmoil. I don't always remember it being this way. I'd like to blame it on 9/11 but in reality prior to 9/11 I traveled as a dependant of my family, never having to concern myself with arrival times, luggage, the expense of airport food, and so on. The cloud that hangs over airports for me now is merely a matter of perspective. I believe if there is anything on earth that creates a painfully accurate vision of purgatory it is an airport. Waiting, looking out windows, watching people arrive and leave again, little to do but pull out your cell phone, dick around on facebook, and reflect on what you have left undone at home. Perhaps you grab dinner but it is an expensive and insulting, tasteless replica of what you could be enjoying elsewhere. All the while waiting for the airplane gods to determine your fate. Change of gate? Flight delay? Cancellation? Overbooked? And really, no matter what your layover, you can't leave. You've checked bags or, at the very least, passed security. Now your only option is to wait.

As always I ran into a colorful cast of characters as one always does in the airport, starting promptly with my arrival at the Charleston airport at about 9 on Thursday morning. I decided to grab a muffin to munch on before my flight and right before I approached the cashier to give my order a little woman in her mid 70s dressed in slacks, a blazer and a scarf slipped in and tried to order a Bloody Mary. She was promptly told that the bar was not open yet. She went away grumbling. Part of me loved her for it.

Then, on my flight from Charlotte, NC to Louisville, KY, I sat next to a domesticated cougar. Not a large cat but a well-kept woman a little past her prime with a face of chemical injections and hundred dollar creams. While she was dressed well, she was dressed appropriately and clearly not for prowling, at least not that day. And, you know, good for her. She looked good and not offensive, she was having fun with the ladies she was traveling with, and I would judge by the trade journal she was absorbed in, that she was successful. Plus she didn't try to talk to me. Most good. But then she started to doze a little while reading architectural digest, leading to her Venti-sized hot drink to slip and splatter all over me. Really annoying. If you are going to bring on a big, hot drink like that AND try read just pull down your damn tray and set things up properly. She apologized but then, a few minutes later proceeds to ask the flight attendant for more hot water. Then I realize that she actually has two Venti Starbucks cups, one stacked inside the other. She gets her hot water and proceeds to pour the water from one cup to the other, re stack, then reaches into her purse to sprinkle loose tea into the water. Now lets just ignore the fact that she has no tea bag or diffuser for her beverage, who does this on a plane? Seriously!? And after she already baptized me with about 3/4 cup of her dreggy tea? Thanks, lady.

While I remained dry for my flight home it was even more touch and go. I spent a little extra cash for only one layover on my way back to South Carolina. However, that layover was only about 40 minutes long AND in Chicago O'Hare. (When I asked the gate agent what my options would be if I missed my connection she sympathetically and with a certain amount of surprise stated that, after searching all airlines, the next flight I could take was 6 hours later. Thanks, Charleston!) So I decide to head out to Cedar Rapids early to try get on a standby flight. The flight on which I intended to fly standby had a mechanical issue and ended up leaving later than my scheduled flight. During the 3 hours I waited in the airport to get on the plane I texted my husband and kept eyeballing the bar in my corner of the airport. The fact that it served breakfast was just insulting. Bars shouldn't serve breakfast unless they also serve breakfast drinks, which is what I wanted. Yes, since it has orange juice in it, I consider a screwdriver a breakfast drink. I played it safe and guessed that no one would serve me a stiff drink at 9:30 in the morning. Really, I didn't want to ask for a drink and get shot down. Unlike the older lady in Charleston trying to order a Bloody Mary who looked like a badass old chic who wouldn't think twice about yelling at kids for playing on her lawn, I would just like a pathetic lush in my late twenties. I would be embarrassed and then feel obligated to buy a $10 breakfast sandwich that tasted like cardboard and cat food. Then I would really be pissed.

Things didn't get better when I got to Chicago. Another mechanical issue delayed my flight for 3 1/2 hours. The only redeeming thing was that it gave me time to actually get lunch; an over priced imported beer and mediocre polish hot dog. After 12 hours of airports and airplanes I got home, munched on leftover airport snacks and promptly passed out in my own filth; travel clothes, greasy hair and all. Nick got home from work to find me on the couch startled, disoriented, and wiping drool from my mouth. He recalled the moment, laughing, telling me how much I looked like crap, a lot like a raccoon rummaging through garbage and then getting caught in the headlights of a car. Good thing I had already tricked him into marrying me.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Somewhere an Olivia Newton John song is playing......

My friend Rachel just left this morning after a quick little weekend visit here in Charleston. Naturally we acted like complete gluttons all weekend; wine, cheese, craft beer, sweet tea, pecan pie, grits, cocktails, fried green tomatoes, boudin eggs benedict, ridiculous Mexican & Italian, was bad. My body will be punishing me for the next week and a half which means today, Monday, was a perfect day to really recommit to this whole physical fitness sham I am trying to buy into.

I took a small hiatus from working out right before Christmas. We had revolving door of guests from the 21st through New Year's and I just wasn't going to kid myself by saying I was going to keep up the routine through all that. Then I got a nasty little cold and one of the symptoms I always develop every time I am sick is total abject laziness. So last week I started by making my way into the cardio room and hitting the elliptical to prepare myself for the shit show that was today.

I went on my first run for the first time in a few weeks today. I knocked it back a notch from where I was before Christmas and I completed my little circuit, but it was miserable. Towards the end I started feeling like those old guys that go out jogging in pleat-front khaki shorts, undershirt, and ball cap with their little headphone radios that have the antenna sticking up. Of course they don't really jog, they just shuffle, and while you admire their pluck you are also concerned they are biting off more than they can chew and you might have to call 911 any moment. That was me, I shuffled.

In addition to running I am going to start throwing cycling into the mix of things. Nick bought me a bike for Christmas. I am pretty excited about it. We took it out for a test run this past Thursday. That was painfully awkward. I am the type of person that is constantly tripping of my own feet, walking into furniture or doorways, or falling downstairs. I have also not been on a bike in over a decade. While I have yet to eat some pavement that whole phrase about "riding a bike" is not something one should cling to for reassurance. I hopped on my little Schwinn like it was nothing, wobbled a little and suddenly realized I didn't really remember how to turn. How much to I lean into it? What's the turning radius on this thing? Is it like a car to I need to brake before executing the turn? More wobbling, I may have almost run into a car, pulled off the turn, then got nervous and braked a little to hard and almost went flying over the front of the bike. I believe this was the point where Nick started to regret the gift. He spent the next 3o minutes critiquing my mount and dismount of the bike, shaking his head a lot, and muttering "This was such a bad idea, you are going to kill yourself" to which I promptly responded with, "Will not, shut up."

Clearly, I have also matured a lot since the last time I was on a bike......

Monday, January 11, 2010

Freaking Tannins!

I am taking a wine class with my friend, Amy. It is awesome. I mean really fantastic. It is held at this great little wine shop along Ashley River Road about 7 - 10 minutes from my house. Not the same wine shop we have been tasting at previously but another delightfully local shop with a constantly present and very educated shop owner. She runs the class, her name is Jacki and she loves her job. "I will do this until my liver gives out or I find something better." Love. it.

So yeah, I am learning how wine is made, how to taste it, what bottle shapes indicate all stuff that would have been really, really 'effin helpful when I lived California 4 months ago. But what can you do? But now, at the end of January I will be able to look like and sound like one of those asses swirling, spitting, and saying things like, "This Syrah is delightful. There are hints of Cassis, Coffee, and a little tobacco. I find it elegant but a little Hedonistic." And after saying that through my nose I will drop my monocle and call my driver so he can drive me to.....

THE MOST AWESOME BEER SHOP I FOUND THIS WEEKEND!!!! That sentence is in all caps for a reason.
About a month ago Nick and I made a failed attempt to find a European style bakery. Nick had heard of a place downtown and we drove there on a whim only to find that it was some sit-down place with, vinyl covered menus and individually packaged creamers that also sold baked goods. Think glorified Tippins, or Denny's meets Einstein Bros. We left, kicking pebbles in the parking lot, totally dejected. As we were pulling out of the parking lot we ended up behind a car with a sticker from "The Charleston Beer Exchange." I screamed, "Holy crap, do you see that? That can't be bad." And it took a few weeks but we finally made it there. A thing of total beauty. This shop treats beer with the same reverence people give wine. There are bottles of Rogue beer I have never seen and we lived in Washington for nearly three years, there is a beer made with Muscat grapes (which is the closest thing I have been able to find to the "beer wine" from the Briar Rose Winery in Temecula, California), and I even heard them respond to other customers with, "Uh, no. That is a very rare beer. We are lucky to have it now and if we are lucky enough to get more, it won't be until next year." Needless to say we purchased a growler and are chomping at the bit to go to our first "Rare Beer Tuesday."

It is so nice to start developing my palette and learn how to pair drink and foods and learn to have even more discerning taste. And that is what this is. If I start touting what a revelation Bud Light Lime was to the entire industry then I give everyone permission to stage an intervention.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Not taking 2010 while sitting down

Happy New Year to All!

I would like to start this, my first post of 2010, by giving you all my most sincere thanks. I have truly enjoyed writing this blog and I like to tell myself I would still write it even if no one read it, and maybe I would, but it would sure be less motivating. Every time one of you mentions that you are reading and enjoying my little corner of the Internet it makes my week. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and rounded out 2009 in high spirits. My 2009 was nothing if not a crazy and delightfully challenging year all the way through to the very last days of 2009. Really my Christmas is quite aptly summed up in this photo: Cluttered coffee table full of cookbooks, random items used in some homemade gifts, crackers and cheese, and the all too important half-drunk bottle of wine. But I do my best work under deadline.

Today, though, instead of looking back on 2009 and all its quirks and triumphs and moments that made me want to light my hair on fire....and lord knows there were PLENTY of those moments....I would rather invite you to look forward with me.
I have never really been one for New Year's resolutions primarily due to the fact that I was usually to tired to think of good resolutions, much less follow through with them. But now that I have all this free time and I am lacking employment in a.....yeah I'll go ahead and say it......completely degrading and soul sucking industry (well,degrading and sould sucking for me, at the very least) I feel I can safely come up with some specific and reasonable goals for 2010. I share them with you as, hopefully, a preview of somethings that will be up and coming for this blog this year. So please join me this year as I try to tackle, very likely fail at, then whine and kvetch, try again, and with any luck succeed at the following:

1. No TV Tuesday. I haven't devised concrete rules on this yet cause I am going to be honest with myself and say I can totally go the whole day with it off, but I need to break the habit of just keeping it on for company. Seriously, I am like dog, the dialogue makes me comfortable. Now, caveat here. If ABC decides to suddenly air the last season of LOST on Tuesday nights all bets are off.

2. I will read one book a month, if not two depending on the length of the book, and maybe 2 months of Atlas Shrugged. That is one mother of a literary work, I won't kid myself with a 30 day goal.

3. This year I will train for and run a 5k.
I am laughing at myself as I write this, but it is out in cyberspace now so I can't take it back.

4. I am going to start a potted herb garden once the weather warms. I am damn sick and tired of spending money for fresh herbs. This is probably going to be one of the bigger challenges for me as I don't have a green thumb. Scratch that, I have whatever is opposite of a green thumb. This is the girl that consciously killed a poinsettia plant in college cause she simply got bored of watering it. Thankfully dogs, cats, and husbands are cute and do tricks and will try remind you when they are hungry otherwise they may have been led to the same fate. That being said if you have and tips see comment box below.

5. I will pick up my camera more. No witty, snarky statement here. It is just somethin
g that needs to happen.

6. I am going to refinish the rocking chair on our porch. We have had this rocking chair since we got married. It was one of those things that just showed up with our stuff from Nick's house, which basically means my mother-in-law wanted to get it out of her house, and hell, who am I to turn down a free rocking chair? But we haven't really done anything with it cause it's all dirty and stuff cause it's been sitting in a basement or a garage for the past....I really don't know how long. So, I am determined to clean it up, sand it down and repaint it. I might loose a finger in the process but it will all be in the name of learning a new skill...well that and having an awesome chair for our porch so I can sit out on a summer day and like sip a mint julep or something ridiculous and pretend to actually be southern for 15 minutes.

7. I will learn to crochet for real. I lear
ned very basically in college. That means if you need a potholder or a scarf or a blanket or anything else that is square or rectangular in nature I am all the heck over. White on freaking rice. But really, one can only have so many knit scarves. So I bought a book a month ago and haven't gotten to pick it up yet but it is on the list now. Gauntlet has been thrown.

8. This is the big one. This is the one that is bound to cause multiple meltdowns this year. In fact, I am willing to put a number of 50 bottles of wine going to self medicate me on this one issue. Being as it is January. I am no longer moving. I am no longer having to deal with the holidays and cooking and going out of town and having a revolving door of guests in my apartment, I have to decide what I am going to do down here. Job? Volunteer? Start vacuuming in pearls and pick up a Valium habit? Take random classes and hope we don't
run out of money? Start and underground cock-fighting league? Really the possibilities are endless and I am open for suggestions....see comment box below.

So let's go. 2010, it's on!