Wednesday, January 29, 2014


LW was kind enough to supply me with some of the photos she took from my Han Dynasty/dart goodbye evening. Proof!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Han Dynasty Dinner and Darts With Friends

About a week or so back I met up with a few high school buddies for dinner at Han Dynasty. We had cumin lamb.
And garlic eggplant.
And twice fried scallops. Not pictured, but consumed, included green beans, pea shoots, cold noodles with sesame and spicy cucumbers. All very good.
Then we went to Buffalo Billiards where some non-high school folks joined us for dart times. I could have sworn that more photos were taken of me with people, but this is the only proof I have: E., me and  Mr. Ass. An evening that went quite well and allowed me the chance to see a few dart folks one last time as well as just other people I like. A successful night on the whole.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cocktails and Snacks c/o Lemon Hill

So I had my last day of work about a week ago and have been slowly chipping away at the packing and storing part of my imminent move out of Philly. This weekend L. came down and did an inordinate amount of good as far as really getting down to the nitty gritty, but in the last few weeks I did make a fair amount of headway. Of course this moment in time I am procrastinating. I cleared off the multiple piles that had migrated to my desk - on which is one of the last flat surfaces available to put things - but there are some other definite things I need to do. Progress has been made but more progress is necessary. Things I need to do:

1. Consolidate the many things I do plan on bringing with me.
2. Take a load of boxes and stuff to the storage unit.
3. Pack the many board games I own, but do not plan on bringing with me.
4. At some point I need to go to Lowe's and buy paint...because I need to paint my bedroom walls back to white on...uh...tomorrow or maybe Tuesday.
5. Do one final pass through the kitchen to pack up any remaining doo-dads and pots and pans.
6. Get paranoid over whether enough I am bringing too much stuff, and whether the people with whom I will be living and working will judge me for bringing too much clothing.
7. Buy wellingtons.

Well, enough of that list. The point is, as the last few posts attest, in addition to doing some packing, I certainly was making the most of being in Philly and having a series of 'last meals,' and that trend will continue in the next few posts as well. For instance, LW and I met up at Lemon Hill perhaps one Friday ago. It was super busy when I arrived so there were no seats at the bar, which is where we prefer to sit. But by the time LW arrived, two seats opened up so we hopped over to the bar. While I was waiting I enjoyed a Sazerac, and after we got to the bar I tried a drink that isn't on their website, but that I enjoyed very much. I wish I could tell you more, but really all I know is that it was delicious.
I also tried their six minute egg with bone marrow toast. The egg was lovely, the toast confirmed to me that I really just don't dig marrow. There are enough other meats and things that I like, that I have decided that I don't need to further explore my marrow palate. Marrow and bananas, I'll pass thanks.
I also ordered the boquerones, which were far more tasty to me. Fish, yes.
I had one last cocktail, which was a gin and pine jawn. Gin with pine infused something er other. Pretty tasty I'll tell you what.
A nice evening!

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Philadelphia Night Out

When we went to Han Dynasty for my birthday, CPM and I both were quite taken with the idea of getting a punch bowl for the table, and were rather surprised by the lack of recommendation our server gave us on that front...basically they told us not to do it, so we didn't. But the idea of drinking some kind of alcoholic beverage out of a punch bowl was not to float away on the river of our lives like a loose stick from a low hanging tree. Nope. CPM and I made an alternative plan. I knew that the scorpion bowl at Sampan was pretty delightful and so I suggested we go there, which is just what we did. We originally thought we'd just wing it and sit at the bar, but mid-day Friday we corresponded and decided that a reservation was probably not the worst idea...which was entirely true, as the bar was pretty solidly packed when we got there around 7:30. We were seated and quite enjoyed perusing the menu. Though I've been to Sampan a few times, it had been quite a bit of time, so many of the things of the menu appealed. In the end CPM and I chose a nice array of plates to share. For example, these 'wonton crab tacos,' which came with avocado, cilantro and pickled shallot. The crab salad element was good in portion size and delicious.
We also ordered the hamachi ceviche, which really is just a really delightful spoonful of magic. The dish usually comes three spoons to a plate, but the server suggested we add a fourth so there would be no bloodshed. A good call indeed.
These were Korean fried chicken skewers. Succulent. Hot. So GOOD.
We also ordered the "Philly Cheese Steak," which you can see in the far left corner...honestly this was the dish that was the least successful or pleasing. I'd give it a pass.
Our server did at first suggest that we didn't need a punch bowl in our lives...but after much deliberation, we chose to have one anyway.
Kobe beef skewers were unbelievably tender and while they had a bit of sauce/external flavor, the meat itself was pretty well and good magic on its own.
Do not doubt us, Sampan server, we will order and finish a punch bowl. Don't you worry about us none.
After that it was still relatively early in the evening, so we walked west in Center City. I was quite shocked to see that, which I tried to go to with Huckleberry back in the summer, was pretty much entirely empty. So we went on in there and enjoyed two delightful cocktails that will go unnamed because I can't seem to find the drink menu on the establishment's website. They also had a pretty neat-o looking oyster bar option. While we only had a drink, I would definitely suggest to those staying in the Philly area that they check this place out far more than I'll be able to do in my dwindling days in the city.
We then made a few more stops in our night, including a cocktail at Tank Bar and getting to McCrossen's just in time to see the Eagles not quite make it through the playoffs. A lovely evening with a fun friend. I liked that we balanced our evening so that we stopped in at a variety of locations, some more familiar than others. The night was, of course, a late one. And I could never do that sort of thing with any true frequency, but such evenings always remind me of just how much of Philadelphia is still a mystery to me, even after six years.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Solo Sushi Times c/o Doma

On my drive back to Philly I began thinking about what I needed to do about dinner...the responsible thing would, of course, be to actually go to a grocery store and get regular people foodstuffs. I opted not to do that and, instead, chose to go to Doma for a sushi fix. I decided to also try their shrimp dumpling appetizer, which was quite satisfying. Nice big chunks of shrimp perfectly wrapped and steamed. The pickled daikon (or whatever the pink stuff is) was a nice garnish that I actually quite liked...I would eat more of it if they put it in front of me.
For my main sushi meal I went with the sushi regular option, which comes with 7 pieces of sushi and a spicy tuna roll. The ones I remember are (from left to right) tuna, unsure, salmon, unsure, shrimp, seared white tuna and yellowtail (I think). I also ordered an extra piece of ikura and ankimo. If you like sushi and things like that, I'd suggest you try ankimo if given the change. I think it's monkfish liver or some such thing. Whatever it is, its texture and taste are, to me, quite satisfying.

I ordered one more round, which included eel, wasabi tobikko, ikura and another piece of the yellowtail...unless it wasn't yellowtail, in which case another of the fish I really liked and then forgot.
A very satisfying meal.

Pasta Dinner

I spent New Years Eve in the country, and this is what I made myself for dinner. Thick spaghetti with sauteed mushrooms, garlic and spinach, finished off with a lightly fried egg. Nothing fancy, but quite satisfying. I washed it down with a Piper Heidsieck champagne and watched two movies while entirely ignoring any 'ball' that may have been inching its way down a pole somewhere in NYC.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Dessert and Catan

 M&A and I went to dinner at S.'s house the next evening, which featured baked butternut squash and a creamy beef dish, neither of which photographed terribly well. In addition, there was dessert, which you can see above. Basically mini key lime pie treats whipped up by M. After a lovely dinner we then got down to the business of playing Catan. This was a 'mystery' set up and I had a pretty commanding lead and hold on a lot of the 'new world' but I went from being about six points ahead to losing all for my dillydallying and M.'s multiple victory point cards. Just how the Catan cookie sometimes crumbles. It was really lovely to see M&A. I had been unable to attend their wedding because they scheduled slap dab in the middle of my busy season at work, which pretty much equals not having the time or ability to fly across the country etc. So it was good to finally congratulate them in person and to hear more about the wedding from them.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


So I'm in the midst of slowly but surely packing up all my belongings and storing most of them in preparation for my "big change." I am trying to take this as an opportunity to streamline my life a bit, and to get rid of things I have no use for. Honestly? Thus far all I really have done is pack up my books - about 10 boxes' worth - and I got rid of not a single one. Well that's not true, I have decided to part with a 2007 movie guide...because: the internet. But my oh my oh my are there some thorny things I need to deal with as the piles of easily-packed things dwindle. My main issue is that I have a tendency to just carry things from place to place even if I haven't really used them while in any location. For example, in college I still painted on occasion and sent letters and the like, so I have a whole plastic box chock full of acrylic paints, stamps, stationery and crayons, all of which served a purpose back in the day when I actually did such things. But that box has languished, pretty much entirely untouched since I moved to Philadelphia. There is a whole box of stationery with my previous Chicago address in there, a bra that must have fallen into it in some point five or six years ago (because I certainly know I haven't worn or even thought about it in forever times), and if I dug deep enough I'm sure the paints would actually be dried out to the point of ridiculousness. So do I sort through that box and save any of it? Or do I just throw the entirety of it into a garbage bag and pretend it never existed? If the rule is 'have you used it in a year? If not, toss it,' then I should clearly just put it into the garbage. And yet...I do wish I made more throwing away the supplies to do so seems like saying 'you will never do this.' Another way of looking at it is 'if you really want to do it, you'll be motivated enough to get supplies that don't pre-date your going to college.' And what if, one day, I'll want some specific thing because I remember it, and I can't put my hands on it? Maybe I need to make an art out of getting rid of things. That is exactly what I should do.

Then there are the copious boxes and bags and folders from my years actively taking and printing photos. A good amount of my parents' money went into my college senior project. I was quite proud of the results at the time, but the reality is I've been schlepping the foamcore-mounted images around for 10+ years and at this point I'm sure they're all bent and broken...I'm sure because I haven't actually pulled them out of the box in as many years. So why lug them any farther? Except, do you really just throw out art you cared about into the trash? An investment by your parents? I don't feel like there are really many other options. And then I think of my mother's collection of photography, much of which is underneath a bed in Tennessee.

And on top of all the photographs and negatives, I also have stacks and stacks of paper. Thick packets of reading material from college and grad school, which I kept thinking it would be good to have on hand...but that I haven't looked at pretty much since my respective graduation dates. I have a whole file cabinet of paper that I haven't looked at in nearly my entire time in Philadelphia. Just as daunting are the folders I found in a box last weekend, which are chock full of  excerpts of my novel with the notes of fellow MFA students. I do have small intentions of not giving entirely up on that novel, but do I really need notes from seven years ago? Maybe.Maybe not.

It sometimes seems easier to keep carrying around these papers and other stuff instead of sorting through it...just carrying the whole file cabinet to a storage unit could be considered more efficient than actually going through it and having to make decisions. But, of course, that just means that things accumulate. The time it takes to wade through things I clearly don't care about all that much (or even remember that I possess) weighs me down and can lead to precious space in my 5x8 storage unit being dedicated to things I am not even sentimental about...just lazy.

In addition to my college art photos, I also have countless photo books and shoe boxes stuffed with rejected prints and negatives that didn't make it to the books. Opening those boxes is the equivalent of accepting that I will be doing nothing productive for at least thirty minutes, because once you start thumbing through such photos it's quite hard to stop. I really have no intention of getting rid of them, and I don't worry about it...mainly because these days I never get actual prints of photos, so the boxes and books will not exponentially grow at this point in my technological life. I wrote about photographs and frames as monuments a long time ago, and I guess I'm still thinking about them.What is to be done with photos of people you no longer know? As a kid I loved looking at old photo albums of my parents and seeing their younger, thinner selves in apartments I'd never seen and with a cast of friends I'd never met...but now that seems a bit backward. I was excited about  lives they had before I was around, but I didn't stop and think about who any of these mysterious people were or why I never met any of them. If I have kids, how many photographs do they need to see of people with whom I haven't been in touch in so many, many years? And yet, these photographs are at least touchstones. Memory keepers. Something to look back at and say 'oh I was skinny then' or 'ah yes, the good times and interesting things I did when I was much younger.' Proof. Cold, hard, stored-away proof that doesn't need a wireless password or electrical outlet to be accessed. But being childless and not at risk of suffering from dementia for quite some time, one could ask oneself: ' to whom are you in need of proving yourself? And why???' The short answer is probably no one, and for no good reason. But I'll have to think on that one a bit more. 

On the whole I don't think I'm really a hoarder as much as I am slightly lazy and totally paralyzed by organizing. There have been times in my life when I have been unfettered from stuff. The summer of my tent life, for example, saw me basically living out of two suitcases and a car for three months. When I first moved to Chicago all I had was two air mattresses, a handful of dishes and a few Rubbermaid boxes of essentials. I think I lived that life for at least a month or so before I was reunited with belongings I had stored in the Hudson Valley, and I wasn't worse for wear. And yet there is a certain joy in finding things you've forgotten you had. For example, one of the boxes I simplified over this past weekend included a bevy of remnants from an envelope of childhood things my mother sent me during my senior year of college. None of these things are up for debate or the garbage. 
 Sometimes I think my life would be better if this was still a position I strongly held...but alas, not quite the case.
 Oh Alex Castro, whatever happened to you?
Also in that box was a tape container that boasted a variety of mixes I made while still in high school, or that were made for me in high school or early college. I asked Facebook what I should do with those tapes, and the reaction was decidedly mixed. Some said that if I didn't have a device to play them on, they should be discarded. But others, who either made the tapes in question or have a more nostalgic streak for such things, deemed the tapes worthy of keeping. In the end I did get rid of some things...but the tapes went into a smaller box and will live a storage unit life. I'll have to revisit them at some later point in time, but they're safe for now.
 Things have gotten a little more crowded since this photo - this is only books really.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Eggs Chizmar c/o Bolete

The next day I had to do some work, but got up early enough to do most of it before M&A even awoke. This worked out perfectly, as M. suggested we go to Bolete for brunch. Though I'm out in that general area rather frequently, I am most often alone, and so generally do not go out to eat, which means that the last time I enjoyed Bolete's cuisine was pretty much the last time I saw M&A. So it had been a while, and even longer since S. took me, A. and H. out to brunch back in 2011. The brunch menu was slightly different, but I was pretty much drawn to what I enjoyed that last brunch time: Eggs Chizmar, which features crisp oysters, mushrooms, bacon, mizuna, house-made buttermilk biscuits, chive, and hollandaise sauce. I also ordered a Bloody Mary, which I had forgotten I was rather indifferent about the last time I ordered it. It remained stiff as far as alcohol content, but was a little thin in terms of actual texture and spiciness. I like me a little more horseradish.

While the beverage wasn't a big happy-making success, the eggs held up better. My plate was basically clean - minus the stray potato - by meal's end. The oysters hold up well, even when their crispiness is lessened by the eggs, mushrooms and sauce that are piled on top of them. I'd definitely recommend this dish if you're into Eggs Benedict but what to fancy them up a bit.

A lovely meal with lovely folks. Though I would say that Bolete is better, on the whole, for dinner and not brunch. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Mushroom and Radish Treats Along With Chili, Sunchokes, Beans and Rice

It has been a bit of time since I last saw M&A. In fact, the last time I saw them they were unmarried and now they are entirely married! In any case it was good to see them and I did enjoy the meal they made when I came up to see them a few weekends back. These mushroom tops with boursin are so unbelievably simple to make, and yet make such satisfying appetizers.
Also, buttered radishes.
I hadn't really known much about sunchokes. I've had them in the past, but I would have been incredibly hard pressed to describe them to anyone. Now I am slightly better prepared for the task. Let's see. They have the basic 'look' of a potato or turnip, and perhaps a bit of the texture of an incredibly tender turnip. But their taste also has a definite artichoke heart quality to it. A. also did much of the planning and making of chili, which was good too. And gluten-free cornbread as well, though there was some confusion as to what ingredients were needed to be added to it, which ended in a perhaps less than ideal texture.
A lovely meal that ended with a round of Catan, because of course it did.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Duck Noodle Soup c/o Crossroads Cafe

Sewanee remains much the same in many ways from year to year. The streets and much of the overall ambiance are not terribly different from how they were when I was 8, 9 or 10, or even what it may have been like in the childhood years of my father and cousins...well, more has definitely changed since those days. There have been changes. The one stoplight on University didn't exist during my childhood. You are far less likely to make friends with the occasional town dog due to leash laws. The new dining hall and its phallic sandstone peaks obliterated a former road and changed the overall commons landscape, as did the new science building in front of the library. I was also quite shocked to see the relatively low-key Sewanee Inn entirely torn down. The formerly almost-entirely one-story sprawl of rooms has been knocked to the ground and the new structure being built is decidedly larger and taller. As a kid there were pretty much three places to eat in town, an ever-changing fried food and ice cream kind of place next to the bookstore (which used to be independent but now is technically affiliated with Barnes and Noble), Shenanigans, and a small diner-like place, which I recall only as the place I tried bread pudding for the first time. Any hint of ethnicity or sophistication in the dining choices of the town simply didn't exist. Now, however, there's a relatively 'upscale' restaurant where they care about the garnishes as much as they do the food's provenance. Oh and it used to be that pretty much you could only get beer at Shenanigans and now there are at least four options for those who like a brew from time to time. And, perhaps most astoundingly, there is now a place that serves a limited, but certainly ambitious, menu of Singaporean fare. And it was there - Crossroads Cafe -that Dad and I went before hitting the road for the airport. On the day in question they had about five main options scrawled on their dry erase board. Dad and I both went for the duck noodle soup, which came out steaming and in quite a generous bowl. I found the broth a bit thin and in need of a bit more flavor...but I am accustomed to restaurants that aren't really catering to an American, white, southern palate. In other words, I think that the overall taste probably would work for those not quite as ambitious as I am....which is a much greater portion of the town and surrounding area. I loaded up on pickled chilis and requested extra sriracha and enjoyed it. Definitely hope they find a way to stay around for the duration.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Christmas Eve in Tennessee

This holiday seasonwas like many before it, as far as the fact that I had lots of work to do. After a few years going elsewhere for the holiday, Dad and I decided to do it in Sewanee this year. I flew down Monday night and flew back Thursday, so it was very whirlwind and didn't allow for a lot of socialization. On Christmas Eve, we did have a thing. Cousin H. and his wife C. came by with the fixins for egg nog, the family recipe for which hasn't changed much in quite some time. I tried to take good photographs, but really didn't succeed much. Here are most of the relevant ingredients: sugar, egg whites, egg yolk, rum and bourbon...missing is the...
Whipped cream, to which I believe the liquor is being added? Though H. was quite good at giving me the step-by-step directions at the time, I didn't write them down. I know you need four bowls: three to mix the different ingredients (one for cream, one for egg whites, one for egg yolks, and one for serving) but where the sugar goes is, alas, lost to my brain at the moment.
Et voila, folding it all together into a magic, thick, peaked, wonderland of booze and sugar and glory. A.M.P and her son also joined us, as did C.'s son...but really there was a lot more nog than there were people to drink it.
I did my part by having three glasses. So thick. You could really consume it with a spoon as easily as you could sip it.
These two refused to have a decent photo of themselves be taken.
The house's architecture and relatively unique features are always slightly more impressive when the drapes aren't closed...but in the winter, it's also a much, much colder house when the drapes are open.
Cousin H. also brought a lovely selection of veggies, which he roasted in the kitchen. Asparagus, potatoes, parsnips, and carrots. Good stuff.
And Dad roasted a local leg of lamb, which turned out nice and pink...but not scarily so.
AMP contributed green beans and ham. Altogether a lovely meal.
Oh and AMP also brought flan.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Happy Hour c/o Fare and Gingerbread Madness c/o The Green Room

CPM and I made plans to hang at some point a few weeks back. This was pre-holiday times. We decided to check out the happy hour options at Fare. I tried the "Really Clean Martini," which was made with citron vodka and white grape juice. It was a tad too sweet for me and mainly tasted like grape juice.
We shared the truffle fries, which were good.
It was their mushroom flatbread that won as far as food that we enjoyed.
After happy hour we decided to do one more stop before going our own ways. And that stop was the Green Room. There we had some beers - they had Youngs Double Chocolate Stout on tap, which I just couldn't say no to. The bar was having a bit of a holiday fete, with complimentary food and treats on a few tables. We didn't really try the food, but when a gingerbread house competition was announced, we did want a piece of that action. Problem is...we didn't do a very good job. Our pre-formed house parts had serious cracks in them that the icing simply wouldn't keep together. We tried and tried to get our walls to stay up and to put a roof on them, but it just wasn't to be. So, instead, we went with a slightly different approach. At some point CPM declared that we had made a Tiger that he was standing on a pile of destruction of his own making. Below you can see our Tiger (with candy cane golf club) and one of our competitors' far more successful constructions in the background. While we tried to plead our case to the judges, we were awarded nothing.
And here we are at the end of the evening. Good times. I'm wearing a scarf that B. gave me for Christmas and earrings my father gave me for my birthday. Gifts!