Sunday, June 17, 2012

The 3rd Sunday in June

Holidays are weird.

Last Halloween I was on the road (I may actually have recently arrived) to my parents' place in South Carolina. I'd received word that Dad was comatose. He'd aspirated when hospital staff had tried to remove a breathing tube. Dad in the hospital was, strangely, nothing new, but this time was different. This time Mom simply said, "I think you need to come home."

That was all it took. I drove up to my brother's apartment and we made the 10 1/2 hour drive south that night. I saw the sun start to rise just as we made it to the hospital.

My sisters and I split Thanksgiving duties a few weeks later. By that time Dad was conscious, though not completely lucid, and his lungs were failing. He'd developed pneumonia (in the hospital, ironically enough). Several cousins and my Uncle (Dad's last surviving sibling) had made it into town by then. I remember I'd watch my Uncle - Dad's older brother by a decade - and marvel at how healthy he seemed comparatively. Uncle could walk on his own. He remembered conversations we'd had in the past. Hell, he even went to Arby's on occasion (culinary options around hospitals in Seneca, SC are a bit limited).

Dad had been struggling for a while now. I'd call on Valentine's Day, Father's Day, his birthday. He'd usually ask the same string of questions: How's Tony? Is he at work? How's your research going? (At which point I'd have to remind him that my research had wrapped up some time ago.) Every year I'd call on Dad and Mom's anniversary, which happens to be the same day as my birthday, knowing that Dad would always end the call with the same phrase: "You're by far my favorite anniversary present."

I said goodbye to Dad a few times while I was home and told him I loved him every time I left the hospital to head to the house for food, sleep or a shower. Dad's speech was impaired (the tube down his throat had caused minor damage by pressing down on his vocal chords), but he always said "I love you, too" each time.

When we first took out his breathing tube (a decision that took weeks to make as we weren't sure he'd survive without it), I had the chance to speak with him privately. I took his hand- one that always seemed so big to me when I was a kid but was now shrunken and swollen from lying in bed for weeks- and told him I'd always be his little girl. I remember stroking his fingernails. My sisters and I had filed them earlier because we'd hated how broken they had looked. (Dad was the epitome of a sharp-dressed man.)

The day after Thanksgiving my sisters humored me by going to Kohl's at midnight for Black Friday shopping. Sometimes you just need a little normality, as it were.

Later that day, after speaking with multiple doctors, Mom made the decision to move Dad into hospice. I still can't imagine how hard that decision was for her. She and Dad had been married for over 40 years - she shared a longer life with him than any of us.

Hospice was weird. It's this place that seems like a home but comes with hospital beds and care provision. It's a combination of relief and resignation. When someone says, "We need to make the best of a bad situation," hospice is what immediately comes to my mind.

Still, I lack the diction to describe my gratitude for the hospice in Seneca. Where we could barely fit our immediate family into Dad's room at the hospital (in fact, hospital regulations said that we weren't allowed to all be there at once - a family of 6 is too large, it seems), there was room to spare in his hospice space. Where doctors at the hospital seemed unwilling to  provide us with complete objective information (and had failed to read Dad's entire medical file and living will), the staff at hospice were forthcoming, held no punches, yet supportive and empathetic.

This came in handy when Dad passed away quietly two days later. (Not so much when one of the hospice nurses asked when I was due, which stung a bit as I've yet to be pregnant.) We had a memorial mass a few days later, and a formal military service when Dad was interred at Arlington National Cemetery in March.

Today it's Father's Day. I have no phone call to place, no preset script of questions to answer.  Instead, my brother and I are going to make another drive, and visit Dad at Arlington. I'll come home and spend some time with BHE and his father (and mother) instead.

And, yeah, it kind of sucks. But then I'll see little things that remind me of Dad at random moments: the Navy officers and cadets in uniform walking around the city (Dad was a retired Captain and pilot), the handkerchiefs I kept and use whenever I'm caught without a tissue (Dad used to pull one out like some kind of magic trick whenever I needed one as a kid), pulling on a pair of socks as the first line of defense against an oncoming virus (Dad asked me if I was wearing socks each time I mentioned I was sick during our phone calls. Every. Time.). I'll see these things and it will sting a little, but then I re
member how lucky I was to have my Dad in my life, and what an amazing human being he was.
And then I smile.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy.

Love Always,
Your little girl in perpetuity,

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Paris Je t'aime! Day 6 Highlights (Or, How I Burned My Finger in a French Cooking School)

Christa and I wish Mere luck as she heads out to work. We decide to spend the morning at Les Halles, chasing down actual bon marche deals. Les Halles is often described as "labyrinthine."

People, that is putting shizz politely.

It takes us 15 minutes to figure out how to get the escalator that takes us to the third floor of shops. Because the 2 escalators we do find before that prove useless.

Les Halles, navigational issues aside, proves to be a great shopping center. We come across a museum store that carries French pop-up books on human anatomy. I somehow manage to show restraint and keep my credit card safely tucked inside my wallet.  We do spend some money at a lingerie shop, which is having a semi-annual sale. The sales associate is very friendly and extremely patient when, after she asks (in French) if I need any help, I reply meekly that my French language skills are pathétique. We manage to hit up the Sephora before I start to crash.

We  decide to check out the Catacombs. We get to the entrance, but at the last second I decide not to go in. It turns out to be a long tour and I have a cooking class I don't wish to be late to. Also, I feel weird snapping photos of people's remains for souvenir purposes - it seems, I don't know...disrespectful?

All is not lost, however, as Christa has yet to check off a quiche Lorraine from her to-eat list. Thankfully, the street nearby is lined with cafes. I crush a large baguette with salami and a bechon/beachemel sauce (so, so awesome). 

Time for some more shopping! We turn out to be surrounded by cooking good shops and food purveyors. SWEET. I buy some cookware and herbs at a Provence shop, where the store owner continually tries to feed Christa and I samples of various tapenades, bless) and then some jordan almonds at a local chocolatier.

We head home to drop off our gear. The news is doing a piece on the annual Dieux du Stade calendar and video. I'm almost embarrassed at how much I know about (a) French rugby and (b) the French rugby team's penchant for nudity. Almost.

But enough of naked athletes - it's time for my baking class! Today I'm heading out to La Cuisine, which offers a range of French cooking and baking classes taught in English. (You can check out a great interview with the school's owner at Lindsey's phenomenal blog here.) Today chef Jennie is teaching me and 6 other Americans (and 1 Irishman) how to make a Choux Chantilly Chocolat et Caramel (choux pastry stuffed with chocolate and dipped in a caramel sauce) and Fondant au chocolat et Sauce caramel beurre salé (molten lava cake with a caramel sauce).

The class is great! I manage to burn my finger just once while dipping pastry into the caramel sauce - which is like friggin NAPALM in its heat intensity! And the food...Oh holy Mary, the FOOD! Only a few pieces of the choux make it back to the apartment. I'm sugar high for most of the afternoon. I give serious thought to extending my stay permanently to take the next day's bread baking course, but then remember that I have a husband and pets back home.

It's my last night in Paris, so of course Mere, Christa, and I decide to do it up and have a proper night on the town. We put on heels, dresses, hair and make up and hit the Experimental Cocktail Club to pregame. The bartender is flirty, the music is bumping, and the drinks continue to be awesome.

We make it to Maceo for our dinner reservation. I've mistakenly made the reservation for "M." (Monseiur) Baker, which the host finds entertaining. Oh well. We opted for Maceo based on their prix fixe menu selections. I opt for the Decourvertes, which comes with a roasted eggplant and minced salmon appetizer; roasted duck with parsnip mash and red wine reduction entree; and a nice frommage plate for dessert. (Delicious frommage.)

And a bottle of red wine, of course.

Dinner takes roughly 2 hours and runs about 60 euros a person and I don't notice or mind one bit. A nice man at a nearby table asks if we are in town for the fashion week shows. Christa says the guy has excellent game, but I think he's simply observed and appropriately admired our table of hotness.

As we finish dinner Christa announces that no trip to Paris is complete without seeing the Sacré Coeur. We metro over and take the many, many, many steps and hills to get there. Mere and Christa are fine but I am huffing and puffing away like a fat kid at a track meet. Several jokes are made about my upcoming half-marathon.

The SC is beautiful at night. And crowded. The view though, is impeccable (if a bit smoggy). We take the funicular down to street-level and metro home. We're all exhausted, still full from dinner, and a bit sweaty from our hike, so plans for a heading out for champagne evaporate quickly.  

Instead, we decide to stay in and watch more news coverage of the Dieux du Stade's calendar. I'll say this much: There are certainly less pleasant images to which one can fall asleep. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Monday, March 5, 2012

Paris Je t'aime! Day 5 Highlights (Or, My Introduction to French Street Crime n' Porn)

Bright and early Christa and I make a bee line for the Louvre. But first things first - we need breakfast. A quick stroll around the musee and we run into Angelina's, home to a beautiful cafe and tearoom.

Beautiful...and completely out of our budget for the morning. 

Thankfully, Angelina's also sells small treats in their gift shop, including...

MACARONS!  I score a creme, pistachio, and lait-flavored trio. And they are diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiviiiiiiiine! Soft and chewy and melty and just every other mouth-watering adjective ending in a "y." I may have whimpered while eating them. Twice. 

Back to the Louvre. The first thing we see is the distinctive glass sculpture in front. The second thing we see is the line to get in. The long, long, long, long line. No thank you, please. The desire to not wait in line supersedes any desire to see the Mona Lisa. We opt to take photos and walk around the building instead.

My photo-op turns out to be more exciting than anticipated, as Christa pulls me out of the way at the last second before I'm taken out by a police officer chasing down a pick pocket who's just grabbed some poor woman's purse. We watch this live-action "Cops" (or should I say "Flics"?) for a few minutes and leave after seeing the perp drop the bag, hurdle some shrubs on the grounds, and then sprint away. 

It's still unseasonably warm, so we decide to take a stroll through the Jardin des Tuileries. 

It's stunning - a great place to sit and relax (as many people were already doing). It also seems to be the place to go if you want to sunbathe, make out, or eat your McDonald's cafe takeout.

Towards the other end of the Jardin, Christa and I notice a large tent that is just blasting house music. So naturally we have to check it out. A few steps in and I notice a sign that reads "Guy Laroche." And suddenly it dawns on us: The tents we've noticed aren't weddings - they're fashion shows. 

Yup! It looks like we synced our trip with Fashion Week in the city. A quick look around reveals hordes of well-dressed individuals and pretty people trying to gracefully walk past the equally-large groups of photographers. 

No one stops to photograph us. Shame.

Christa suggests a walk up the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe. It's impressive. It's also located next to a mammoth Cartier. Which is framed by an distractingly large pile of trash on the sidewalk.

(Christa getting photo-bombed)

Cartier has us inspired. We decide to do some more window shopping and I lead us over to Le Bon Marché, which roughly translates to "the good (or cheap) deal." It is a beautiful store but TOTALLY misnamed. The Valentino floor may have been the most decently priced, if that's any indication for you.

Time to head somewhere more fitting with our budget. Christa suggests we check out Montmartre to see the Moulin Rouge. 

It's the first thing you notice stepping off the Metro. The second thing you notice is the plethora of strip clubs. So. Many. Strip clubs. And viewing booths. And adult clothing shops. And Musée de l'érotisme (aka, the Museum of Eroticism). And something called the Supermarche Erotique, which as best as I can figure translates to "the Erotique Supermarket."

All this walking and adult entertainment has given us an appetite, so we find a little creperie and sit for a spell. I order a savory spinach and cheese with mushrooms. Soooooooooooooo gooood.

.....But sooooooooooooo much butter! My stomach reminds me that I am not meant to ingest that much heavy dairy at one go.

More shopping! We're in Montmartre for (1) the Moulin Rouge and (2) a small vintage store I'd read about called Mamie. Talk about a hidden gem! I do some digging and find a vintage scarf for my mom and a new travel bag for myself. 
It's after 4pm by the time I finish blowing out my checking account and we're fading fast. It's time for a nap. Back at the apartment, Christa reads from her guide book that Montmarte was home and stomping gounds to the likes of Lautrec, Degas, Monet... I wonder out loud what they would have thought of their old hangouts evolving into XXX shops. Christa supposes they would have probably had their own shops. 

Reunited with Meredith, we have dinnner at Tien Hang again. It's still amazing. (I enjoy a faux duck dish that still visits my dreams.) Plus, there's a half dressed man flouncing around in the apartment across the street from the restaurant, so it's dinner AND a show. I manage to order, ask for the bill and thank the hostess for a lovely evening in pseudo-perfect French. Woo hoo!

The three of us decide it's a good night to drink at home. Christa and I head over to the local Monop, where the most expensive bottle of wine is 12€. (Lord bless this country!) We give up all pretense of being worldly tourists and guzzle merlot while watching what appears to be a French version of "What not to Wear" before collectively passing out.


BHE and I had a busy weekend full of random errands and such in preparation for this week (I'll get into that in a later post). To say it was stressful (or that said stress may have made me a bit...edgy) is something of an understatement. So to try and pick up our somewhat soggy spirits, we made our way to the Charles Theater here in Charm City to check out the 2012 Oscar Nominees for Animated Short Films, which included:

"Dimanche/Sunday" Patrick Doyon

"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg

"La Luna" Enrico Casarosa

"A Morning Stroll" Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe

"Wild Life" Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

I found "A Morning Stroll" extremely entertaining (mostly because I know the story on which it's based), while BHE quite enjoyed "Dimanche." We also were able to see shorts that received special commendations for excellence, which was cool. "Skylight" proved a particular favorite with the audience:

Unfortunately, Pixar's submission ("La Luna") was NOT among the shorts we could see[What the EFF, Pixar?!?], possibly because it will be the opening short to their summer release "Brave." Whatever...

"Flying Books" won the Oscar, and thanks to the magic of YouTube, you can see it below:

On a side note, I TOTALLY missed Dr. Seuss' 100th birthday this past week! (*GASP*) I'm without recipes to properly celebrate the occasion, but thankfully the good people at Serious Eats stepped in to fill the void.

I'm particularly looking forward to trying out the Hop on Pop(corn).

Chat you up soon, lovelies! Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday Mornings

Sometimes I wonder if my cats think I'm just some kind of extra-comfy couch...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

And I'm Back

Hey, peeps!

I'm finally back after a long-needed break to deal with some life events that arose unexpectedly. (Expect an updated post on that later.)

I hadn't realized how much time had lapsed! I have a handful of updates and recipes to share in the coming weeks, as well as an update on a new project I'm undertaking with a fellow food blogger in DC.

Ok, that's all I have at the moment. Instead of my usual banter, I'll instead leave you with this little gem.