Thursday, February 27, 2014

Farm Life

I've been busy living a new kind of life. Got plenty of posts that cover the drive to my new location on an island in Washington State, but haven't quite been feeling like constantly looking back as of late. The present is much more appealing. This is a pretty representative image - and the first taken of me since I arrived on the island two weeks ago - of how a good portion of my days are spent. Lambs are cute, but they're also a whole heck of a lot of work. Here is a quick overview taken from a text I sent, which also does a good job of summarizing my basic feelings about this change in run-on sentence format. On the whole I think this blog may be slowing down for a bit.

"Baby lambs and blood and birth and castration and milking and cheese and new people and beaches and fires. And early rising and farmers markets and standing a lot and walking up steep hills and not giving a shit how I look and not leaving the farm for days. Forgetting and remembering who I am, or could be, for better or worse."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Bob Evans Breakfast Times

The next morning in Wytheville I awoke and plotted the best way to get Zul to take half a tranquilizer for his next drive and then went out and procured the tuna I believed would distract him from the half moon of a pink pill lodged in its center. Honestly American cheese the day before went more smoothly. While giving the pill time to kick in, CRS, J. and I made our way to a nearby Bob Evans where ridiculous breakfasts were consumed. I ordered the option that pretty much had all things: sausage links, eggs, potatoes and biscuits and gravy. Do not fear, I didn't actually consume every bit of it, but my myriad breakfast cravings were certainly met.

I failed a bit when it came to actually taking photographs of people on this trip. This is the only photo of CRS and J. I took with my actual camera, and then I took a photo of them with my iPhone knowing I was having them face the wrong direction (sun behind them) so while you can see the silhouette of the pair, they really could be almost anyone standing in front of a Virginia mountain. And I most certainly whiffed when it came to getting any proof of any combination of all of us being in the same place at the same time. You'll just have to trust me, which is probably easier than not trusting me. I mean, I'm not lying about the gravy, so why would I lie about the people? This now makes it seem like I am, in fact, lying, which is not the case. Forget I even started down this path. The breakfast was good and I was glad to give the couple their first Bob Evans experience, for bette or worse.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Pennsylvania Country Departure and Margaritas and Dinner c/o El Puerto in Virginia

As has probably become rather apparent over the last few weeks, I've been in the process of making some big life changes. The primary life change is a two parter, as it involves both a change in professional activity and geographical location. The long and short of it is that I stopped working at the company that first brought me to Philly in 2008, and in the next few days I'll begin working on a sheep/dairy farm in Washington State. Many logistical things had to be figured out in advance, and one of the most troubling was certainly what to do with my cat, Zul. The farm has a no-cats policy, and so taking Zul with me across the country wasn't an option. And, honestly, driving in a car with a very unhappy cat for a week to ten days didn't strike me as overly appealing. Obviously I couldn't just leave the cat on the street, nor was I willing to truly 'give him up.' No, what I hoped to find was someone willing to take on the guardianship and companionship of Zul for the duration of this farm apprenticeship. This was slightly trickier than you might think. Folks aren't all that interested in temporary but rather long-term temporary cat care, or they don't like cats, or they have three dogs, or they won't guarantee that the cat will stay alive under their roof. CRS and I had been emailing in the early days of my figuring this all out, when I was still not entirely sure I was going to make this dramatic decision. And at one point she mentioned a willingness to watch Zul, but she lives in North Carolina and I kind of assumed she wasn't serious/thought it was somehow too much to ask of her, given her own professional transitions and life events. But after a month of frequent Facebook pleas, and a few at-first-promising-but-ultimately-not-quite-right offers, CRS and I got down to the business of talking about her and J.'s taking the cat reins. The main thing was scheduling. I wanted to start heading west in earnest around the 1st and was slightly hesitant to drive all the way to NC when I knew the next destination was basically all the way back north and then over a bit (Ohio). CRS was incredibly patient with me and my nonsense, and we ultimately decided to meet up in Wytheville, Virginia for a cat hand-off.

My last days in Pennsylvania were not actually in Philly. Perhaps not terribly surprising, but I went up and out to the country for a few days of fire building and additional organization instead. It was much as it always is: quiet, peaceful, lovely. And also very cold. When I was packing up L. suggested that instead of putting Meow Cat's ashes into storage, I take her along with me, scattering some of her ashes in a variety of locations. I did think that was a nice idea. And so a few hours before my departure I walked down to the creek and said a few words before sprinkling some of the cat's "cremins" into the still trickling water.
 My drive from Philly to the country was marred by a rather slapdash end car packing. LW was kind enough to help, but I went from feeling like I had all the time in the world to scrambling a bit...suddenly I had all these random things that I wanted to bring, but no rhyme or reason to where I placed them. So once in the country there was quite  a bit of reconstituting, as the first drive included a complete inability to see out the back of my car. With a bit more consideration, and reconfiguring of my car's seats (Honda Fits are definitely quite useful in the different ways you can fold seats to create more vertical or horizontal space), I was able to get everything packed in a far more sensible manner and actually see out my back window while driving.
And so once the ashes were scattered and the car was packed, and I waited the requisite amount of time for Zul to be properly tranquilized, I got on the road. The drive to Virginia was generally uneventful. For the majority of it, I listened to Armistead Maupin's second to last Tales of the City book, which was absolutely perfect. All the characters were familiar to me from the previous installments, most of which I read between the ages of 12 and 15, and then revisited in my late 20s. I arrived a bit before CRS and J, which gave Zul time to hide in the hotel room and me time to...maybe I took a shower? I kind of forget what I did. Once they arrived we went to dinner at El Puerto. CRS and I both ordered margaritas, on ice, with salt. They were certainly large in size, but very much 'meh' in terms of actual goodness. Standard sour mix, lots of it, with tequila somewhere in there. We both finished them, but I wouldn't rave about them in any context really. 
I ordered their mushroom and cheese quesadilla with tomatillo salsa and a funny 'guacamole salad.' On the whole you really can't go wrong with melted cheese, but this was not all that great either. The guac was a little suspect in its absolute smoothness - I guess they could have used a food processor...but it just made me suspect that it was most certainly not being made from scratch. The tomatillo sauce actually had a nice little kick to it. The mushrooms were your standard button variety, and I probably would have suggested sauteeing them with some other herb or onion to increase their flavor. Not bad, but not really memorable. Very much Mexican for white people in the south.
I also ordered a chicken enchilada, which was everything you'd want from this kind of place. Good, but just not all that special. I think CRS and J. would describe their meals as entirely acceptable fare, but not particularly authentic. Nothing to grab the table and exclaim over really. We would probably have ordered a second round of drinks if our server hadn't gone off duty, and the guy who was supposed to take over our table hadn't totally forgotten we were still sitting there. After I'd say about 15 to 20 minutes of cleared plates but no check or follow up, we went up to the register, paid, and then went to Applebee's for a round of giant beers. It had been a while since I had seen either CRS or J. and so it was simply nice to spend a bit of time with them, and the fact that they were willing to take on Zul - who really is quite a wonderful cat in most ways, but is still not without his quirks - continues to be something for which I am incredibly grateful.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Storage Unit Completion

My last full day/night in the city was a Monday, and involved the Comcast and pork excursion. After that I went back to the apartment and took apart my bed and desk. I should have taken more photographs of the chaos that reigned supreme in the bedroom and living room for the last week or so of my habitation there, but I was too busy actually doing things. I had called Mr. Ass weeks before to inquire about his availability to help me schlep these last large parts of my life to the storage unit in his family's SUV. He incredibly said yes. So he arrived and with perhaps a bit more leg and arm work than either of us had entirely expected, we managed to get almost all the rest of my stuff into the storage unit in one go. Mr. Ass was kind enough, also, to take a photograph of me upon our finally stuffing the last of my possessions into the unit. Then we went to Johnny Brenda's and had a delightful dinner...but all the photographs of said dinner came out so bad that I can't even attempt to save them. Just believe that the four different kinds of oysters were all good in their special ways, and that the burger there is not shabby.

When I was in Denver just a few days ago, I was telling my friend P. and his wife C. about my strange tendency to want to put a thumbs up in many of the photographs taken of me...but that I suppress that urge, thinking it's hokey or tacky. The trouble, then, is that I instead still have my hand in a position similar to that of a thumbs up...only without the thumb, you know, being up. Which really makes me seem like some younger and female version of Bob Dole. All I need is a pen really.

Roast Pork Sandwich c/o John's Roast Pork

There are a number of tasks that make moving a drag. There is, of course, the packing and consolidation of things. The emotional toll of going through multiple boxes and other such things, remembering your past just as you're trying to get to your future...but there are other practical tasks that this consumer society makes far more difficult than necessary. Changing names on bills, for example. It was quite easy to get our apartment's electric bill into my roommate's name...but when it came to Comcast? Not so easy. Couldn't do it over the phone, nope nope nope...had to show up in person with two forms of ID...which is just insane, but it did lead my roommate A. and I to head off to South Philly on one of my last days in town. The Comcast center of doom was actually not as depressing as it sometimes is, and in the end we only needed one form of ID. After making the name switch, I needed to go to a hardware store to get paint in order to get my room back to white, and I also thought that one last truly Philly sandwich was in order. A. had never been to John's Roast Pork, so I felt quite smug about giving him one last 'first' on my way out (as I had done in terms of pho and ramen in prior months). It was a relatively warm day, and so after standing in line only briefly and both ordering the roast pork with provolone, we sat outside to consume our monstrous meals. Seriously. So much pork. Juicy and tender. The wind kicked up a bit but that didn't stop us.
A. was a very good roommate in my opinion. We got along quite well, never really had any tensions or issues. It was a good balance in as far as he was on the dart team, so we socialized a bit outside of the home,  while also generally enjoying each other's company and conversation on occasion while at home (watching the occasional NFL or Breaking Bad episode together, for example). But we still had independent lives and all that. It's a strange thing, I lived with him for over a year and who knows if our paths will ever cross again. I was glad to have one more outing with him before our lives diverged.

Sushi and Other Snacks c/o Doma

L. and I spent the majority of Saturday toiling away at a few large packing tasks. Basically my entire closet and dresser. It was incredibly valuable and important for L. to be there, as she actually enjoys a little organizing, whereas I probably would have thrown my hands in the air and been far more slapdash about it. Also, she was absolutely appalled by the amount of socks I possessed and implored that I get rid of at least some of the most worn out of my sock brood, which I did only reluctantly. It was not literally a Herculean task, but it was figuratively. The thing about L. is that even though it wasn't fun, the packing, having her help me and be by my side made it go by far more quickly and I wouldn't have gotten nearly as much accomplished without her support. So big ups to L. for being some a kind, patient and firm friend, willing to treat me like the stubborn child I can sometimes be. [caveat/spoiler alert: right now I am sitting in a hotel room on the Oregon coast and I just saw something that may or may not have been a corcormarant and then also a pelican...also ducks here look different, some look like they really could be itty bitty flying penguins, and that makes me happy]. So, to celebrate our productive day, to Doma we went for dinner. I decided that instead of having just one piece of the ankimo - monkfish paté - I'd have their appetizer version of it, which came with a smattering of wasabi tobikko and rested in a ponzu sauce. Delectable as always.
L. had a sashimi starter I believe, which consisted of crab, salmon and shrimp.
I had long been fascinated by their tuna/jalepeno tempura appetizer and decided that I wouldn't depart from Philly without giving it a go. Quite generous in tuna portions and presented wonderfully, I was glad to have tried it.
L. tried the gyoza and had an unpictured udon soup to round out her meal.
I went with a few extra pieces of sushi for my additional course: salmon, ikura, toro, and a yellowtail and scallion roll.
This weekend was a weekend of incredibly cold tempuratures and additional snow, but that didn't phase us on the whole. Though my hands did seem to get dryer and dryer by the second. After dinner we didn't do anything crazy, just went back to the apartment and watched the newest Star Trek movie, which we both enjoyed...but it probably would have been good to at least slightly check in on what the ending of the last movie had been, as there were a few plot points that we didn't really follow. Another lovely meal with one of my favorite people, and another step closer to my actually leaving Philly!

Modo Mio Dinner With The Ladies

I couldn't possibly leave Philadelphia without a last visit to Modo Mio, which I think is perhaps the restaurant to which I returned over and over again during my time in the city. Well, outside of McCrossens and other neighborhood bars. My companions for this meal were entirely fitting and some of my favorites: LW, CPM and L. L. and I discussed a few weeks beforehand my growing worry about actually being able to productively pack up all my stuff...and she was generous enough to offer me her assistance and oversight, which truly was invaluable. But also, it was just important to get to see L. one last time since I wasn't able to make it up to Brooklyn before my departure. So on a Friday about two weeks back we first gathered at my apartment and enjoyed some prosecco before heading out into the cold night for a most epic and lovely of meals. We were seated at the same table as my birthday dinner and our server for the night was one of my favorites...even though I haven't been able to make it to Modo Mio as much in this last year as I did in the years prior, she immediately recognized me/us and that is always a very gratifying experience. I shared my plans with her - re: my imminent departure from the city and plan to travel across the country for a new adventure, and she made the meal quite the send off. So much lovely food. So much lovely company. Just lovely, lovely, lovely. So what did we eat? Well, this first dish was L.'s and was a taleggio cheese, mushroom and maybe balsamic oozey.
Then we were gifted the appetizer of the day, which I kind of totally forget the ingredients of, but thoroughly enjoyed.
I chose the mussels, white and spicy and was entirely happy with them. The thick crusty bread they provide at the beginning of the meal was perfect for soaking up the delectable broth once most of the mussels were properly consumed.
This, too, is a bit of a mystery to me...I think it may have been another of the specials of the evening, and alas I cannot tell you exactly what it was about...maybe roasted pig of some kind?
Now, years back when KH was in town, I took her to Modo Mio to show off how freakin' good it was. On that particular night, our server strongly encouraged us to try the night's special pasta, which was a delectable and unforgettable raviolo. Since that evening every single time I've gone to Modo Mio, a little part of me has held out the hope that the raviolo will appear again...and while so many other wonderful meals have certainly been enjoyed, it was not until this final Modo Mio meal that the raviolo made its second appearance in my life. I think perhaps its accoutrements weren't entirely identical to that dish that lodged itself in my brain in 2011, but it was awfully darn close and just as satisfying.
I don't know if this would strike someone else as tasty-looking or disgusting, but to me this screams 'I am luscious and delicious!' so I'm sorry if it screams something else at you.
I think that CPM had veal with mushrooms and eggs...
And in another kismet-ic move, the special of the evening was also almost tailor made for my culinary proclivities. Creamy polenta topped not only with pork tenderloin but a soft shell crab as well, ll in a caper tomato sauce so fresh and popping with all things right in the world.
Our server also hooked us up with additional sides. The chickpeas with greens were slightly bitter in an 'on purpose' kind of way ad the roasted brussels sprouts with perhaps leeks were just straight up good to consume.
I'm honestly not entirely sure what this is...maybe L.'s duck.
Another angle of my dish.
Then we split the array of desserts that our server brought us. All so good. So. So. good.
While this, sadly, is not the most flattering of photographs of me ever expression is entirely accurate, as variations of that face could be seen from the initial introduction to the specials all the way through dessert and coffee.
Thanks to LW for having the common sense to take photographs of people...I managed not to get a single photo of the four of us together and I regret it. Such wonderful ladies with whom to spend one of my last weekend evenings on the east coast!

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Ramen c/o Nom Nom Ramen

I completed my final full-time busy season at work in early January and then put in one more week to make sure that all my responsibilities etc. were properly shifted to those who would remain. Every year the company has an annual retreat, which I was generally happy to miss this year. But the retreat was one of the very few opportunities for those of us working in Philly to meet/see our colleagues who work exclusively off-site. I did want to touch base/say goodbye to a few of those folks so while I didn't attend the actual retreat, I did stop by their snacks and drinks event afterwards. Before I did this, however, I decided that I'd have one last bowl of ramen in Philly. While I know there are a few other spots I never got around to trying, the location of the retreat after party made led me to decide that Nom Nom Ramen was the most sensible choice as far as where to get my fix. In times past I've ordered their spicy broth ramen, but on this particular evening I decided to go with the miso broth. Satisfying as always, though I think I actually liked the extra heat from the other preparation.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Tempura Shrimp and Chirashi c/o Umai Umai

In real time, I am no longer in Philadelphia or even the state of Pennsylvania. In fact, it has been nearly a week since I painted my room, packed up my stuff and bid adieu to Philly. But as far as the blog time line is concerned, I'm still very much ensconced in Philly times and meals. So many of which have an Asian theme to them. For example, after one day of packing and other moving tasks, I suggested that LW and I go get some sushi at Umai Umai. Usually I just get their chirashi, but I decided I'd also try their rock shrimp tempura. Once the dish arrived I realized that (well I was pretty sure) I'd had the dish once before. It was surprising because for a tempura dish it was not so crispy. Tasty yes, but I usually think of tempura as being crispy...and any crispiness that these little shrimp morsels had was made moot by a healthy coating of sauce. Again, still good...but not quite aligned with what you might expect.
I did also enjoy the chirashi, which came in a slightly different bowl and with lettuce instead of watercress. Satisfying as always.
It's a strange thing when your days in a place dwindle. I didn't really have that many 'bucket list' wants or needs as far as the city was concerned. A few last meals with a few choice folks, a long list of things to purchase or cleaning/packing tasks to do, but no nostalgic walks along Kelly Drive or first-time visits to any of the many museums I failed to ever visit. I'm currently stationary in Ohio for a few days and it's strange how quickly I have gotten accustomed to not being from anywhere. I went out to karaoke with Cuz K., A. and a few other folks the other night and when asked where I was from I just shrugged. I'm in between places and will continue to be for at least another week as I drive ever westward. Eventually I'll blog about the hand-off of Zul the cat, which happened on Saturday, but not today I don't think.