Archive | February, 2013

An Epic Wine

27 Feb

[I]t is the wine that leads me on,
the wild wine
that sets the wisest man to sing
at the top of his lungs,
laugh like a fool – it drives the
man to dancing… it even
tempts him to blurt out stories
better never told.

– Homer, The Odyssey

When I found The Map, it was like discovering a dusty worn parchment inking out the elusive burial spot of Blackbeard’s famous hoard. The Virginia Wine Board produces a free detailed map of the wineries, cideries and meaderies of the entire state of Virginia. It’s big. . . . really big. The sheer number of vintners, brewers, apple and honey fermenters in this state proves one thing. Virginians, like their forefather Thomas Jefferson, love the fruit of the vine. I had been to a few wineries in the past, but I had no idea of the literal explosion of vineyards and variety of wines produced in this state over the last twenty years. So when I stumbled upon the Virginia Wine Expo at the Richmond Convention Center, I bought my ticket more than a month in advance. Nearly all of the state wineries in one place? I imagined walking up to heavy double doors and then the treasure trove of bottled liquid ambrosia piled within awaiting my plunder.

The actual experience was a little different.

As I strode in to the main exhibition hall of the Richmond Convention Center, and luckily found a floor map, I quickly realized that this event was definitely not what I had anticipated. Imagine a home show, wine replacing the flooring and faux rock siding samples. I queued into a line in which I was promptly barcode bleeped and herded toward the branding and tagging area. Then, rounded up through the rotating gates into the main pasture where I could use my nifty ticket to gain my Riedel crystal trough. Coat check and wine check areas lined the perimeter of the pen, erhm…. I mean, “wine garden”, large round tables where we might enjoy our Circean feast. I had imagined most incorrectly, that such a venue would attract fine wine lovers, those who taste wine for its nuances, to know it, to understand it in an organic and personal way. My imagination also allowed for those who may not be so introspective, but yet, enjoy drinking Virginia wine and appreciating it for more than its ethereal properties. Those types may have been there, but I didn’t really encounter them…at least on my side of the vendor table.

Herds of wine swillers (say that three times fast), or flocks of sweet sipping sirens, are mostly what I navigated my tiny ship through, around and in between. The main group were the swillers…these were folks who mainly came to the event to drink ….and drink ….and drink a lot. Tastings were basically shots.

Slurp…that’s okay…(extend glass)…

Slurp…that’s okay…(extend glass)…

Slurp…that’s okay…(extend glass)…

I take at least q few minutes  to fully examine a wine, and I make notes. I do not taste it a second time if it isn’t to my liking, pouring it out into the waste bucket. And if I have had more than a glass or two in total over the course of the day…I taste and spit. This doesn’t seem to be the case with anybody else and by the looks, I had suddenly sprouted a second and third head at the tables from which I was able to actually get a tasting. The crowds were HUGE. And wine was literally being tossed at times into glasses over people heads in Baccanalian frenzy. Every time one of the drunken herd would drop a crystal glass on the concrete convention floor the crowd would roar in approval of the shattering like the crowds at a coliseum lion fight.

The other group was the sweet sirens, mainly women hovering about the tables who would not taste anything that didn’t have residual sugars of 2% or more. They would try a viognier or semi dry white blend and their little noses would crinkle up like little hummingbirds inserting their probosci into an allium. They flitted about the backs of tables luring pourers to hurry us toward our sugary demise.

The most humorous moment of the day was standing en masse at the Narmada Winery table, waiting for a chance at a flight. A small group had moved in beside me and one of the ladies, another tall red head, began to regale her group with the tale of finding out her teenage son was beginning to “manscape” and how proud she was of his responsibility and consideration for his girlfriend. Intimate details about their budding physical liaisons ensued. Oh…Holy…Night… I didn’t know whether to laugh, or simply stand there in excruciating empathy for her absent son who had no idea that the entire queue now knew way too much about his beloved and her reaction to his denuded state.

But there were some bright moments of the day, like when the pourer at the Gabriele Rausse table could tell I knew, or at least cared, about the wine I was tasting. We had a nice chat about the delicate differences in the varietals involved in their offerings. Or when my eyes rolled back over nearly every wine King Family Vineyards sells. Even when I tasted the foods offered alongside the wines such as amazing chocolates by Gearharts (tequila lime white chocolate truffles), roasted almonds and cashews, and delicious cheese by Emmi Roth, I began to enjoy the day’s course.

After tasting seven different wineries’ wares, my favorites were predominantly white and rose’…I need more whites in my cellar. Of course my wine conscience texted me. “Are we being good?” Surprisingly, I did not buy one bottle. I made notes instead. I’m really trying to hold onto my bag.

Top Picks from The Wayfarin’ Lass: Wine Expo 2013

King Family Vineyards: Crozet, VA

  • Roseland 2012: Chardonnay/ Viognier
  • Cabernet Franc 2011
  • Merlot 2011

Rosemont Vineyards: LaCrosse, VA

  • Rose’ 2011
  • Lake Country Red
  • Cabernet Franc 2010

Gabriele Rausse: Charlottesville, VA

  • Vin Gris de Pinot Noir 2012

Cedar Creek: Star Tannery, VA

  • Chardonnay 2011 (one of the best Chardonnays I have ever had)

Potomac Point: Stafford, VA

  • Chardonnay 2011
  • La Belle Vie: Vidal, Viognier, Chardonnay, Petit Manseng
  • La Belle Vie Rose 2012 (so pretty)
  • Cabernet Franc 2010

Narmada: Amissville, VA

  • Primita 2010 (dessert wine)

Truth be told, at the end of the day I was glad to have survived the journey generally unscathed. I learned more about why I like wine, especially Virginia wine and it has more to do with focusing on mindfulness and the senses, especially in the service of the written word, more than the drinking. For wherever there is treasure, the search is really more about the seeker than the sought. In the search, our truest desires are revealed and where we eventually find our fortunes.

A Reelin’ and A Rockin’

25 Feb

Now all of the sudden, she started to knockin’
And down in a dips, she started to rockin’
I looked in the mirror, a red light was blinkin’
The cops was after my Hot Rod Lincoln. . .

In my quest for some high octane fun this weekend, snowy weather created an on the fly change of venue. However, a quick search led me to Fridays at The Ellington right down the block and a chance at danceable fun: the Bopcats, a rockabilly group from Richmond. Rockabilly is one of those musical forms that I began to love in college with the Stray Cats and then revisited this past summer in listening to Imelda May and JD McPherson. It’s revived itself as a genre among the vintage~tattoo~pinup crowd, and sparked my re-interest as well. So I was all kinds of excited to get dolled up starlet style and go boogie daddy-o.

About 5:50pm, I strolled into the Ellington, beaded, neck scarved, and carmine lipsticked ready to go. Almost immediately, I realized the atmosphere was not going to be the 40’s/50’s greaser~pin up gal crowd I had anticipated. First, upon a quick survey of the audience seated at their tables, clearly the youngest hepcat in the room was me. But I revved up my “let ‘er rip tater chip” determination and swore to have fun no matter what.

No.

Matter.

What.

The atmosphere of the Ellington is actually quite open and laid back. The bar in the foyer is small, but offers beer, wine and mixed drinks at a fair price.The black and white parquet dance floor is huge and the stage, centrally located. This place is made for music and dance. Lights are lowered, but not so much people fall over each other and sound levels are kept at a tolerable decibel so that one’s ears don’t ring for days after a concert. Wait…that doesn’t make me old, does it?

The Bopcats began to play about 6:05 and the boogie- woogie beat was instantaneous. Dancing was desperately needed and not being shy, I have no problem wiggling with the band all by myself. Dying to get out there, I waited through the first song; however, the smattering of half claps from the audience induced a sudden dread. Uh oh, this is not going to be pretty.The music was fan-freakin’-tastic, but the audience was dead…stone dead…maybe even sleeping upright needing a large dose of Geritol dead. I felt so sorry for the band. Suddenly, they had been plunked down into Cocoon with no watery recourse. After song three, I couldn’t take it any longer and launched onto the dance floor, thinking to myself, “Dammit, someone has to get this party started . . . may as well be me”. So, I danced by myself on the totally empty dance floor for several songs and became quite possibly the ridiculous entertainment for nearly the whole first set. I’d had a little liquid courage and I figured “go big or go home”.

The Bopcats repertorie is standard rockabilly: Elvis, Johnny Cash, Stray Cats, Ricky Nelson, Chuck Berry. . . anything with swingin’, rockin’, and rollin’. It’s hard NOT to dance to Rock Around the Clock, You Never Can Tell, and a hot rendition of Little Sister (Don’t You Do What Your Big Sister Done). Praying all the while for Blue Suede Shoes, wiggling away having a grand time, I suddenly see everyone stand up and start to move toward the dance floor. “Hallelujah! I’ve started a general trend to merriment! The night is saved!”, I rejoice.

Wrong Mary Lou…good-bye heart.

Ever had a sixty something year old almost knock you down for chicken parmesan appetizers while you were dancing to rockabilly? It was like coupon day at the K&W cafeteria. I had known there were appetizers included with admission and thought it was a nice touch until the herd almost ran this little hot rod Lincoln off the road on the way to the drive-in.

During the first set break, I sat for a bit and tried to gather my thoughts. For a moment, I almost lost heart. “My god, these folks have already died. What happens to people?”, I thought. And I do realize that I’m making judgments here, but all apologies aside, it just seemed at that moment that the room had given up. Despite one older couple that I always see at festivals and such who are quite active, fun, and love to dance together, most of the couples I met seemed complacent to sit and watch, settled into their coupledom, content to listen…not even move a foot or tap a toe. Just sit. Why come only to sit and stare? For the first time I saw what I never ever want to be….old.

Do not misunderstand me here, I am not one of those gals who will have surgery after surgery to escape the effects of aging. I want to grow older…to mature, to become wise. I think though there is a huge difference in being old and being aged. Aged means seasoned, shaped by oak or salt or sugar, left to develop, to grow from the inside outward, to become better over time. Aging is the waiting, the keeping till the peak of ripeness and of fruitfulness and then the long enjoyment. Even after harvest, the fruit keeps and ripens further, becomes useful and creative before disintegration, before returning to the dust. This oldness I saw was a belief…not a reality. In the past was the best, now gone over, maybe ever a little soured, embittered.

The band members were all older than I and loving every second of the music, winding it up and lettin‘er loose. They reminded me of the great rock and rollers still alive and kicking it: Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Robert Plant. Yoko Ono even turned 80 last week…80. There is no reason to accept the complacency of a boring existence, to not try and learn or grab life with both hands and squeeze it for all its worth. I understand about health, about being tired. Rest is necessary and the body does slow down even in the most prime athletes. But, I think it’s the mind that determines the attitude of doing EXACTLY what makes one happy no matter what anyone thinks. It’s as if there is this role that one has to play at a certain age…a way to be in one’s 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and beyond. Not in my world.

So during the second set, I boogied my little vintagey butt off, wiggling around in a half twist-pony-New Wave dive fusion and my new friend Mary, with whom I had talked in the lobby came out on the floor to dance too. Mary volunteers for the Ellington and she’s right about the change that will need to happen. The Ellington is maintained through community support and right now, all the supporters are older. A younger crowd will need to come to keep it going, ones that are willing to take a few more chances on music that’s a little different. That’s the only way it will survive.

As I danced more, people did make their way to the floor. The gift of the evening came when I felt a light touch on my shoulder. A gentleman, probably in his late 60’s in a vintage car shirt, asked me to dance. “Oh no”, I thought. “I can’t follow and he wants to dance old school. Sigh…do I really have to dance with someone, especially someone my mom’s age?” Something interesting happened, though. As we began to dance, he just let me do my thing at first, and watched me. Then, ever so slowly, he started to direct my movements. He only said one thing, very casually, “Watch me”. That’s it and somehow, I don’t know how, but somehow, I learned to follow. Within two songs, we were turning and twisting and I began to laugh. He was a crafty ole devil, a gleam in his eye as he laughed at me. I had denied his request at first, especially to a slow blues tune. But he taught me a lot about allowing and about what age can give a person. He wasn’t old…aged…not old. And still had those moves…like Jagger. That gleam said, “I haven’t lost it baby…don’t ever underestimate a coolcat”. He was the coolest cat and schooled me in more ways than one about dancing. As the night wore on, I twisted till I was aching and out of breath, but felt amazingly alive, and I have needed that for a long while now. The floor was never packed, but there were a few who had decided that the night and especially we were still young.

Roots and Vine

22 Feb

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Winter is wearing me way thin these days, and I’m not the only one it seems. So many of my friends are in the “bring on the great one or let’s get on with spring” mindset. The days are cold, my hands perpetual briquettes. I brave the air every day at 5:15am on my nighttime jog with Clar. It’s dark…that still qualifies as night in my opinion. So, I get up at the end of the night and run before the day begins, thinking all the while,What am I doing out here? Sane people weren’t meant to be out in this …exercising. Yesterday, though, I noticed in the predawn blue under the sterile halogen of the street lamp, tiny purple-white croci pushed up in my neighbor’s yard, their little buds tight, braced against the winter air, holding their little breaths.

“It’s coming”, they say. “Hold on.”

And I’ve noticed that I’m tired of holding my own breath. Seriously, I need some real fun. Cut it loose, laugh my ass off, dance till I’m out of breath fun. The past few weeks have been soft and reflective, like a shifting snow but underneath, the creek is beginning to run like a mountain thaw. The ground never sleeps for long beneath its frosted blanket of white.

So Sunday morning after my run, I knew I couldn’t stay in the house all day grading papers. I had get out and go some place warm and fun. I’ll take my medicine. I’ll grade my papers like a good little underpaid, under appreciated school marm, but I will have some fun while I’m doing it. A quick on-the-fly Internet search revealed that Tara Mills and Yankee Dixie would be playing at DuCard Vineyards in Madison County up above Charlottesville. Listening to the tracks on her website suddenly reminded me what a Virginia gal I really am. Bluegrass is in my roots, both from my Roanoke upbringing and my Irish heritage. And in my love for the vine, any winery is a fine place to be. The concert was free and DuCard has a fireplace…score.

As I drove north to Madison County, I actually thought to myself with as many wineries as you are visiting Cyndi, your readership has got to be making some judgments. Let me unequivocally state that while I love wine, I can go to a winery without lolling around in inebriated reverie or purchasing a case for my cellar, really.

. . .Stop smiling at me like that, I already have a wine conscience named Paul, thank you very much. Every time I go to a wine festival, he texts me,  “And what’s our spending limit for the cellar today? Are you being good?” and I have to stick to it. Brothers are like that.

So, I rambled up the road searching for this tiny vineyard at the base of the Shenandoah National Park. It had snowed Saturday evening in a wild draping pattern over the cedar and pine speckled mountains and through rocky valleys. I ran into white, then gold,then white. Rocks and black trees appeared amid the dusting. On the last leg of the drive, I actually laughed out loud. Ruby Thewes began to echo in my head. “Waaaaaay up in the hol-ler”, describes DuCard’s location precisely. The vineyard is situated amid open fields and cow pasture, mountain ranges and winding rural state roads. As I pulled up the drive, I knew it was worth the trip, a tiny little tasting room, nestled in a modest sized vineyard. Next to it, a tiny creek, in thaw.

DuCard has one of the warmest, most open tasting rooms I’ve experienced yet. The ceilings are high and the walls are nearly all glass, revealing the view of the mountains. In other seasons, I am sure it’s even more magnificent and I plan to go back in spring with a picnic basket. They have a lovely patio area and small stage adjacent to it. Inside, though, it’s leather couches and small garden tables aside the long tasting bar, like a great room of someone’s mountain getaway. All are invited to a nice Sunday afternoon gathering, except we don’t have to bring a dish, just ourselves.

I set up shop with papers at a table near the front, the fireside being coveted and occupied. Confession time: I had a quick tasting session beforehand. Okay, no chuckles there. DuCard has a small list of about eight wines and I directed the pourer to make sips tiny. Papers need grading. My picks include their Cabernet Franc Reserve, super smoky oak, deep and well balanced blackberry notes. The Petit Verdot will store well, as its quite hearty and full-bodied. Surprisingly, their Rosé was good even though it had a bit of bottle shock, dry with a slightly strawberry edge. The prices are somewhat high for me, though. So I obtained a glass of Cab Franc and settled back into enjoying the music of Tara Mills and Yankee Dixie for the next several hours.

Second confession: bluegrass music is my long lost love. It’s like an old flame you meet again at a highschool reunion and realize you still have it bad after all those years. You know the notes, you know the dance, no matter how long ago you heard it last. So almost immediately, I was enjoying myself way too much to grade papers except during the set breaks. The trio featured Mills on guitar and vocals, John Howard on mandolin, banjo and harmonica, and Turtle Zwadlo on upright bass. That upright bass gets me every time. It’s funny, I began to remember words to songs I hadn’t heard since I was a kid. Their blend of bluegrass and folk is like a Sunday afternoon drive on a well- traveled road. You know where you’re going and it’s warm sunshine all the way

Their rendition of Ain’t Nobody Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone, had me singing with Tara’s low and steady vocals. John’s joined hers in what I call the perfect “bluegrass wind up”, both voices twining around each other, stringing the notes out low then up like the long road outside. Tapping my feet to original tunes like New Year’s Resolution and What I Need…and even The Cat Song was what I had needed to shake off the winter cold. Letting out a few Irish yips at the end of songs felt fantastic, like being home.

There was a time and I think it’s true for nearly everyone when we want to escape our roots, where a young person thinks, “I live in the most uncultured uninteresting place on the planet”, especially if one happens to be from the rural south. I had always viewed my Southwest Virginian status as somehow less cultured than others, especially in college. My friends from all parts north or even places like Texas and California, I felt were “cooler” than me. Nothing exciting happens in a cow field or in the woods behind my house. So I left bluegrass behind for rock, punk, and jazz and other musical forms, just as I left my grandmother’s home cooking for cultural delicacies and foreign wine.

But as I sat there singing and tapping my heels to familiar songs, I began to realize that like a vine, I may have grown out, curling away from where I began, but that home ground still feeds me, still attaches to my core. The roots are where I truly lie and where I will eventually return at the end of my days. John Howard even mentioned playing in a punk band for many years and now he’s back to playing his roots. Seems like we all come back home from our journeys.

As I drove that evening down the mountain, I stopped to notice the landscape in its last breath of winter, the sun setting over cold mountains with the faintest glimmer of spring, a ghost of a rose hidden under the frosted fields.

Our love was like a burning ember
It warmed us as a golden glow
We had sunshine in December
And threw our roses in the snow

In old time bluegrass, those notes of home echo a slight longing, even the happy songs, and that’s a good place to start spring. That slow movement away from the still, quiet, and deep of the sunset, toward a longing for and a stretching out in the morning to the sun.

A Plateful of Memory

18 Feb

In the front seat of my grandpa’s Impala
I guess it was late summer in ’63
he said, I’m gonna get you a big old burger with a small town’s worth of flavor
you know it’s the finest place in our little town to eat. . .

. . .So give us this day our daily bread
and remember the truth is gonna set us free
and she said what are you doing here alone on another Saturday night
and I said ah I’m just a being me
besides it’s the finest place in our little town to eat

Neon lights, all night diner
Anita’s right on time with my coffee and extra cream

— Brian Hall, Anita Pours Coffee

Last week was a bit rough. A new earlier morning regimen had me a tad sleep deprived and with a mid week jaunt to DC to Ash Wednesday service at the National Shrine, a slight pestilence was trying to gain a foothold in my throat. So when Cupid’s Day rolled around, I was achy and a bit homesick. But I decided to take myself out to dinner for the day of love anyway in memory of one of my favorite dinner companions…my grandaddy. If there was anyone I’d love to spend a nice Valentine’s dinner with, it would be him. Granny always tells the story that when I was little, he took my high chair down to the basement and sawed the bottoms of the legs off so it would sit up to the table evenly right beside him. My feet never hit the ground for the first three years of my life, according to her. I was a permanent fixture in his arms. Naturally a diner, something with a bit of the south and of nostalgia seemed the place to go to remember him and to feel well…more like dinner felt back then.

Market at Main was my destination, and for a single diner, it’s perfect with a long marble counter, friendly waitstaff, and a full view of the kitchen. I had eaten there before a few times, but always for brunch, never for dinner. So with a photo of Grandaddy on my phone, I went downtown for homestyle southern diner fare.

The atmosphere of Market at Main has all the right features of a nostalgic forties diner, but with a lot more space. The ceilings are high which opens up the atmosphere without making a counter diner seem exposed or cold. That aspect I like quite a bit, and there is something to be said about barstools at just the right height. Many bars have seats too low to rest one’s arms properly on the counter, or too high to cross one’s legs properly underneath. I felt quite comfortable in my swivel seat almost immediately. The only aspect of the restaurant I don’t enjoy is that the open kitchen, while fascinating to watch, emits a normal cooking smoke and the smell permeates my hair and clothes. When I leave, I know I have been there. They have large ceiling fans, but it’s the down home cooking, real cooking that resonates in the air. Whenever I cook bacon at home the same thing happens. I suppose it’s like finding a tiny bit of manure in the mushroom carton, it lets a person know that the food is real. That’s more important, to me anyway.

Two of the waitstaff greeted me quickly and I was tended to with great care. For the holiday evening, a special menu was available and it was really hard for me to choose. One aspect I did not anticipate was the availability of beer and wine, something not typically diner-esque, but a nice touch. I ordered a Raywood Merlot that was soft and slightly tannic. My first course of fried green tomatoes balanced with it nicely. They were tart and savory, paired with a spicy mustard remoulade sauce that had good peppery heat. Even though they were a tiny bit soft for my tastes, everyone has his or her own recipe. These were more tender, thicker cut, so the coating was less crispy than I had enjoyed at breakfast previously. Again, real food has variation…probably from cook to cook as well. It might even be the season, too. Green tomatoes in winter aren’t typical seasonal fare.

Among a few delicious sounding choices, I chose the Tango Pork: pork loin medallions with a citrus balsamic glaze and fried plantains, collards on the side along with grilled zucchini. I almost bent to the macaroni and cheese, but held off. I didn’t think it would quite mesh with a citrusy glaze. The only aspect of the special menu selection that I didn’t like was that the entrees didn’t seemed to be paired well to available sides. They were most definitely southern classics, but I began to think that perhaps the specials should stick to classic southern rather than “fancy fare”, one of the reasons I didn’t choose the Pink Chicken, with its raspberry, white wine cream sauce. My dinner was delicious, nonetheless, the glaze on the pork not overly fruity nor sweet. Both the collards and zucchini were ultra fresh and not over cooked, which is usually the case in most restaurants that serve greens. I could have ordered just collards and the macaroni and cheese, that would have definitely reminded me of being at Granny’s, maybe next time.

The plantains, however, weren’t cut to fry well and I honestly thought they were bananas, really not to my liking. Overall though, the food was solid and real, but I think trying to be something it wasn’t. No matter what, the menu should stick close to cafe southern, even on a holiday. That’s the whole appeal of the place, and pretty much the only place I know of to get home cooking that isn’t like a cafeteria or haute Lowcountry. Is there a category for Gourmet Virginian? There are plenty of fancy Valentine’s Day dinners out there in beautifully decorated candlelit spaces. Southern diner though is quaint, loving and warm and it should just be that, even with the food. Simple food made by nurturing hands. That is the soul of southern cooking to me.

Market at Main does have that quality and that that extends to the people there as well. I don’t think I’ve been some place where so many people smiled at me or wanted to tend to me. It was like Granny’s, the “what can I get you”, “how you doing baby” sort of feeling. I like that, especially on a Valentine’s Day when I was tired and a tiny bit homesick for family loving. That was soon remedied, though. One of the cooks, who had previously come by to ask me how my dinner was, came out of the kitchen again to talk to one of the patrons. As he did, he pulled a tiny frame out of his pocket and began to talk about his grandfather. My ear perked up immediately. Then, he went to show another coworker and then another waitress. I asked if he’d show me. What a genuinely nice young man. He came over, proud as punch and showed me the tiny black and white framed photograph of his grandfather, Irvin Lloyd Hoyt.

“He was in the Coast Guard”,  he said smiling. “Doctors gave him five years to live back in ‘72 cause he had black lung from being a coal miner.”

He told me he had passed away only a few weeks ago at 89. But that picture told me how this young man saw his grandad, as a hero and he was so proud. And I thought, he was carrying his loved one with him on Valentine’s Day, just like I’m carrying my granddady with me. That picture means the world to him, one small way he can express his love for a great man in his life.

We shook hands and formally met.

“Hi, I’m Jeremy.”

It was a genuinely good moment, one that reminded me of seeing a cousin again after a long time, family connecting two virtual strangers. I didn’t show him the photo of Grandaddy on my phone, but I did tell him how much of a grandaddy’s girl I am. I could tell in the smile we shared that he understood.

I’ve been thinking of family this Valentine’s Day, and how important it is to remember and be remembered. I like to think we take our family with us everywhere we go, in our smiles, in our handshakes and hugs, sometimes literally in our pockets. Simple love extends to all sorts of endeavors and at times, the best food is made and enjoyed with family in our hearts and minds.

Salt in the Wave

14 Feb

So I suppose you might ask, “How are you handling Valentine’s Day Ms. Wayfarin’ Lass? Is there a way to spin this out into an adventure that makes the social stigma of being sans beloved better?” First, let me state that if everyone would stop feeling sorry for me because I’m single on Valentine’s Day that might help me feel a ton happier. It’s as if the only choices I get in the emotional palette are acerbic, defensive, depressed, or desperate. Celebratory expectations, both social and material, for people on this holiday do a great deal more harm, in my opinion, than good in the grand scene d’amor. Pressures that mated men must feel in choosing the “right” card, the “perfect” gift and then the judgment women pass upon themselves upon receiving or not receiving these tokens do a lot to create an unhappiness within many romantic relationships that just doesn’t need to happen.

Seems to me, though, there’s a general inability to express ourselves well when it comes to love at the heart of it all, no pun intended. And that’s where Hallmark gets its foot into the door of our hearts and pockets. I don’t think we’re taught how to show or receive authentic sentiment from the variety of people we love very well and still keep it simple. It’s as if we can feel something genuinely enough as children, but somehow post pubescence it becomes way too complicated. Clarence is a pro at simple.“Going for it” is his modus operandi. Most dogs are like that. When they love you, you know it in a big way. I suppose it would be easier if we could just wag our tails at each other and roll over at will for a belly rub.

I’ve tried to keep this motto: “Love is simple” in my head and in my actions since December. So early this past weekend, I decided that I would be treating myself to love this week, mindful to enjoy and trying to find the essential part in loving my family, my friends, and most importantly, myself.

Last Saturday, Sonnets and Chocolates a fundraiser for Endstation Theater, was my entertainment for the evening. Director Geoff Kerschner was student of mine many years ago and I attend their shows at Sweet Briar College each summer. Supporting the arts is important to me and of course, I love Shakespeare. The sonnet as an art form moves me in ways that make me yearn for a poet in my life. It’s Shakespeare’s ability to transform the complexity of love into a kaleidoscope of words, each one subtle, yet powerfully concentrated enough to reveal the truest nuances of feeling which touches my most romantic side.  And it’s that nuance which makes the speaker’s sentiments unique, powerful. In that uniqueness, the sentiment is born anew and given afresh to the beloved every time. A love sonnet isn’t only for a special occasion once a year, nor like an every day note for a lunchbox. Like honest affection, it arrives on its own terms and in its own time and rhythm. This is what makes love poems so special.

Performances by Endstation’s casts are always brilliant and the desserts, divine. This year I attended solo, quite by accident. Several of my friends decided at the last minute not to come, but I still endeavored to enjoy the wine, sweets, and romantic songs by Paddy Dougherty. As the evening wore on, though, I began to notice the dedications for donation mounting up and the recognitions of years achieved in marriage being announced like lifetime awards in some Love Hall of Fame. Don’t get me wrong, the theater has to raise money for its endeavors and I support that. But as a single person, it became harder to listen to. And as the held hands and heads upon shoulders became more and more apparent, I wanted more Shakespeare, something for me to love and words which would love me back. What I experienced was the social construct all over again. Cruising through Valentineland on the “Its a Small Angel with a Bow’s World After All” boat. I didn’t feel too uncomfortable, though. Maybe comfortably numb might be the more proper term as I lounged in my chair, nibbled on truffles, sipped Rebec’s Landmark White and tried to enjoy the aesthetic quality of Paddy’s voice, rather than the lyrics singing of a one and only.

Sunday afternoon, though, was when love’s beauty truly compromised my emotional armor. I attended a performance of the James Chamber Players at Oakwood Country Club, literally a three minute walk from my home. As I sat in a banquet hall, beautifully decorated for the Valentine holiday, with thirty or so others, an understanding about the depth of human love and longing began to arrive.

The room quieted.

A tuning of strings were low notes floating like waves over the audience in unified harmony, then rising in crescendo.

My heart lifted into the swell and then, the truth in the notes, like salt in a wave, stung.

And as they played, something in the music washed over me and filtered down into my core. The motion of their bodies in the playing became part of the song, part of the gift. Within the expressive movement of sound, the players loved the music into being. And that is a true expression of love, I thought, that giving, and at times that sacrifice. One of the last songs they played was Fantine’s from Les Miserables.

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving. . .

Swimming in an ocean of sound, the lyrics  met the resonance of bow and string. From first bar to last, I gave in and let tears flow.

I cried because I love,

have loved,

will love again.

I cried because sometimes love is giving without hope of receiving.

And sometimes it’s receiving in the grace of an inability to requite.

And for all its pain, joy lies within all of it.

Love IS simple, but that doesn’t mean its always fair or fulfilling. That’s what is missing, truncated from this white, pink, and red velvet cupcake, candy heart, rose and dyed carnation filled holiday.  We do not honor the love that is bittersweet, still as genuine and strong, passionate and important as its more recognized counterpart. And we should honor it, grateful to feel it even in its injustice. For it means we are alive and able to be human and that connects us and ultimately heals us all. For we cannot know the swell of joy without the absence of it, nor celebrate the sweetness of a beloved without time alone.

A Tale of Two Su-sees

11 Feb

Several years ago I went through a Japanese “phase”. From art to literature, food to costume, gardens to architecture, I dove into learning as much as I could. Back then, the concrete courtyard of my tiny carriage house in downtown was a tribute to Japanese style with Zen gardens, a bath house, and whiskey barrel pond with fish and fountain. Summer was spent with my own version of a far Eastern paradise right outside the door. I learned to make sushi and probably elevated my mercury levels way beyond proportion in the process, but I fell in love with Japanese culture and food.

When Ten announced that it would participate in Charlottesville’s restaurant week, my sushi excitement level rolled up a notch. Even though last Saturday was bitterly cold and snow showers set in as Clarence and I zoomed up the road, I began to anticipate not only sampling authentic sushi, but trying sake again. It seemed a milder form of rubbing alcohol in my first experience of it and recently the only sushi I had been diving into was the Kroger variety spicy tuna roll; any port in a Pacific storm, I suppose. So I was eager to experience a “real” Japanese restaurant.

Briskly clicking down the bricks of Charlottesville’s downtown mall, I found the door to Ten and climbed the stairs, grateful for the warm ambiance that greeted me. The peaceful spa-like atmosphere comes mainly from lighting, glass globes like tiny bubbles floating upward to the water’s surface, hung from the mirrored ceiling. Marbled candlelight glows about the room; clear glass sculptures echo the light in celadon green and dark brown. The narrow length of the restaurant and its up-the-stairs location create a sense of a diminutive isolated inlet. Perched on my bar stool with low back and comfortable cushion, I gazed at the strip of sunset style lighting behind the bottles on the bar. The entire experience at Ten spoke of precision and reflection, reminding me of the traditional tea ceremony I attended during my Japanese summer. My place at the bar was set with all the necessary accouterments of Japanese eating, little plates, hashi, and tiny vessel of tamari placed in precise order. Efficient but professionally warm, described my bartender as he suggested I try a flight of sake to match my selections from the prix fixe menu. And so a feast of tiny ocean tidbits rolled out by an electric sunset. The first course of seared hamachi adorned by tiny micro greens was paired with a dry sake, Tamari Hikari “Brilliant Jade”. Slightly jasmine scented, the sake changed in interaction with the food, the slightly salty smoky grilled tuna turning the sake sweet. I lingered over the first course, for it was so tiny that in American style, it could be consumed in less than a minute. But I thought about the tea ceremony, and the invitation to reflect while in practice, tasting fully each bite and putting the hashi down, each time.

A second course followed, a spicy tuna maki (maguro, avocado, kyri, and togarashi). The sauce was tomato based and with a dark rich spicy sweet cayenne burst that paired well with the next sake, Kabota Senju “A Thousand Dreams” . This sake had a mellowed, more round edge to it that balanced the spicy richness of the maki. During my second course, I noticed one of the waiters had come around to the back of the bar, and was focused on crafting a sunset style drink. Another waitress teased him slightly, “You’re like a scientist!” He chuckled, “I just want to make it right”. And he did take a full two minutes to get the grenadine to set exactly. That attentiveness to detail and to method permeated Ten. From first to last course, the perfection and structure of the food and dining room walked a very thin line between elegance and pretension. In my mind, that’s what happens when the fear of being “only” just as good as everyone else comes to the point of “overdoing”…..i.e. perfectionism. Even though my final course, a chef’s choice of temari sushi topped with varying fish roe and served with semi dry Dasai 50 “Otter’s Fest” was delicious and delicate, a slight nagging vacuity never left my mind.

This past Friday upon visiting a second Japanese cafe close to my home, Suzaku, I figured out my feelings. I drive by the place all the time and really never gave it much credit. Another Americanized Asian greasy spoon was what I had assumed. They serve sushi, and sushi crepes.

Yes, sushi crepes. That’s like bbq chicken pasta in my book.

I can be pretentious myself about food, however, so I decided in light of my Ten experience to pick up some sushi take-out. How do I describe the ambiance of Suzaku? Chinese food take-out meets Japanese Disneyland, with a huge dose of American standard strip mall. But it’s extremely clean, it’s warm, and it’s real. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles played on the flat screen TV, amid candy colored painted furniture and brightly colored Asian themed decorative items, jade frog included. The clerk who greeted me was so friendly and sweet when I asked her about ordering to go. She explained the menu to me, struggling through her heavy accent. As she went back to making crepes in the open kitchen (for me, a sign of excellence in food) I perused the menu. Nearly everything I had ordered at Ten was listed, perhaps named differently, but still the same sushi (or su-see) as she pronounced it, nonetheless. Su-see is su-see no matter where, as long as its made properly. I tried the Green Bay crepe, filled with seaweed salad, shrimp tempura, avocado, cucumber and fish roe with a side order of Maguro Nigiri. Even though I took the food home and didn’t have the perfectly paired sake, it was just as good, maybe even better. I watched the chef at Suzaku prepare my nigiri, rice fresh from the cooker, fresh fish sliced thin and fine. The clerk made my crepe, which surprisingly, was pretty awesome and I discovered something about myself. While I revel in fine food and spirits, I’ve been mesmerized by slight affectation in venue. My bill at Ten was a cool $80, just for me. At Suzaku? Eleven bucks.

Maybe this attentiveness to perfection includes me, too. I’ve stressed about my writing and I should just let go sometimes. Perhaps Disneyland and su-see are what I need to lighten me. It seems the only time I’m able to write about something funny is when the plan goes horribly awry. Seeing the lighter side just might give me a different way of looking at traveling this road. Light, unassuming, and simple, sometimes the best places and people don’t take themselves so seriously.

The Cardinal Points

9 Feb

As I have been talking with my friends about my weekend wanderings, more than a few interesting realizations have revealed themselves, so much so that I’m surprised by how many lessons the Universe is throwing at me. It strikes me that I’m beginning to “box the compass”, determining the points by which I can navigate. These four seem to be directing the path for me at least for the next two weekend’s adventures.

North: Audience. I suppose I launched this writing enterprise without much thought to who might be interested or have time enough to read it. I just knew I had to do it for myself. That’s all. As I talked with my friend Laura, though, I realized I’m still afraid to really put it all out there. And as much as I might like to deny it, I’m still nervous that my writing isn’t “good enough”. It’s the whole, “who do I think I am promoting my own writing as if its literary” deal.   So, I realized the blog design needs to change, and a link to a social networking site has to happen. In effect, I’m assuming my adventures are worth reading about. Even though my graphic ability isn’t stellar, if I’m really serious about showing people that they don’t have to wait to go places to learn and live, especially women, then I need to get serious. Which leads me to lesson two.

South: Lighten Up. As a deep and serious person, sense of humor is an area I need improvement upon. I can be funny, especially in the classroom, but incorporating more humor into what I write about is needed. Deep and touching can only go so far. In humor, there is also wisdom. My next post about Japanese food expands upon that. Which leads me to lesson three.

East: Get real about the money I’m spending. Thursday in class discussion with my kids, the idea that I am virtually “dating” myself hit me. I don’t really know how people do it, then, for two. I mean, it costs me a fair bit to go places and attend events every weekend. While the events aren’t nosebleed expensive, $20 dollars here, $50 there adds up. And hotels? Well, we won’t go there. I’m working on it. But I know that I’m meant to be doing this, finding the way is all. That means that this weekend, and next, I plan to stay in home port and find hidden gems nearby. Events that aren’t expensive, food that is fresh and good, at reasonable prices are around and I want to be able to share that with others. Its not about spending a bunch of money. Its about the experience. Last night my friend, Jim said to me, “You know Cyndi you notice what 98% of other people don’t even see in an ordinary event. You pick out one thing and zone in on it and the lesson is there. It makes me want to pay more attention to things when I go places.” That gave me a lot to think about.

West: Post an itinerary. Where am I going next? It strikes me that anticipation is half of the fun for me. In two weeks, I’ll be heading to the Richmond Wine Expo, and seeing vintage burlesque that night. Then, I’ll be reviewing Selba in Carytown the following morning. I’m totally excited. But for those who Jim affectionately calls “armchair adventurers”, I want them to be excited, too. When I traveled around this past summer on my bucket list adventures (by the way…those stories are in the archives) a lot of it was posted to Facebook. It shocked me just how many people were following me, wanting to see the pictures, to hear about my experiences. If I have been given this ability, to journey, to write, to glean a wisdom or two from the doing of it, then I want to share that. Connection is the gift of the Universe…sharing heals all losses. It heals me to know you are on the journey with me, even in the blogosphere.

A Little Dream

7 Feb

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At least one night per week I go to one of my “home” restaurants to write. As I have said before, I’ll not review either of them, for they’re my safe havens, my creative spaces. These places allow me the right atmosphere to create, to dream, and to explore the world of words. Just being there and being attended helps me when I am lonely. So many of us feel separated, lonely by ourselves….lonely in a crowded room. Disconnection is at its heart, the sense of isolation that comes from the lack of communication, nurturing. Even simple touch. It drives our search for meaning as well as underpinning our addictions. Humans are social creatures. We weren’t meant to be in perpetual solitude.

As I was writing Tuesday evening, dining on roasted vegetables and enjoying a glass of Orvieto, I heard a piano begin in the left corner of the room. In the softened candlelight reflecting from an antique buffet mirror, I saw an elderly gentleman at the piano, playing a dramatic tango. Suddenly my imagination was transported backward one hundred years to a small cafe in Paris, well trodden floors gleaming in anticipation for the dance. His notes were staccato, sharp and brisk….brilliant. His hands were the only animation on his body. But as I continued to observe, I saw a thin line of saliva drop from his mouth onto his lapel. Then, in a few minutes, another. He was quite old and I wondered instantly how to attend to him. The bartender could see the concern on my face, I’m sure. He told me that the piano player was an 87 year old Romanian. He had played cabaret all over Europe professionally, and now lives with his daughter here in Lynchburg. He speaks no English, so to ease his sense of isolation and loneliness, his daughter brings him to the restaurant every Tuesday. He plays song after song, all from memory for nearly three hours. They pay him $30 and feed him dinner.

I turned back to watch him and to listen. To say that I was moved would be an understatement. My heart was captured in connection and in empathy. If it wouldn’t have disturbed him while playing, I would have sat next to him on the bench, simply to give him sheer physical closeness. How dear he was. How express and trenchant the notes fluttered about the room. Songs moved in circular rhythms from tango, to jazz, to classical. All seamless, all from an arrangement entirely in his mind.

And I wondered.

Does he dream while in the notes? Is he somewhere in Prague, in Berlin, in Paris playing for a small group gathered in a similar softly lit bistro, worn mirrors on the walls?

Does the scent of food and wine hanging in waves throughout the room transport him to another set of ivory keys while seated upon another bench decades ago?

Does he dream of a beautiful woman, cocktail in hand and pressed waves in her hair? Does the smile upon her carmine lips as she glances toward him, let him know the music connects to her passion?

Does he play with thought of loss? Of a country and time now gone, of the departure of friends and family and the slow dimming of memories of both war and love, pain and joy?

After an hour or so, I walked over and sat down beside him. I kissed my finger tips and opened them in a gesture of perfection.

“Brava”, I said. “Your music is so beautiful”.  And I smiled.

He had no English, but made motion for me to perhaps write? And so in motion, we communicated.

Would I like a song?

Yes, I nodded. I sang….

Stars shining bright above you
Night breezes seem to whisper, “I love you”
Birds singing in the sycamore tree
Dream a little dream of me….

No…he smiled and shook his head. He did not know it.

Chopin? he said.

I nodded, smiling. Yes, please.

For the next hour, I was witness to my own private concerto.

Before leaving, I needed to say thank you,to let him know how grateful I am for his gift of music and of connection. I wrote him a note, translated into Romanian, one of the pluses of Google technology.

Vă mulțumesc pentru seara asta muzica frumoasa. Am fost onorat să-l audă.

Thank you for the beautiful music tonight. I was honored to hear it.

For tonight, music created a connection and I wasn’t lonely….and I dare say, neither was he.

Taste and Time

5 Feb

One should never trust a woman who tells one her real age. A woman who would tell one that, would tell one anything. — Oscar Wilde

Recently I have been thinking about age.

Aging, age differences…all of it.

It’s been quite dismaying to me to become the age I am. I certainly don’t think of myself in terms of a number. My mind is clearer now than it’s ever been. Awake is the only way to describe the contrast between my cognitive and behavioral functions now as opposed to fifteen years ago. I feel wise and open, not afraid to be my most authentic self with others. Many of my friends see me as “balls to the wall” brave,with a huge side of quirk. I’ve learned how to be kind and yet completely honest at the same time. I’ve lost the urge to become overly concerned with life happenings, letting life go much more easily than in the past. Is that a sign of maturation? Perhaps. I’ve lived long enough to know both that I’ll live through difficulties and yet in less years than imagined, I will die. That places me in the center of a road and quite conscious of every step, every gift.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how age affects my ability to be socially romantic. There aren’t many men my age who are also solo and of the same mind intellectually, artistically, and spiritually. This limits socializing quite a bit. And there’s something I’ve noticed more now than ever and that is the preference of many men of my peer group for much younger women, much younger than me anyway. Not that I wouldn’t be romantically inclined to men a many years my junior, so I don’t blame them. Almost all of the men in my life have been younger, but that has taught me a lot about the road and where one walks upon it. How comforting it can be to have a companion who understands and can negotiate the soul. The power of negotiation that age preference gives men, though, has frustrated me, a lot. I’ll live longer statistically; it makes sense to me that my partner should be the same age or younger. Not the other way around. However, my choice in the matter is severely limited through enormous cultural and social conditioning. I’m still trying to wrap my understanding around that.

Saturday afternoon found me up the road to Charlottesville with Clar in tow. My visit to Tastings was planned for several weeks after checking out their website. Along with retail wine sales, they feature a restaurant, wine club and newsletter. Prompted by traveling, knowing more about wine has become a personal goal. I know just enough to make a fool of myself in front of someone truly experienced and that needs amending. The day was bitterly cold, and sprinkled with snow showers and truth be told, I was lonely. A caught feeling, like feeling beautiful and at my personal best and yet somehow alone was wearing on my mind. I’ll admit in these moments, the “what’s wrong with me” tends to pop up. In my case, the age factor was playing an eight track and I unfortunately began singing along.

Exiting a sudden heavy snow shower, I entered the “old world” ambiance of Tastings. Walls were lined from floor to ceiling with bottle upon bottle. Wooden boxes, stacked by racks, presented green glass flagons with colorful labels and elegant script. When Bill Curtis, the owner, asked how he could help me, I suddenly realized my complete status as a novitiate oenophile. My clever answer?

“I don’t know…I suppose I’d like to know more about French wine?”

That’s like a bride-to-be telling a florist, “I’d like the white bridal bouquet.”

Bill’s expertise is impeccable, and his fluency with a large variety of wines is intriguing to witness. He helps a wide clientele as well as serving gourmet lunch and dinner in the restaurant. As we began to chat more though, I suddenly realized the power that comes with knowledge born of experience, the ability to guide and to share. And I thought, that must be the thing for men, an innate sense of fixing things, of being the guide, the leader. I understand, but it doesn’t make the sense of having missed the love boat go away. While we discussed a variety of wines, I began to notice the price range was a bit higher than I have been accustomed to unless at a vineyard, but then quite quickly I realized the reason. Bill has great wine. He tastes everything, knows it all well and is able to recommend according to a customer’s preferences and plans.

Carafes and containers, flasks and phials, the green glass glows. That’s something I think I love most about wine. Just the way each is different, beautiful in it’s own way and the esoteric value of the label’s paper and ornamentation. Cork and ritual, it’s a fancy that doesn’t take much future commitment unless one cellars. I sat at the bar as the snow intensified, and had a flight of French reds. Bill chose for me at my request and he began to discuss really fine wines, those that were $350 to $400 a bottle. He told me a story about judging a wine that was over one hundred years old and how they kept it in a large barrel and then bottled it on order. I began to think in metaphor once again.

“Bill, how do you know that a wine will age well… that it will be better as time passes?”

He smiled, “Most likely…it’s a red.” He winked.

I smiled, and actually blushed a little.

He continued, “Well, one easy way, is that at first, it doesn’t open up immediately. It improves with being open.

Then, when you taste it, your mouth neutralizes the tannins quickly and there won’t be many in its young stage. It will be fruity. With time it will develop and deepen in complexity.

Secondly, it shouldn’t have any bitterness and then lastly, it’s got to be unfiltered.”

At that point, I almost laughed out loud.

“The organic particles in the wine have to be there for the wine to stay alive, to change and grow.”

That’s about as simple an explanation as he could give me. It was all I needed to understand not only about wine, but about me.

It’s something I think applies to everyone, not just women. Wines that last, that are precious are also rare. They demand a high price because they can. They have all the right elements from the beginning; they are kept well and appreciated for their complexity and the surprises they can bring to a discerning palate. Their rarity makes them special and therefore coveted, but only among those who know what makes a wine really good. One can drink young wine all day, every day and be quite happy. But the special vintages are old and they come around only once in a while. Once experienced, the differences are obvious. They outlive others through good planning, good keeping, and luck. One could say that to pay $400 for a bottle of Bordeaux is insane.

But if he has the knowledge to know its rarity and can understand and anticipate the promise of what it will deliver, the investment is worth it.

That’s a lesson for me, too.

Chicken Fried and Unsanctified

1 Feb

Sunday morning in Roanoke, I ventured downtown in search of a coffee shop. We have Starbucks in Lynchburg, but I somehow feel it doesn’t qualify. Not that I dislike my local Starbucks. I visit it daily. Coffee is sacred to me. I’m a night person who has risen pre-dawn against her will for the last quarter century, ten months out of the year. They know me well.

Venti Bold

Monday through Wednesday, red eye

For the rest of the blurred week, black eye.

At my mom’s house its raspberry decaf? Right.

Sigh.

That morning was also about trying to find a little peacefulness once again. My mom cannot connect with me without verbal communication. It’s impossible for her to just be in the same room with me in silence. It drives me insane. I can’t think. And as a non morning person for ALL of my life, I wonder what kind of “eye” four shots of espresso to a cup is.

So, I trekked down to Mill Mountain Coffee as early as I could manage. Once again, I couldn’t find a “Ryan cafe au lait”. He is the king of the baristas and no one can touch him. If I want a proper cafe au lait, I’ll have to drive nine hours to Ocraocoke to get it. Believe me, I’ve contemplated the drive.

Ending up at Mill Mountain with high expectations was a mistake; the morning went south from there. While I am able to excuse the poor cafe au lait making, I really can’t tolerate abrasively loud screeching laughter among late teen-aged baristas. It was early,on a Sunday, and they were waaaaay too happy and loud. She had one of those laughs that just crawls down into a person’s ear like those creatures from the Wrath of Khan, the ones that drove the crew of the Enterprise into automatonic murderous rages. I stayed for an hour and then I just couldn’t take it any longer. I even threw away the poor excuse for a red eye cafe au lait without finishing it. Mistake one. Bad coffee is better than no coffee, in the grand scheme of things.

So I searched for a new coffee place and drove around downtown Roanoke for literally 45 minutes. Nothing. Not any sort of a comfortable spot with wifi and a decent cuppa joe. On the fly then, I decided to just go eat breakfast. I had seen Thelma’s Chicken and Waffles the night before with my mom and had attempted to look up the brunch menu on the Internet. When I found an empty page, that should have been my first clue to turn back…but I didn’t.

Sigh.

What occurred at Thelma’s has to be the most hilariously pathetic excuse for a brunch I have ever encountered. I almost don’t want to write about it, but because I care about my possible readership’s palates, pocketbooks, and their health I will venture on into the abyss that is Thelma’s.

Let me preface this soapbox review by saying I know that what modern Americans regularly ingest as “food” is in direct opposition to my definition of edible substance. But I grew up with a granny that could cook and I know what home style food is. Freshly made southern home cooking and that is definitely NOT what Thelma’s serves.

I entered the bar area and ordered “the largest coffee you can muster”. I’m sorry.When a customer says that to you, you find the largest cup the kitchen has even if it’s a bowl. He brings me a diner mug, ignoring the twice as large Irish glass coffee mug hanging behind him and nothing else. I had asked for cream and artificial sweetener. He plunks down two plastic cuplets of creamer and a sugar shaker.

Okay… Strike one.

I ask him for a menu. This brilliant lad responds with, “You wanna eat here?” Even though he probably questioned whether I truly wanted to eat at the bar, I should have taken him seriously.

“Um…yeah”, I say. “That’s why I’m here at a bar at 10:30 on a Sunday morning.”

So I gaze at the menu and everything includes waffles on the side. I just want waffles, maybe with some eggs but just waffles. What kind of a restaurant that has waffles in the name does not serve waffles unless it’s a side? They serve pancakes solo. Why not (eureka moment) waffles?

I had to order the country ham platter with waffle on the side. Apples, not hash browns came next and no toast nor a biscuit, just a waffle.

He says, “No substitutions …I’ll have to charge you extra for the waffle.”

“Okay”, I say. I start a slow boil as I think, just bring me a damn waffle.

After three cups of watery coffee, for which I had to ask for cream three times, I finally get a platter.

Eggs, check.

Why is there a biscuit? strike two.

Why are there hash browns instead of apples? ball one.

And what the heck is this, I think in horror as I spy something that looks like onion rings.

“Excuse me”, I ask. “What is this?”

“That’s ham”, he says like I’m an idiot. “That’s good ham.”

“What? “I say incredulously, “It’s breaded. Why is my country ham … breaded?”

From the look of irritation on his face, I could tell that my question was a completely foreign concept to his mind. Why wouldn’t country ham be chicken fried? Jeez, lady aren’t you from the south? That’s what his look said to me as he turned around and walked away.

Strike Three. I’m outta here.

I began to laugh because I wanted to cry. I have spent my entire life in Virginia. I know cuisine better than 95 % of most Americans and I can cook it as well and you are trying to tell me that Smithfield country ham is meant to be chicken fried like a Walmart tater?

Riiiiiiighhht…Okay mon garçon.

I sent the hash browns back for the apples I ordered.

“Here”, he says. “Just keep them; it was the kitchen’s mistake.”

“No, you don’t understand”, I say. “I’m not going to eat them. I didn’t order them so that means I don’t want to eat them.”

He glares at me. “Eh, suit yourself”, he says.

I left the pre-frozen Pillsbury/ Sam’s Club biscuit on my plate, too. The eggs were real, I think, and the waffle I did eat with the margarine on top. It was the same kind of waffle you’d make yourself at the Hampton Inn when the continental breakfast is included with the 60 dollar a night room. But then, I tried the chicken fried ham… shudder. I’ll not regale you with details.

I paid eleven dollars for a meal I didn’t eat and then asked to use the restroom. All that coffee. Another nightmare awaited me because someone had become sick the night before and it had not been dealt with. The other stall had no locking mechanism; it swung open freely. As I exited with full bladder, I greeted the girl coming in behind me.

“Good luck.”

The only thing that could save the day was walking, a lot of it. And trying not to lose my cool that I had spent money in a place that wasn’t worthy to call itself anything beyond a glorified Waffle House, which shockingly serves waffles as a main course. I mean, Cracker Barrel even does that though crackers aren’t on the menu. But, I walked downtown Roanoke and took plenty of pictures, and went into the newly renovated market building. Next time I will go to Firefly Fare. Locally sourced, freshly made, hot and real, it was where I ought to have gone all along.

So you may say, Well, home cooking is like that Cyndi. What did you expect?

I’ll tell you what I expected. I expected something like my granny’s gently fried country ham with red eye gravy nestled beside two scrambled eggs cooked in the same pan as the ham. Then, a Belgian waffle (made with egg whites whipped until stiff, but not dry and folded into the batter) lightly laced with syrup and cinnamon. It doesn’t have to be real maple but the kind that doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup as the main ingredient. I even may have expected an angel biscuit like Granny’s with damson or cherry preserves, that little bit of summer in a jar. Alongside it should be a coffee; even the kind Granny used a percolator to make would have done fine. Strong, clear and brisk with cream. That is what I expected. And although the morning did not give me the gift of a great coffee and stunning brunch, it did give me a memory of my granny’s hands, her blue rose apron, her warm kitchen and comforting table, and a memory of what home cooking ought to be. Maybe next time, I’ll just go to Granny’s and make her coffee and breakfast instead.

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