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I don’t pretend to be a food writer though I have tweeted more than 12,000 times and most have involved either putting food or my foot in my mouth or putting words together halfway wittily which is different from half-witted. Then there’s my children’s writing that I haven’t done in a while–all those damned tweets and the business of Real Richmond Food Tours has something to do with that. One of two filing cabinets in my desk is jammed with children’s picture book manuscripts and poetry and food comes into play more than I’d realized. I’m a bit of a food poet, so for April here’s a snippet from Want a Cookie?:

I started gnawing zwiebacks/back when these were almost new./Gluey, tasteless sawdust;/what’s the point of teeth?/ Then I spied my mother/with something on her face./A smile, a smudge,/a glimmer, a gulp./Want a cookie.

One bite/one taste/one swallow/one nice big cup of milk,/one lick of my lips/and I knew what to do–/try, taste, chomp!/From a package or a pan/I don’t need to waste a plate;/crumbs in teeth, on shirt, in hair./Where’s my cookie?

And on it goes…. So autobiographical, I know.

Now that I’ve established my gravitas, it makes perfect sense to say that I’m one of the gang of three that’s putting on the Mid-Atlantic Food Writers Symposium in Richmond this June. We’ve assembled a remarkable collection of talented writers, editors, chefs, agents and food stylists that includes Kat Kinsman of Eatocracy, Todd Kliman of The Washingtonian, Lisa Fain of The Homesick Texan, Josh Ozersky of Esquire, Monica Bhide, Matt Gross of Bon Appetit, Ramin Ganeshram, Bonnie Benwick of the Washington Post, Kendra Bailey Morris, John Shields, Denise Vivaldo, Judy Pray of Artisan and Michael Psaltis of CEA. How many James Beard Foundation winners/finalists do you count?

Fresh-picked this June!

Fresh-picked this June!

That’s a line-up that ought to get lips smacking, hearts racing and fingers flying on the keyboards for food bloggers, recipe-collectors, cookbook-lovers and those who dream of cooking up a book or a blog. Hope to see you in Richmond June 20th-22nd!

 

I’m not sure if I will rate more or less of that once this gets posted. In my refrigerator when I first wrote this were way too many house made Sour Watermelon  Gummy Bears. I had very little to do with the making of them and even less to do with the eating of them, but apparently I was the inspiration for them. My husband swore (well after Valentine’s Day had come and gone) that the ingredients for them (including the romantic container of grass-fed gelatin) and the gummy bear mold were purchased as my Valentine’s present. The fact that I eat gummy bears only at miles 16-26 of a marathon run (and I’ve run only one marathon and will likely leave it at that) didn’t come into play in his present planning.

Appetizing

Appetizing

My participation included buying a small watermelon and laughing at his time-consuming preparations. Also tweeting about it. And now this.

Gum yum?

Gum yum?

There’s something wrong about using my baking mold that spells out chocolate for the overflow of this abomination. They actually had very little taste–probably due to the out-of-season tasteless watermelon we employed. Luckily our daughter was in mile 9 of her student teaching marathon so she actually appreciated the gummy delivery and the knowledge that her father is still sweet–in a sour watermelon, grass-fed gelatin sort of way.

One of the perks of having one’s mother move in with one is to have it confirmed–by the movers at least–that though my birth order makes me the third, in fact, I’m #1.

I didn't put it there, but I'm not taking it off either.

I didn’t put it there, but I’m not taking it off either.

Swear on my mother’s storage unit that this is what came out of the well-wrapped box among many boxes that arrived at my house last week. Jean Reasoner Plunket painted this watercolor of most of my siblings over the course of months in 1968. I can still remember coming home from school and sitting in my sister’s room none too happy about having to sit still. How I hated that hairstyle but loved the blue plaid dress that I can easily conjure up beneath that white collar. So now this portrait hangs in my house near the dart board, which seems appropriate. Of course, since I have another sister not pictured here, we hung her much larger portrait nearby as well. She came into the picture a few years after this one was done so her reward was more glory than the rest of us. Funnily enough, the painting of her wound up across from a movie poster of her that already hung downstairs. I will spare her and you that ironic photo gallery.

Having been an operating system for the benefit of others for many years now,  it took me less time than it takes Siri to botch my latest phone call to need a system reset after watching a preview of Her, the new Joaquin Phoenix/Spike Jonze movie about the former falling in love with his operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

I am a different version from the SJ edition: Do this. Don’t do that. You need to keep these receipts for tax purposes. You don’t need to keep receipts for your $3.29 purchase at CVS. You do need to keep those receipts for all the things you buy that should be immediately returned. You really need to return those. Yes, you have to go to the post office.

An interesting male fantasy, for sure, where she loves him for exactly who he is and isn’t bothered by his inability to clean the toilet. No matter that some reviews hint at an intellectually interesting film, the preview and the ads are cringe-inducing. Does her overabundance of empathy and understanding make her the embodiment of everything he needs in a woman except the body? Ethereal is interesting and god knows I’m not a fan of the fascination with body parts and adornment and fashion, so living out-of-body has its virtues. But chocolate has no place in a virtual life, so I think I’ll go with my gut and all the other parts. And see the movie with a box of chocolates handy.

Tasteful

Tasteful

I found the fountain of youth last month, but I’m not interested in partaking of it again. It was at a Catholic church here in town during Advent. Almost as soon as I walked in the door with my 81-year-old mother,  I felt transported back to adolescence–all snark and muttering to myself and rolling my eyes and looking around at people wondering how they can put up with this. Feeling young again might have felt liberating if it hadn’t felt so stifling.

The only clue that I wasn’t an adolescent was that I used my time in the pew to do my Kegel exercises. Before things got started, I read a notice about proper behavior in church that an usher had handed out and hoped for some decent Christmas music. Imagine my surprise when the priest began the festivities by saying that one young lady in one of the front two rows who answered his question wins a prize. Don’t remember that from the old days. Don’t remember the question either, but the prize, which he pulled from his robes (memo to priests everywhere: Don’t ever pull anything from your robe!) was a tin of Virginia Peanuts. Of course. Famous church marketing 101. Jack up sales of peanuts by talking about them at the outset of Mass. Crass was more like it.

I appreciated his antics even more (or less) when he began his homily by commenting on the sacredness of what goes on in church, lamenting his parishioners bad behavior and instructing us to read the notice in the pews about the solemnness of church and how we are to conduct ourselves in it. I do not like being told what to do–especially when I’d already done it and didn’t need to do it to know how to behave. The instructions were all about not eating or texting or talking while in church. How handy for him that they hadn’t included playing Jeopardy and hawking peanuts in front of the congregation as what not to do. From all my church-going and Catholic school-going years, I seem to remember something about Jesus throwing the money-changers out of the Temple. On my next visit to church, I think I’ll institute clandestine pew yoga to help me find some peace. Otherwise I might have to stand up and say something. Want to come watch?! I’m guessing I’m the one who’d get thrown out of there.

It’s the time of year when people focus even more than usual on food. Grocery stores are stocked with holiday must-haves. Time to bake and shop and simmer. Yet the week before Thanksgiving I was stewing over what I was going to drink with a bottle of Mirilax to get me through a follow-up colonoscopy. Timing is everything.  So with the aisles stuffed with  Thanksgiving necessities, I wandered through the store looking at coconut water and naturally sweetened Vitamin Water and Steaz and Metromint. I had water on the brain. I was thinking about quaffing and quenching even though I knew damned well thirst wouldn’t be involved.  I did three preps last year within 6 weeks, courtesy of a malignant polyp that cost me several inches of my colon, so I have plenty of experience with the ups and downs and rebounds of my gastrointestinal tract. Here’s what I wrote in Richmond Magazine earlier this year about that much fun.

To jazz up what doesn’t sit well with my stomach, this time I thought I’d try  to suck down the prep with less sugary flavored waters from Brazil and Indonesia and Thailand. As much as I like to eat, my gut isn’t a fan of drinking a lot of anything. I’m not a coffee drinker, not a beer drinker, not even a soda drinker anymore (though in a bid to make myself happy during the liquid diet portion of the proceedings I did take a few swigs of Dr. Pepper to see if that transported me back to happy land days of yore). I don’t mean to make too much of what’s one day and night of unpleasantness since I was  lucky to have the opportunity, certainly. And given that too many of my friends are facing radiation and/or chemo after breast cancer surgery, what’s a day of intestinal fortitude anyway? I couldn’t help but hum She’s Got the Whole World in her Bowels except that the coconut water never made it much past my esophagus.  And the chocolate mint-flavored water is a mistake as well. But you knew that already.

2013-11-16 13.03.10

I might be the only non-homeless woman in the United States who walks into an Ann Taylor Loft dressing room with a couple pairs of pants and a shirt to try on with a 1/3 of a pound of sliced chorizo in my bag. It was Zoe’s chorizo from Formaggio and it was what I like to think of as an essential styling tool.

Thank goodness the bag is pretty cool–from the Poe Museum in Richmond–a gift from my friend and biz partner, Susan. It gets the people talking in the big cities. I find it lends me (truly I don’t own it) an air of sophistication  even when all else points to a scruffy bag lady. But when one adds the flat-packed chorizo wrapped in plastic and paper, well, heads turn. Or at least well-tuned noses do.

Poe Poe Poe...

Poe Poe Poe…

Even though I’d just walked 2 miles to get that chorizo–ostensibly for my husband–I’d forgotten about it until I lay the bag down in the dressing room. Trying on clothes with what got me there–eating too much to fit into my clothes– (the hot fudge sundae wouldn’t have travelled as well) seemed fitting. Or perhaps, given the state of my clothing, ill-fitting.  I suppose I should have taken the flat-packed chorizo wrapped in plastic and paper and added it to my waistline while I was trying on the pants to make things more accurate. A new, wholly unappealing form of pork belly. The clothes may make the man, but they make the woman insane.

I’m a mild-mannered sort. Until I’m not. Last month while on vacation, I sat on a porch and shamelessly ogled a shirtless guy who ran by the house every day–up and back. Not so surprising in a beach town with lovely weather (the running, that is) but what was odd was that the gentleman in question wore heavy-duty, old-school cotton sweatpants as he ran. The sort of sweatpants not seen since the early 90’s. He was a slow-and-steady runner, of an indeterminate age that made his chest worth noticing all the while not making me seem like a pervert. The perfect combo. I chuckled about him the first day–even being so generous as to point him out to my husband (a well-known appreciator of the human body) when the runner dude made his return trip the first day. Many years ago my father appointed himself the bathing suit police when he sat swinging on the front porch, commenting on all manner of human condition we saw too much of there, so perhaps I was just following in his swing steps.

When guests arrived over the next couple of days, it became part of the routine to be on the look-out for my guy. I fancied that he looked over our way and smiled a couple of times, perhaps because he heard the herd of us  rushing the porch to see him, but I might have been making that up. There was a lot to notice during the week. He alternated his sweatpants from light blue  to navy blue to maroon, but with the exception of one day, he always ran shirtless. I was a little disappointed in him one rainy day when he donned a matching hooded sweatshirt–mainly because of the hood.  I saw him running in different parts of town, but for 8 days straight, he was out there. One of our friends named him Rico for no apparent reason. Perhaps the idea of my running away with Rico–I think I could have kept up–and I did in fact wind up behind him one day on one of my runs–sounded just right.

 

Rico's were better.

Rico’s were better.

And then we were on our way back home. Poor Rico was probably devastated. A week later one of our friends was at a flea market in NYC and found his shirt.

That explains it.

He left his shirt in New York City.

Still, I have to believe–slow and shirtless wins the race.

 

It was a dark and stormy night when my husband and I arrived in Cape May for a September vacation, so we didn’t do much gazing off into the distance as we unloaded what we needed to get to bed. The next night, Friday, the 13th as it happened, I was out on the front porch with a friend around 11 p.m. when we noticed  2 orange lights in the sky moving in tandem though not close enough to be on the same object. They headed west along the beach and then turned south over the ocean around Queen Street and soon enough disappeared. Mildly entertaining but hardly anything to talk about–until one of us noticed another orange glow coming low from the east and taking the same track as the other orange balls. And then another and another. Completely silent and steady. We called our other witnesses outside and speculated all sorts of things: something the Coast Guard base was doing, drone testing, UFO’s or a really meticulous wedding planner showing her stuff. The last was all mine.

We looked forward to the next evening with four more friends arriving to either make fools of us or be foolish with us. A little before 10 p.m. on Saturday, sure enough, the orange balls kept popping up to the east, silently coming towards our house before taking a left over the ocean to disappear–seemingly before they were so far away that we couldn’t possibly have seen them. I think we saw 8 that night over the course of 10 minutes. My usually shy and retiring husband went down the porch steps to accost some people walking along on the sidewalk with their backs to the show and they started pointing and blabbing along with us, wondering what the heck it was we were seeing. One of them had a good camera with a telephoto lens and took a shot, which my husband saw, that seemed to show that each orange ball was actually 2 separate lights. We talked about getting in the car to try to find the source of it–perhaps to Poverty Beach where we could glimpse the Coast Guard Station’s beach, but we were too lazy to do that.

This is not that photo.

aha!

Aha!

I wasn’t interested enough to do the research that one of our friends did. Somebody in 2010 noted a similar scene in Cape May and speculated it had something to do with the Electronics Support Group at the Coast Guard Training Center. I prefer the wedding planner scenario, imagining the rehearsal dinner guests and wedding guests on or near the beach oohing and aahing at the pretty lights in the nighttime sky.  We kept looking most other nights we were there, but didn’t see anything other than a beautiful full moon. When my husband and I walked to The Pier House for dinner one night, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the light at Pittsburgh and Beach to send the friends who’d already headed home–not with the aliens–as far as I know.

Given that one of my most vivid dreams from childhood was of a traffic light near what is now the Heritage Motel in Cape May giving me lessons in how to walk on my heels, you would be within your rights to dispute the truthfulness of my earlier account. But I’d rather you just tell me what it was.

I wish I had something valuable to say. Instead I will have to settle for noting how odd it is that cleaning up one’s house, I mean really going into the bowels of drawers and files and cabinets, brings out the worst in me and more $2 bills than I’d ever expected.  You’d think TJ would get more respect, but nickels and $2 bills aren’t really impressing me. Sure you wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Statute for Religious Freedom and founded the University of Virginia, etc., etc., but what have you done for me lately? $6 bucks? I can find $43 in loose change without even trying.

Can't explain it.

Can’t explain it.

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