home for dinner

tonight, five of us decided to have one last get-together after our classes had ended, and one of the women offered to have the dinner at her house. it was a simple affair – a light salad, sparkling water, parmesan chicken, pasta tossed with fresh vegetables – but it felt so very luxurious to sit down before it. when i first walked in the front door, she was shaking vinaigrette together in a tupperware container, then spooning out petite portions of the salad onto little white plates to be set at each place at the table. i knew then that the salad would taste wonderful. maybe part of the charm was the candlelight, too; i am always a sucker for candlelight. everything bathes in that low gentle glow, and the bustle of the day quiets down accordingly.

it was also, i realized, the comfort – and utter relief – of being cooked for. i always manage to be surprised at what a tender thing that can be. weaving my way through every day as a 20-something, drinking in every moment and hoping it will lead the way to where i’m really supposed to be, i carry my independence around like a suitcase. it is a constant companion, teaching me how to pay my bills on time and get my car serviced regularly and eat at least two meals a day… and often i forget what it’s like to set my bags down. but sometimes, all it takes to feel like i’m headed home again is to be offered a meal in someone else’s.

we ended the night with brownies, deep and dark and topped with raspberries, and with gratitude for a bit of peace in the middle of the city.

winsome

when you work at a school, you can always expect your day to be eventful. a couple years in as a teacher, and i already have quite the collection of charming anecdotes.

there was the time i tried to send a rebellious 8-year-old out of the classroom, but he refused to budge and his tactic of choice was to fall to the floor, shut his eyes and lie there, and yell “no” over and over. there was that one incident in the computer room where our students go to play video games, when a boy got so enraged over his teammates’ betrayal that he threw two plastic chairs across the room, wwf style. or the time i was substitute teaching a class of kindergarteners and all twelve of them decided to have a “screaming contest” just as the principal walked in to check how i was doing.

kids test my patience daily. but once in a while, they go and do something like this:

and my faith in humanity is restored. this is a party favor put together by three of my third grade girls. they had made several for their classmates, and on the day of our yearend class party, the trio went around to each friend to bless them with their little creations. every one received an origami cup, which was adorned with a color-coordinated cocktail umbrella and filled with an assortment of snacks, all cushioned by a single square of kleenex. happiness was spread all around.

even in the adult world, there are the chair-throwers and the favor-makers. the former may get their way more often, but in my heart the favor-makers always win.

pretty soon

barring childhood days spent at my best friend’s house whirling together our own milkshakes and diving for pennies in the swimming pool, i think i have enjoyed this summer more than any other. it doesn’t take much more than sunset for a southern california summer day to melt into balmy bliss, and over these past few months i have found so many ways to enjoy such nights: backyard parties, dinners on the patio, outdoor festivals with food and music. even just strolls between shops at our open-air shopping mall had a twinge of romance as soon as the soft evening breeze brushed by.

i was out to dinner with a good friend over the weekend at a lovely thai restaurant in the next city over. we picked a table outside, and pretty soon we were twirling our rice noodles, sipping tea, and exchanging theories on life, as we do. for a moment i looked up to see the evening sky and the last low golden light of the day. i realized this could be one of the last remaining meals of the year where i was seated so pleasantly underneath the palm trees.

it won’t be much longer now before i step out of work and find myself under a night sky. the days will be shorter, the mornings colder, and all those floaty skirts will go back into hiding. but knowing i have so faithfully squeezed every delicious drop out of summer, i find myself looking forward to the cooler months. in only a little while my days will be peppered with the small pleasures of a new season: warming my hands around a hot mug of coffee at the end of the day, padding around the house in my squishy blue slippers, wrapping a coat tightly around myself as i shuffle down a bustling sidewalk.

if only all changes in life came with such grace.

sweet little thing

a single picture can pull a tightly wound bundle of memories and shake them out, let them breathe again. i look at this photograph, and all sorts of pleasant details come tumbling down to me.

it was a spring afternoon in san francisco, and we had stopped in a tiny shoebox of a shop. inside, the papered walls were covered with flowers in rose and cream and the palest of greens. sunshine flooded through the windows. there were cellophane bags of cookies lined up in rows, ribbons round each one, and large glass jars filled with sweetly colored candies. like a child with precious allowance money in hand, i walked up to the counter and carefully made my selection. the pistachio macaron came nestled on a single sheet of wax paper, perfectly pink. we walked outside and paused beneath some trees, so i could savor all four bites of the cookie. they were delicious.

just a few minutes later, and we were on our way again – to peek into this store or that, a meal in this neighborhood, a stroll through that one. sights and steps stacking on top of each other like pages, until the book was closed, our trip ended. and now i am here, so many miles and so many months away from that little afternoon. but i take out this photograph and the memory of it blooms out before me, and i can smell the sweet scent of buttercream.

gary danko

this is my first official time writing here, and what better way to kick off the blog than to share my recent memorable dining experience! it was a couple weeks ago at gary danko, a restaurant i’ve been wanting to try for a long time. well, an occasion finally arose for me to go and let me say… i’m already excited to go back!

to put in context, it was the man’s birthday and i had had to call exactly two months ahead of time to secure a reservation at a decent time! i didn’t mention making birthday plans to him, as i wanted it to be a surprise. a few hours prior to dinner on his birthday, we went out to happy hour with some friends. i thought he was just going to sip on some margaritas but to my HORROR , he started finishing about 3 too many drinks and also ordered a HUGE plate of nachos! finally, when i could stand to watch no longer, i put my foot down and told him firmly, “NO MORE NACHOS!” this confused him, since i am not one to ever control his food intake.

when we finally arrived at the restaurant, he was totally surprised, which made the inconvenience of being secretive worth it. in terms of ambience, it was a lot more crowded and louder than i thought it would be – but i actually prefer that to most quiet, stuffy restaurants so i didn’t mind at all. being the gluttons that we are, we both ordered the summer tasting menu with wine pairing and substituted some of the courses. one thing i loved about gary danko is they let you “mix and match” the courses. theoretically, you could have 5 appetizers in a row and they’ll adjust the portions accordingly.

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before the first course came out, our server (very friendly all through the night, btw) came with an amuse bouche, a cool asparagus soup of some sort. it was very refreshing and perfect for whetting our appetites.

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for the first course, i ordered the seared sonoma foie gras with caramelized red onion and nectarines. we were both taken aback by the huge portion of foie gras, but it was delicious – so tender it melted in my mouth. ahh, like butter. the sweet wine that the sommelier paired with the foie gras went together more harmoniously than any other wine with other courses, and i’m slightly sad i don’t remember the name of the wine!
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he stuck with the traditional first course meal, which was a soup with glazed oysters and osetra caviar, zucchini pearls and lettuce cream. i personally love caviar, but mike felt it slightly salty.

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then came the second course. i had seared sea scallops. again, both of us tried this and loved it. it had hearts of palm, fava beans, frisee and prosciutto, and anyone who knows me i love almost anything with prosciutto!!!

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one of the favorites of the night, however, was his second course – the lobster risotto with laughing bird shrimp, parmigiano-reggiano, basil oil, and the corn. we both loved the corn. i think i could have done without the shrimp, but he seemed to like it. we both agreed we’d definitely order this again the next time (yeah, we were already talking about what we would/wouldn’t order next time we were there)

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the meat course was next and he had a lemon pepper duck breast with duck hash, bacon braised belgian endive and huckleberry sauce. he loved this dish and i thought it was pretty good, but not orgasmic.

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i had a filet of beef with potato-leek napolean, cassis glazed shallots and basil butter. the meat was very tender and had so much flavor that even though i was full already, i managed to almost finish the entire thing. the cab that the sommelier paired with this was just icing on the cake. it wasn’t until mike said “you know, you don’t have to finish that whole thing if you’re too full” that i finally put down my fork in defeat.

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by this point, we were stuffed, but bravely accepted the next course – the cheese plate! gary danko is known for their cheese course, and i being a total cheese freak i was looking forward to this all night long. we each picked four cheeses and managed to at least taste each of them.

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for dessert, we both got the chocolate souffle, also another signature dish at gary danko. our server came to us with the souffles and poked a hole in each. he drizzled two sauces – a creme anglais and a dark chocolate sauce – in each. this, along with the sweet mas amiel – mmm!!!

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as if that wasn’t enough, the server finally came out with an assortment of small birthday biscuits and cookies and a candle! mike took one bite of one cookie and gave up. i didn’t even bother. by this time i was half buzzed and half suffering from food coma. all i could think about was how much i wish i had my stretchy pants with me. so the server offered to pack up our cookies. then he came back with ANOTHER package for me – it was a blueberry muffin for the morning! apparently they only do this for female members of the party, no matter whose birthday it is ;)

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the experience at GD is going to be remembered fondly for a very long time – not just because the food, wine pairing, service was perfect, but because i was in good company and it was a great celebration. seeing mike surprised and having a good time makes me happy. if only i wouldn’t be burning a serious, serious hole in my wallet and ensuring a heart attack by 30, i would be back there every month. i know he doesn’t particularly like celebrating birthdays and has told me before he’d be happy ordering roundtable pizza and calling it a night. so he was particularly pleased and thanked me multiple times – but little does he know… i probably enjoyed his birthday much more than he did! in fact, i should be the one thanking him for being born and giving me an excuse to visit restaurants! :D THANKS MIKE!!!