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So I agreed to moderate a Writing Show panel for James River Writers this evening. It’s about food, drink, and romance in writing. You had me at chocolate chip cookie. I am thinking hard about what food I should bring with me to stuff into my mouth in order to prevent me from saying something really dumb. Dark chocolate could do the trick, but it’s so unseasonably warm today, it might melt all over my hands and then I’ll get chocolate all over my notes and then I will have to rely on my brain to come up with something to say of its own accord and there we are back at the saying something dumb issue.

A chocolate for my thoughts?

A vicious circle. That reminds me of cupcakes.

The mocha/chocolate one is my go-to cupcake.

There is no photo of an actual cupcake because as soon as the box gets opened, it’s not a pretty picture anymore. Actually, I have learned to show enormous amounts of restraint leading Real Richmond food tours around town. I don’t partake of everything at every stop. For me to spend time in a cupcake joint, inhaling the aromas of chocolate, coconut, and other good/evil things and not eating a bit is proof of something–I’m just not sure what. It is weird beyond belief, but some of it is vanity. Knowing that putting cupcake to mouth would leave too much evidence on my clothes, in my teeth and around my lips–not to mention elsewhere–helps in the self-restraint department. And then when the tour is over and I walk past said cupcake shop, I pop in and buy a 4-pack to take home. The Virginia General Assembly would do better to focus on issues such as banning driving while eating cupcakes than some of the other things they’ve been messing with. Three panelists, Michele Young-Stone, Andrew Fox, and Kit Wilkinson will be on tonight’s panel. All are novelists, but different genres: Michele writes adult fiction; Andrew sci-fi/fantasy, and Kit Christian Romance and suspense.  There is a joke to be made about Christian Romance and what the Republicans in the General Assembly have been up to of late. I will try to show restraint tonight and not blurt one out. Cupcake, anyone?

One of my favorite parts of running Real Richmond with my pal, Susan Winiecki, is coming up with fun places to start off the food tours. Sometimes, because of the time constraints (and our  learned by doing more than that once) 1.5 mile limit, we start at one of the restaurants we sample at, or on the Cathedral steps for a bit of value-added grandeur, but mostly we start in local bookstores or galleries. I REALLY want people to spend their time and money in these places. If you’ve gotten sucked into the chain thing, give ’em up for Lent and try going local. You will be amazed at how much fun you can have in these joints.

GO!

For the Fan of the Food tour, we start at Black Swan Books on W. Main St. For Carytown/Museum District, it’s Chop Suey Books, and for our Shockoe Slip: Capital of Cuisine tour, it’s none other than Fountain Bookstore. For Both SIdes of Broad we often start at Quirk Gallery, which is both a huge treat and temptation. We also love to sneak in a visit to a theater or special space if we can make it happen. We’ve treated people to mini-tours of The Empire/November Theatre, The Hippodrome, Anderson Gallery, Glave/Kocen Gallery and more. And lately, we’re able to incorporate a visit to the Virginia St. Gallery on the Slip tour and have vendors there with samples for our tour-goers. Lucky us!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all!  My heart is cold–or rather the beef heart in my freezer is. Back in the day, some of my friends thought Cold as Ice should have been my theme song. Oh, they didn’t know me and of course neither did I. Today, though, I am fairly accused of being cold-hearted at least towards the animal whose heart was just on my kitchen table so I could take this photo.  Either that or being in on the  nose-to-tail cookery bandwagon or the Paleo schtick or whatever other trend goes with hunks of organs in one’s house. I can assume vegetarians and many meat-eaters alike might not appreciate this photo of a beef heart, purchased by my husband, thankfully not as my Valentine’s present from Deer Run Farm of Amelia at a Farmer’s Market here in town. It was not purchased with a photo shoot in mind. He wants to eat more organ meat, or at least have it in the freezer. FYI, the liver didn’t want to be a part of the photo shoot. Chicken, I guess. Ha! It is impressively heart-shaped, I have to admit.

Heart be still.

My life has evolved in the last couple of years to the point where Sunday night I was at The Virginia Historical Society for the inaugural Elby’s, Richmond Magazine’s very fun bash to honor the cuisine scene in town, and had the chance to hear Caleb Shriver, chef at Aziza’s and winner of Rising Culinary Star and Tim Bereika, acclaimed chef at Secco Wine Bar which won the Wine Program award, talk about pizza crusts and how to cook the beef heart that has been sitting in our freezer for a bit. Would not have guessed I’d been in on that conversation two years ago, gotta say. And just so you know, they both said to “corn it,” as in spice it and slow cook it like corned beef.  In my heart of hearts, I might be able to stomach that. I’ll let you know.

 

I have thought more about high school basketball this past week than I did when I played it in high school. Not exactly true, because I’m not really thinking about it so much as thinking, “I used to play basketball. That was a long time ago.”  I don’t really remember much about it other than awful uniforms, long bus rides, and wanting to play but being scared to play at the same time. I don’t have clear memories of this game or that–just vague bits of raucous gyms and silly cheers. I’ve always loved the smell of the gym and the feel of a basketball and the sound of it hitting the floor. Jump shot motions and follow-through and ballhandling drills have stuck with me more than makes sense. It does make we want to get out on a court….

When I first coached basketball, I was 21, fresh out of college and teaching English at an all-boys, Catholic independent school outside of Boston, St. Sebastian’s, C.D.S. It was unusual for a female to coach boys back in the early 80’s, but it didn’t faze me. It didn’t take much to impress those boys–a female making a shot was more than they could comprehend. When I scrimmaged with them, they were terrified to come near me, so I was a star rebounder for the only time in my life. I was an assistant coach and the head coach was completely ignorant of basketball–he taught religion–he might have been completely ignorant of that, too. I remember being in an opposing team’s gym, down by many points. At a time-out, unnamed head coach gathered us round and told the hapless and frustrated boys, “Take the ball down the court and shoot!” Words to not win by.

When I coached girls bball 10 years ago or so, I finally found my stride. Every once in a while I needed to jump in and scrimmage or demonstrate something that when I played in high school or college I probably wasn’t that skilled at. But here, with 30 years on these timid, unathletic girls, I was finally a player. So that was all it took for me to be decent. Beat up on people 30 years my junior. Good times.

Actually, as a coach I’m equally interested in cracking jokes as teaching skills. Too bad I’m not coaching now to impart these morsels to hungry minds: There is no I in team. But there is a me, and those are my initials. And also worth noting–team spelled backwards is meat. Yes, it is true I was an English major. Comes in handy, on the court and off.

Continuing my Twitter RVA Holiday Gift Guide from an earlier post:

Holidays#rva Gift Guide #13 Cool books and jewelry from@Va_Architecture What will those architects think of next?http://twitpic.com/7svsli

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #14 Chocolates from @GearhartsRVA@LibbieGrove See the gingerbread house, too! The sum is yum!http://twitpic.com/7t7uoa

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #15 A stay at a @HistoricRicInns Lovely B&BS that are getaways in the middle of go-to places!http://twitpic.com/7tnalt

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #16 Dreaming of a Light Christmas?Take someone to @lewisginter GardenFest of Lights MT @rvanewshttp://rvanews.com/features/gardenfest-of-lights-in-beautiful-pictures/54263

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #17 Insiders’ Guide to Richmond available at @FountainBkstore & Chop Suey Books Read it & leap!http://twitpic.com/7ulq1e

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #18 @vmfa membership so no one will have blue Christmas–Elvis will be in the bldg Dec. 24-March 18, FYI.

Holiday RVA Guide #19 Hanukkah candy: pretty sight-a better bite! Easy to buy @ For the Love of Chocolate in @Carytownhttp://twitpic.com/7vk72c

Holiday RVA Gift Guide # 20 Hatch Show Print Posters from@LibraryofVA Letterpress Love!http://www.thevirginiashop.org/search.aspx?find=Hatch

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #21 Built by Blacks. Book or pamphlet. Fascinating guide. Buy @ Black History @Va_Architecturehttp://twitpic.com/7welwr

# 22 will be sending you to Virginia Street Gallery in Shockoe Slip for goodies of food, art, and handmade cool things. It’s open 11-8 today through Christmas Eve. 

Though I’ve been stocking up on Christmas baking supplies, I haven’t fired up the mixer or oven just yet. It seems too early since I have no plans to give what I bake away unless you show up at my house. How generous of me. If I start baking too soon, I’ll eat it all myself. But I feel the lack of happy Christmas tastes, so lucky for me I went into For the Love of Chocolate in Carytown today and bought one of my essential Christmas treats–Guittard mint chips. I tell myself I’m buying them for mint brownies for Christmas parties and such, and that is somewhat true. But I sliced open the bag already this afternoon with no party in sight and mixed a small handful with a small handful of Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate chips for the easiest Christmasy snacking ever. Joy to the world-or at least my mouth.

simple pleasures

The green is a little harsh–a bit sickening–reminiscent of Seafoam Green Crayola color back in the day. For several months as a child I loved that color. I was wrong to. Perhaps the first in a series of fashion mistakes I’ve made was when I overused it in coloring books for men’s clothing. This was before leisure suits even. And if the seafoam ever looks like that green above–run the other way. Actually, having that green on the top of brownies might make people choose sugar cookies instead, which is fine by me.

To sum up  and flesh out my RVA holiday gift guide from Twitter for the first 12 days of December:

Holiday RVA gift idea #:1 Rusty’s Cream Puffs from Aziza’s on Main St. Too big to be stocking stuffers; they’re stomach stuffers instead!

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #2 Dollop Desserts Nicole Lang’s treats will have recipients shouting whoopie!

Whoopie!

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #3 Chef Bundy +3 regional chefs do 5-course James Beard Foundation Dinner at Lemaire 1/14. SOLD OUT as of 12/12.

Holiday RVA gift #4 Andy Bality James River/Huguenot Bridge print. $20 at Riverside Outfitters and Once Upon A Vine/South in Stratford Hills wine/south.

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #5 Real Richmond  gift certificates. Food tour fun for all. Fairly obvious. Awfully easy. Doesn’t expire!

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #6 Steve Hedberg holiday cards of his gorgeous wintry paintings– available at TaZa in Westover Hills.

in case you forgot what snow is like

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #7 Clean up your act! Not the sexiest present, but if you hate Lexus commercials, see my previous blog post. A recycling cart to love.

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #8 Anything from Virginia St. Gallery in Shockoe Slip. Open 11-8 Thursday -Sat. Til 5 on Sun. Art, food etc. Great photos, small paintings, sweet and savory items.

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #9 Any number of cool Richmond books and ephemera at Black Swan Books on W. Main. St. I can’t say what I bought!

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #10 Handmade items, including Terrarium ornaments, at Bizarre Mkt upstairs at Chop Suey Books in Carytown.

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #11 Ben Campbell’s new book, Richmond’s Unhealed History.  Book-signing at Fountain Bookstore Dec. 21st.

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #12 Lovely and local cards of Jackson Ward scenes and spots. Available at Box Brown, 518 N. 2nd St. in Jackson Ward, right near The Hippodrome.

I would like to discuss traffic. Mostly my happiness at not being stuck in it today. Also how thrilling it was not to be stuck in it on Wednesday even though we left Richmond the morning before Thanksgiving and headed into the belly of the beast that is I-95 North up to Philadelphia for Turkey Day. Not a slow-down worth mentioning. One of the most efficient car trips to Philly ever. Can I talk about it some more? Can I tell you about our last minute decision to take the Harbor Tunnel through Baltimore? It really was something to see. And we didn’t have to pay for one good trip with a bad return trip.

I don’t mean to gloat, but isn’t it better than somebody whining about traffic? I’m sure Twitter is full of that. No need.

This Thanksgiving I was reminded of another one or two or three Thanksgivings I had 30 years ago when I was JYA in Dublin at University College. Our program had a group Thanksgiving for us that we young morons cooked–first time I ever picked feathers out of a bird and did anything to a turnip. Then after a bad play and a better dinner a few of us rushed from St. Stephen’s Green to catch a ferry to Liverpool from whence we took a bus to Durham and met friends of mine from college for their dorm’s version of Thanksgiving. I see squash pie and a dark room that looks like it should be in England because it was and that’s all I got. A winding road to a grocer’s. Maybe a hobbit or ghost or something. Then the next night their program had a more formal Thanksgiving for all the Americans around and we were invited and had our 3rd in a row–the first one with sherry beforehand. I see long tables covered in white tablecloths and more squash pie. It looks more like Hogwarts than it possibly could have been. I’m fairly sure Maggie Smith was nowhere to be found. Something tells me there is no way in hell that I comported myself as someone at a formal dinner at an English university should. I was dressed more for a soccer match I daresay. But that was quite a Thanksgiving trip–hitchhiking from Durham to London where we crashed at some other college friend’s flat, but not before almost losing touch with half of our traveling party and loitering around a posh hotel lobby that was to be our meeting place until it became clear we couldn’t stay there a minute longer. Somehow it all worked out. No idea how. A  fake Brit who was really an ex-pat awful American in a Jaguar had something to do with our trip at some point. And broad smiles at a bus stop in Liverpool on our way to the ferry terminal. The smiles had nothing to do with the guy in the Jag, I swear, unless it was that we’d gotten rid of him. Or perhaps the smiles were merely giddiness at the almost completion of a most successful Thanksgiving trip extravaganza.

 

 

Some used to say that my husband of many years used to look like Patrick Duffy, he of some trashy TV show I’ve forgotten, or a young Mel Gibson–before the true and complete insanity set in– for Mel. My husband’s insanity is incomplete as of yet. This Saturday, he made himself a hefty omelette and some bacon. I was having grapefruit, but was happy for a piece or two of bacon–especially when the presentation was made:

BaconHeart

That he put the the bacon art  on the last surviving hideous Corelle ware plate his mother gave us and I’ve always hated makes it even more meaningful. But it does allow me to remind readers of the importance of eating non-poultry based meals in the run-up to Thanksgiving. Bring on the bacon!

Why is it that when I stand in front of a vendor at a farmers’market–could be somebody hawking pie or mozzarella or bread or cookies–probably cookies–that I believe and I suspect so does everyone else there–that the cookies were baked just moments before the person pulled up to the tent? At most the night before. And they were baked for me. It is an honor and a privilege and a duty to buy them.  It’s a done deal.

somebody made these and they're good!

But take the same homemade goodies and put them in an indoor space with no friendly face behind the table and though it’s packaged the same as ever and perhaps is as fresh as it is on Saturdays, it takes on the look of merchandise and I wonder how long the stuff has been sitting there. Real grocery stores have us trained to ignore the concept of freshness. If we knew when those mass-produced cookies were packaged or when that mozzarella was squished into the plastic, I’m not sure we’d be as inclined to buy anything at all there. But I think so much of the sweetness of buying food at farmers’ markets comes from the interaction with the vendor. Also much of the guilt-buying I do.

I’m back!

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